Tuesday, September 07, 2010

DIY: "Hey Kids, We Can Put On a Show Right Here!" -- Part 1

In an earlier post I wondered what it would take to determine the rights payments involved in putting together a musical review consisting of "happy music" from the '20's and the '30's.

In this episode:

I visited the ASCAP web site and filled out an inquiry form -- apparently inadequately.  I received the following email from ASCAP:

Thank you for your email.  To better assist your request to ASCAP.com, please indicate which music uses you are inquiring about. 

To which I replied: 

Thank you. I am thinking of putting together a musical review, to be performed by children in groups such as this one: http://www.piedpipertheatre.org/index.php

The music I am thinking of using would be "happy music" from the 20's and 30's, especially songs with lyrics which might lend themselves to being pantomimed. As an example:
"The Sun Is At My Window" as performed by Jack Denny and His Orchestra (1928, on Brunswick 4170).

I'm still in the process of identifying songs and, not being a musician myself, I would have to investigate the feasibility of obtaining (or creating) arrangements for, say, piano. I therefore am not yet in a position to specify yet exactly what songs I will want to use. I estimate, however, that I'll be trying to obtain rights for between a dozen and fifteen such numbers.

As you may be able to tell, I am a rank amateur -- an absolute beginner, in fact -- in this area. The idea occurred to me as I was listening to music of this type over the Web and I would now like to get an idea of what it would take to follow through with it.

Thank you for your response.

Barry Solow

ASCAP responded:

Thank you for your email. ASCAP does not license for dramatic performances. A dramatic performance shall include, but not be limited to the following:


1) Performance of a "dramatico-musical work" in its entirety

2) Performance of one or more musical compositions from a "dramatico-musical work" accompanied by dialogue, pantomime, dance, stage action, or visual representation of the work from which the music is taken.

3) Performance of one or more musical compositions as part of a story or plot, whether accompanied or unaccompanied by dialogue, pantomime, dance, stage action, or visual representation.

4) Performance of a concert version of a "dramatico-musical work".


The term "dramatico-musical work" shall include but not be limited to a musical comedy, opera, play with music, revue, or ballet.


Please contact the individual copyright holder (usually represented by the music publisher) directly for this type of permission.   Publisher information for works in the ASCAP repertory is available at our website.  Click on the ACE Title Search tab, then click on Search the Database.  Publisher contact information will be displayed for works in the ASCAP repertory.  For works not in our repertory, please check www.bmi.com and/or www.sesac.com for publisher information.


However, if your production does not use lighting, costumes, choreography, etc (i.e. it's a traditional concert), an ASCAP license can be used.

So here is where we stand:

  • You cannot simply draw on culture, even culture which is over eighty-years old, to create a new work.  There are tollbooths posted throughout the paths of our collective memory.  If we want to speak to each other in the cultural language of our past we must pay up.
  • Copyrights are not unitary.  Therefore, they are not straightforward.  You must obtain rights for music to be used in the course of a "dramatico-musical work" from a different source than rights for the same works if they are to be performed in, say, a concert.
  • It appears that there is no central database which can be consulted to determine who owns the rights for a given work.
  • This process is not for the faint-of-heart.

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