You’ve Got to Pay to Play That Song

February 13, 1914
American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) was Founded

What do Lauren Hill, Erykah Badu, Madonna, Metallica, Tom Waits, Dixie Chicks, and Tito Puente all have in common? Yes, they are all Grammy award winners, but they are also members of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP).
ASCAP was founded in New York City on February 13, 1914, to protect the rights of the more than 80,000 composers, songwriters, lyricists and music publishers who are its members. ASCAP’s function is to make sure that a writer’s work is not used by another artist without paying the proper fee (called a royalty) or acquiring the proper permission. An author’s right to protect his work is called copyright. ASCAP’s first director was Victor Herbert, a composer and musician who strongly supported artists being paid for their work. How do you think Herbert got the idea for ASCAP?

The story goes that Victor Herbert became aware of the need for protection of musical creators’ copyrights and performance rights when he was in a hotel and he overheard someone performing a piece of music he’d written. He knew that he hadn’t been paid for the use of his music in performance, and he felt that was unfair, since he had written the music. From then on, he worked hard to see that musicians received a royalty for the use of their work.

Herbert was born in Ireland and studied music in Germany, where he became a cellist and composer. In 1886, he and his wife, opera singer Therese Foerster, immigrated to New York. Herbert became well known as a composer of light operettas (romantic comedies with singing and dancing). His best-known work is Babes in Toyland, which opened in 1903 and was inspired by The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Today, ASCAP’s main function continues to be to protect the rights of its members by licensing and paying royalties for public performances of their copyrighted works. Next time you hear a Madonna song that isn’t performed by Madonna, you can be sure she is getting a royalty for it.