One of the hottest topics of discussion in musical circles these days is the idea of music licensing, copyrights, and musicians getting paid for their work. It is usually part of the covers vs. originals argument that rages every few days on most musician forums and message boards. Some writers of original music get very touchy about anyone who plays covers and think that cover bands should have to pay the writers of the songs they play some kind of royalty.
Cover bands, on the other hand, feel they should be able to play whatever songs they want to play. Most players fail to understand that there is already a system that has been in place for decades that handles and manages this very situation to make sure that the writers of songs get paid for their efforts. Who, you ask, does this job? The Performing Rights Organizations, or PROs, namely ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. These groups whole reason for being is to collect and distribute royalties to songwriters.
Sorry to say, original music lovers, that this is one fight you can’t win. Why? Because the PROs see the music venue as the ultimate beneficiary of the music played in their rooms, not the musicians, themselves. Cover bands are just something venue owners use to enhance their places and entice customers in. Venue owners have been required by law for many years to buy licenses from the PROs to allow them to have live and recorded music in their places. The fees are based on things like seating capacity, whether or not the room charges a cover, and other factors. This money is then distributed to the members of each PRO.
This is a very complicated issue and I am simplifying a bit so as to not make this a book rather than an online article, but this is generally the way things work. Cover bands are not responsible for paying for the music they play because they are ultimately just pawns in the game. The venue owner is seen as the top of the food chain in this scenario and, thusly, is the one responsible for handling the royalty situation. In this Fight Club, cover bands are clearly the winner.
Enjoy this drummer…erm, I mean cover song: