The new bike-themed mural along West Market Street gets underway, courtesy the Charlottesville Mural Project. You can read more about it here.
Ask most people, even those who like to listen to live music on the DTM, what ASCAP, BMI, and SESACO are, and you’ll most likely get a blank stare. Ask a DTM music venue owner, however, and you’ll get an earful. And don’t be surprised if there’s some gnashing of teeth and clenching of fists. Of all the potential hassles of hosting live music on the DTM, you’d think that battling multi-million dollar music organizations wouldn’t be one of them. But it is.
About a year after Fellini’s owner Jacie Dunkle began hosting live music she got a visit from a representative of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP), who told her, in so many words, that if she didn’t pay the organization a yearly licensing fee for the right to have live music she could be sued.
“When I first opened I didn’t have any idea about ASCAP – even moving from Nashville and seeing the big beautiful building with ASCAP proudly displayed atop it, I didn’t know what it was,” says Dunkle.
ASCAP is a non-profit performing rights organization which licenses and collects royalties for performance of its member’s original music. It’s one of three major licensing groups, the other two being Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI) and Society of European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC), and all of them go after small businesses across the country like Dunkle’s to collect licensing fees that are based on the size the establishment, which can run anywhere from $300 a year to $4,500 a year. In 2011, ASCAP, the larger of the three, had over $900 million in revenue.
Basically, any business that has live music, plays CDs, plays the radio, uses a DJs, charges a cover, or allows people to dance, is likely to be approached aggressively by all of these groups at some point. The idea is that any music written by their members (which basically includes every famous act or musician you’ve ever heard of), whether it’s played live or on a sound system, is a violation of copyright law. To be able to play that music, and avoid legal action, business are told they must pay a yearly licensing fee.
Technically, U.S. Copyright Law requires that permission must be obtained from the copyright owners of songs performed in public, in advance of the songs being performed. Obviously, for the countless unknown bands and musicians across the country, that’s next to impossible to enforce. And clearly, for most small bands, getting, say, Bob Dylan’s permission to play a cover of one of his songs isn’t remotely practical or even possible. So, organizations like ASCAP have chosen to go after the venue owners who host live music. Here’s how ASCAP puts it:
“As a convenience to business owners who use their music in public performance, the members of ASCAP….have collectively agreed to issue a general license to businesses who use their music in public performance. This license provides permission for public performance of the ASCAP repertoire. Fees collected for the license are distributed to the members. ASCAP members have determined both the rate schedule and the distribution of the license fees collected.”
The way many venue owners see it, this is a form of legalized extortion. What’s more, their tactics are aggressive. According to Dunkle and other venue owners, they employ “spies” to find out if any copyright protected music is being played at the restaurant. Indeed, one venue owner the DTM spoke to, who refused to pay the SESAC fee for a time, was eventually informed by the organization that they knew that 130 copyright protected songs had been performed at the venue, and that if they didn’t pay the licensing fee, they could face legal action.
“Occasionally I will get a call or a visit from some young people asking if they could hold a DJ party here and if they could dance,” says Dunkle. ” I can now tell who they are immediately and I always answer no. I will get a phone call from someone asking what band is playing and then they ask what kind of music do I play when the band is on break. I know immediately why they are asking.”
According to another venue owner, the organizations use the same tactics as debt collectors. (Note: several DTM venue owners/managers agreed to provide comments, provided we didn’t name them.)
“There was a time when we would get 5 calls a day from these people,” the venue owner said.
“As far as I am concerned, ASCAP and BMI are near to only being legalized extortionist,” says yet another DTM venue owner. “I hate those guys.”
Of course, ASCAP doesn’t see it that way. When Dunkle questioned the license rate, and an additional request that she pay ASCAP a percentage of any cover charge, she got this response:
“Securing an ASCAP license is analogous to paying for the ingredients you buy to use in the food you serve, or paying for the beverages you serve to your customers. As the business owner, you license the music to be performed, and hire a band to perform it, just like you secure a liquor license and then hire a bartender to serve the beverages.
U.S. Copyright Law clearly states that music is an enhancement to a business when played in public performance. As previously stated, the ASCAP Rate Schedule is determined by the members.”
Some venue owners refuse to cooperate with these organizations.The DTM spoke to one such venue owner, who said they think the licensing requirement is bogus, and that they are bluffing about suing small venues, so they don’t pay. And nothing has happened to them so far.
“I don’t know, from what I hear they are stepping up their game,” said the venue owner, ” and it’s not about whether or not they can win in court, it’s about simply threatening to take small venues to court if they don’t pay, which most can not a afford.”
“Most of the time, restaurants and clubs just go ahead and pay the fees,” says Dunkle, who believes the lawsuit threats are real. “No one can win in a lawsuit. ASCAP has shown me many lawsuits they have filed and won. Lawyer Ben Dick took them on for Chief Gordon during the old Fellini’s days and when their lawyer came to town to meet with Ben and Chief, it was clear to Ben that no way was he going to win, so they settled.”
Indeed, back in March, according to an article in the Hartford Business Journal, a restaurant owner in Hartford, Connecticut forked over $18,000 to BMI, after “agents” of the company informed the owners that they had been present when copyright protected tunes had been played on the restaurant’s sound system. Rather that risk going to court, the restaurant settled.
“A lot of companies can’t be successful with these, in my opinion, frivolous lawsuits,” a lawyer told the Journal. “This is about big companies who have gobbled up the right to these forms of entertainment and now are going after the little guy.”
Of course, companies like BMI argue that they are simply sticking up for songwriter’s rights to compensation. But, of course, a hell of a lot more goes to famous stars who no longer need the dough, while many smaller artists and acts get a measly check in the mail.
And they’re upfront about their tactics, though couched in language like this:
“BMI makes every effort to educate business owners as to the value of a license and the significant costs associated with copyright infringement,” a BMI spokeswoman told the Journal. “Legal action is a last resort after all other efforts have been exhausted.” BMI reaches out to businesses, sometimes “dozens of times,” before a lawsuit is initiated, the spokeswoman said.
“Frankly, I hated the whole thing,” says yet another venue manager the DTM spoke to. “BMI was costing me roughly $4,000 a year, ASCAP was approximately $1,200 a year, and SESAC was approximately$1,000, but i had no choice, so i paid up.”
The manager thinks there’s an argument to be made that the fees are justified, in that artists are getting paid for their original works, but he says there’s also an argument to be made that going after small venues across the country is legal extortion.
Of course, the whole situation raises the complicated issue of modern copyright law. Is it fair that Disney can plunder the world’s literature and then aggressively sue anyone who copies or mimics its various productions? ASCAP is famous for going after the Girl Scouts of America in an argument about what songs they could sing around the campfire. They also went after Verizon, arguing that song ringtones amounted to a public performance of the song. Oh, and technically, you can’t sing “Happy Birthday” without approval from ASCAP. Today, copyright law basically gives the owner of a song a broad monopoly of use on its performance for a long time — the life of the artist, plus 70 years. Is that a good idea?
Just recently, lawyers representing a long-forgotten rock band called Spirit have filed a lawsuit against Led Zeppelin, claiming that the band members ripped off Spirit’s song “Taurus” to create the iconic hit “Stairway to Heaven.” Indeed, you can listen to “Taurus” on YouTube, and parts of the intro are immediately recognizable. But, of course, Zeppelin took it (if they did indeed take it) and did something completely different with it. Of course, it’s great that lesser known, or should we say underrepresented artists, like many of the African-American blues masters that rock and rollers stole from, should be compensated, but should every influence on a created work be compensated, once that creative work starts raking in the dough?
Copyright, of course, was enshrined by Thomas Jefferson in the Constitution, which gives Congress the authority to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” Basically, this was a balancing act between creators and society, for someone else might come along and make the original idea better, and that should freely be allowed to happen for the betterment of society and culture. Indeed, a limited copyright would allow the creator to be rewarded, but would also allow ideas to flow freely. Today, of course, major corporations and artists guard the rights to their work like small nation-states.
