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MMD > Archives > November 2009 > 2009.11.01 > 02Prev  Next

Credits on Piano Roll Labels
By Matthew Caulfield

In the 091029 MMD Paul Meehan lamented the QRS practice of not
crediting composers for the music on their rolls.  QRS was not the
only company to do that.  Some time in the early 1930's Wurlitzer's
roll labels stopped naming the composers of the tunes on a roll, giving
instead the name of the music publisher that issued the sheet music.
Before that time composers were always credited, publishers never.

I think the reason for this switch can be found in the growing
influence and power of ASCAP and other royalty gathering agencies.
BMI, ASCAP and the Harry Fox Agency exist today in the U.S. to put
teeth in the laws which guarantee to composers royalties for the use
of their work.  In the early days of music publishing, I suppose, it
was up to each composer to collect the monies due to him.  But with
the advent of radio and the phonograph, this became an impossible task.
Centralized collecting and enforcement was needed.

Today, if you play a copyrighted piece of music in public performance,
ASCAP will be after you.  If you broadcast copyrighted music, watch out
for BMI.  If you make and sell recordings, then it's Harry Fox who will
come be at your door.  This may not be true if you are a tiny operation
that works below the radar, but amusement parks with band organs or
other forms of musical entertainment pay a license fee to ASCAP.
Capitol Records or any major recording company deals with Harry Fox.
Radio stations all pay to BMI or ASCAP.

Even some band organ rally organizers have worried about whether ASCAP
will come after them, but I don't know whether that has ever happened.
The theory is that, if the music you play helps to attract business,
then you owe a royalty for its use.  ASCAP has formulas or something
(maybe just guesswork, but who can fight it?) that tells them how much
to charge for a given license.

These royalty-collecting agencies work for the music publishers, not
for individual composers.  And this is probably the reason why in the
1930's composer credits on labels were replaced by publishers' names.

Matthew Caulfield
Irondequoit, New York

(Message sent Sun 1 Nov 2009, 17:36:37 GMT, from time zone GMT-0500.)

Key Words in Subject:  Credits, Labels, Piano, Roll

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