Friday, May 2, 2014

ASCAP bears down on local lounge

Posted By on Fri, May 2, 2014 at 11:53 AM

  • Photo by Malivan Iuliia / Shutterstock

It’s been more than a half-decade since local bar owner Frankie Patton got sued by Led Zeppelin. "Yeah, Jimmy Page and all those guys, they were hurting for money,” scoffed the Frankie’s Bar & Grill owner in a 2008 Indy cover story. “So they're like, 'Let's sue Frankie, he's got it all!'"

As most music venue owners know (or quickly find out), performance-rights organizations can be relentless once they’ve tracked down a business that books live acts. Since nearly all musicians will include at least one cover song in their sets, buying blanket licenses is virtually the only way to avoid potential lawsuits. In Patton’s case, it was ASCAP — which represents some half-million songwriters — who designated Led Zeppelin as its plaintiff in the case.

Yesterday, it was the Briarhurst Manor Lounge’s turn to feel the heat. Following a visit from an ASCAP representative, it received a lengthy email from the organization. It contained all sorts of friendly advice — including a document entitled “What Kind of Music Sounds Good in Your Establishment?” — before finally getting to the bottom line:
“We realize that your time is valuable and that important matters, such as obtaining the rights to perform music legally, are occasionally postponed. Let us help. Simply sign and return the attached license agreement with the appropriate payment as indicated on the invoice. We will return an executed copy for your file.”
Based on its original plan to move shows outdoors to a spacious patio with the onset of warm weather, the manor's management figures the annual cost of ASCAP licensing fees alone would exceed $600. Meanwhile, that amount could reach $2,000 once BMI and other rivals got wind of the ASCAP arrangement and stepped up to claim their shares of the pie.

So for now at least, the Briarhurst is planning to discontinue its musical offerings following one final live performance this Friday, during which the Mitguards will perform a set of 100-percent original music. After that, the lounge will stick to food and drink, although an all-original open mic is being considered for somewhere down the road.

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