But originality and appropriation are one in the same. Nothing is born in a vacuum. Musicians especially, are influenced by what came before, indeed inspired to copy and mimic and transform past works into something “new.” Indeed, rock and roll itself is an appropriation of the blues, and blues and jazz as art forms built on a foundation of appropriation and imitation. To copyright the use of or playing of music beyond an initial use, and with perhaps a short period of time for second use and commercial rights, does nothing but strangles the heart and soul of the art. Indeed, it punishes the public and the culture that made the music iconic in the first place.
Note: The last two paragraphs, by the way, were basically ripped off from writer Jonathan Lehman’s essay in Harper’s Magazine called the “Ecstasy of Influence, ” in which he ripped off a few things from this reporter.
“Many have made the argument that music played at a commercial venue benefits the artists as much as the venue,” says one last DTM venue owner. ” I agree with this, especially a venue like ours where most of the music played is independent artists. We get the sound out there and people are constantly asking us who we are playing so they can go out and purchase the music. As for live music, I will just never understand why the venue has to pay for a band who wants to come in and do a cover tune.”
This venue owner believes these organizations are a legal scam and the industry needs to grow up and figure out a better system, but because only the biggest and richest companies are profiting by this system it will never change.
Young artists, the venue owner says, need to look into signing with organizations like Creative Commons and the few others out there like them.
“Instead I am sure they are told early in their careers that they will benefit by putting their music with ASCAP and the like, they sign and gigantic record labels now have one more reason to extort money from mom and pop bars and restaurants all over the country.”
Oh, and if you read this story out loud in a local bar, you can expect a call from my lawyer.
The iconic mural of two Indian chiefs that graces the side wall of the Afghan Grand Market on West Main Street will remain as a new Marriott Residence Inn goes up beside it, but it will be largely obscured from view, say City officials.
The mural was commissioned by former Random Row Books in 2011 and painted by a group of Tandem Friends School students, a response to the nearby Lewis, Clark, and Sacagawea statue. More importantly, the late developer Gabe Silverman, who died last November and owned the Afghan Grand Market building under his Main Street Associates, LLC, allowed the mural to be painted on his property.
“There will be a few feet between the hotel wall and the Afghani Market wall. You will still be able to see it, but barely,” says Mary Joy Scala, the City’s Preservation and Design Planner.
Scala believes the Indian mural is the best mural in town, and that it also serves as a reminder of Silverman’s imprint on the community.
“I am sad that it will no longer be clearly visible,” says Scala, ” but the best things are often ephemeral.”
Well, work on one downtown hotel is commencing, as crews lay the ground work for the new Marriott Residence Inn on the corner of West Main and Ridge/McIntire. This mural, captured recently by Hawes Spencer, was commissioned by former Random Row Books in 2011 and painted by a group of Tandem Friends School students, a response to the nearby Lewis, Clark, and Sacagawea statue. There was some controversy at the time, as the mural was painted without City approval, but it was embraced by the community and remains. But will it be preserved? Stay tuned.
In a spare bedroom of his Belmont house, the McGuffey artist-in-residence Russell Richards stands next to one of the stars of his latest short film, a grotesque stop motion model he built by hand. A replica of a 19th century phenomena called a Fiji Mermaid, the foot-and-a-half figure is grey-skinned, with shriveled breasts that hang over a fish’s lower body, laying horizontally with crazy gray hair, bug eyes and a leer on its face as it gnaws on the outstretched intestines of an incredibly life-like rat. The rodent itself took four days to make as Richards raced to complete it by the first of March so he could submit the 13 minute movie for a festival deadline.
