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'Nashville Comes to Maine' - But Not Just for Entertainment
06/14/2013   Reported By: Tom Porter

Two Nashville songwriters are touring Maine over the next few days. They're not here to support albums, or even singles. They're here on another mission. Tom Porter has more.

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"We think it's a unique opportunity to give the consumer a chance to see behind the curtain, to learn about the songwriting process, and get an understanding that a lot of the music they hear on the radio is not written by the artist performing it," says Dan Spears, vice president of industry relations at the music licensing group BMI, which tries to ensure that songwriters are adequately compensated when their music is performed.

Spears organized the songwriter tour, which features Nashville-based Jeff Cohen (right) and Dylan Altman.

"Jeff and Dylan are both very accomplished national songwriters," Spears says. "They've had number one hits. They've also written pop songs for Evan and Jaron, they've had music that's been placed in television, in movies. So they really kind of represent all aspects of songwriting."

dylan_banner_lines"Postcards from Paris" - a hit last year for chart-topping country music outfit The Band Perry - was co-written by Jeff Cohen. And Dylan Altman (left) is credited for "Take a Little Ride," a hit for double platinum-winning country singer Jason Aldean.

While the artists who perform these songs benefit from a host of revenue sources, in many cases the songwriters' sole income comes from the licensing fees that BMI, and its competitor ASCAP, collect. BMI takes in license fees on behalf of more than 600,000 affiliated songwriters, composers and music publishers, and distributes them as royalties.

Under federal law, licensing fees can be collected not only for live performances, but for pre-recorded music played in public as well. So it's not just radio and television stations that pay licensing fees, but bars, restaurants, hotels, and even hair salons and retail outlets.

With certain exemptions for smaller properties, they're all liable. Greg Dugal, executive director of the Maine Innkeepers Association, says most of his members who are supposed to pay licensing fees, do. But there are some who hold out.

"Some people just don't know about it and they've never been called on it so they just don't participate like they should. And there are other people as well who feel that it's not an appropriate use of their funds," Dugal says.

Maine Innkeepers is one of the sponsors of the BMI songwriter tour, billed as "Nashville Comes to Maine." Dugal says one of the reasons the association is getting behind the event is to make its members aware of the issue and to show them why it's important.

The Maine Restaurant Association is also sponsoring the event for the same reason. The group's Dick Grotton says restaurant owners should understand that music licensing fees should be treated the same as any other required operating expense.

"They have a health license, they have a liquor license, they have a marine seafood dealers license to sell certain food products," Grotton says. "They need a music license as well that authorizes them to play music that legally belongs to someone else."

For Jennifer Fox, the co-owner of Andy's Old Port Pub on the waterfront in Portland, live music is important. The pub offers live acts every night, and in the daytime, pipes background music through a Time Warner cable channel.

"We play blues during the day - unless it's kind of a downbeat day - then we do oldies and sometimes we'll do swing, or even jazz," Fox says. "But generally we're on blues during the day."

She and her husband pay nearly $200 to the cable company, which includes the music license fee. Fox says they also pay about another $1,000 a year to BMI and ASCAP, to cover the pub's live performances.

It's a hefty expense for a small business, says Fox, but a worthwhile one, "because we do believe in it. I mean we do believe that artists have a right to get compensated for their work."

Meanwhile, BMI this week filed suit against Pandora, after the online radio company refused to pay BMI a higher license fee. BMI argues the increase is warranted, because it reflects the explosive growth of the Internet music streaming marketplace.

Learn more about the "Nashville Comes to Maine" event, which includes a songwriters workshop.



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