Pay to play 

Food for Thought owner Jasey Stauduhar hadn’t heard of BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.) until the song-publishing giant started calling once a week demanding she cancel open mic night or buy a license from the company. Stauduhar didn’t think much of the calls—“I thought it was a scam,” she says—until BMI threatened legal action. Under the pressure, Stauduhar shut down the restaurant’s music night two weeks ago.

“I’m not making any money from the local music,” she says. “There may be 10 people watching, but I’m not profitable enough to get a minimum license for $275.”

The just-off-campus eatery isn’t being picked on, says BMI representative Marilyn Younger. Every bar, restaurant and club with live music, DJs or even karaoke is required to obtain licenses from song-publishing companies BMI and ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers). Owners can try to avoid having any of BMI’s catalogue played, but with more than 4.5 million songs under company control, that’s not always feasible.

“I even told the local artists that they should only play their own music,” says Stauduhar. “But a snippet of another song gets in here or there.”

Younger doesn’t like to think of her company as the bad guy—she says BMI is just looking out for the songwriters it represents, and that the company cycles all its revenue after expenses back to those songwriters—but BMI’s reputation as a bully persists with Stauduhar.

Younger won’t say how BMI found out about Food for Thought’s open mic night, but acknowledges that the company researches by keeping an eye on newspapers, flyers, the Internet, radio and TV.

“A lot of it, sadly, is by word of mouth,” Younger says. “I say sadly because you’ll have a bar that has been paying us for years and they’re angry that bar across the street isn’t paying their dues.”

Stauduhar considered starting the music back up without a license, but knows that BMI would be right back on her.

“They still call every week and ask whoever answers the phone, ‘So what time’s the live music tonight?’” she says. “They’re trying to catch my employees off guard.”

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