“Like everything on this film it kept taking so long,” Richards says a little exhaustedly. Almost four years ago, he began work on the short movie after encountering a “real” Fiji Mermaid at a maritime museum on Rehoboth Beach, NJ. In the mid-1800s, carnivals and even P.T. Barnum touted a new attraction: a beautiful creature, half woman, half fish, that had been captured. Buy a ticket and she was available to gawk at somewhere inside.
The Fiji Mermaid was of course an elaborate hoax and a cruel buzzkill. Whoever expected a gorgeous sea nymph instead found a disgusting amalgamation: the upper torso of a dried-up dead monkey sewn on to the bottom of a dead fish. Papier Mâché was usually employed to heighten its revulsion.
A century and a half later, Richards was entranced. “It was just the creepiest damn thing,” he says, his eyes alive with the recollection. “Really convincingly done. I just couldn’t get it out of my mind. That’s a movie monster there.”
If you’ve seen Richards’ first short film Bride of the Fly, or viewed his art at McGuffey or online, then you’re aware of his hyper-stylized, occasionally garish visual style. Highly informed by the fields of science fiction and fantasy, Richards’ imagination brings forth a cavalcade of ghouls and demented demons, yet they’re depicted with such affection that they’re not exactly scary, more to be tolerated and even loved than fought or detested.
Richards’ art is evenly split between these sorts of creatures and his renderings of nude female models, so Fiji Mermaid was almost an ideal project for him. “I was intrigued by the idea that they entice you in with visions of a sexy woman mermaid, but instead you get this hideous little creature,” he says. In a pivotal scene, the film’s protagonist makes out with a beautiful topless mermaid whose face morphs into that of the horrific Fiji Mermaid. One or the other eventually lures the forlorn man to his death.
“What if there really were horrid mermaid creatures like that,” he asks, “and the vision of a sexy mermaid was like the Siren call of Greek myth that lured sailors to their death? That’s the theme of this in my view.” In the film, the attraction of an exotic beauty is undeniable but the horrific seems equally magnetic. Perhaps the artist is telling us that both are to be loved and feared.
Out in Russell’s fenced-in backyard, a long gray square column lays abandoned in the sunburnt grass. Constructed near the end of filming, Richards had returned to Charlottesville from Coney Island where he filmed most of the movie during two frigid winter days. Shooting almost exclusively on 16mm film, he ran out during a sequence filmed in front of a concrete column. To make up the difference he had one built out of plywood and painted gray and finished the scene in his driveway in Belmont. “Damned if it didn’t match,” he says, beaming (it helped that his girlfriend Dea Detritus played the gypsy in that scene. Two friends—Shawn Decker and a model named Shakti—rounded out the cast).
The column is also one of the few props in the film not made by Richards. He traded a colleague a painting in exchange for it, as he struggled to fund the film. Initially financed by Kickstarter, he finished with his own money and unique barters for services like the construction of the fraying column.
Back inside the house, he stops beside a six foot high booth that sits in a corner of a back room. “Real Alive” it announces on the side and it is the film’s main prop, where the protagonist views the Fiji Mermaid in action. Faux barnacles on the base make it look like it’s been dragged out of the sea. The house is strewn with objects like these. On one wall hangs a framed portrait that was used for the tarot cards Russell made for the gypsy sequence. Down the steps and in the basement, an ornate light box created to resemble the kind of sign that used to hang outside buildings on the boardwalk at Coney Island leans on the cement floor. An early mold for the Fiji Mermaid rests on a nearby workbench.
“I could have made a feature with the amount of work I put into this film,” Russell surmises. Like Bride of the Fly, Fiji Mermaid is an idiosyncratic film where every frame was preconceived and painfully executed. “I knew this was going to be low budget but that I could design every damn frame of the film, and make it artful, cool to watch, and rich visually.”
“I also wanted it to be a knowledgeable film,” he says. “I have a tendency to really research things, so I looked into everything about mermaids and Coney Island and the old sideshows, so that I could sneak in all sorts of little references.”
It’s an approach to filmmaking that might be enriching for both viewer and the director, but is antediluvian in today’s film world, instead harkening back to directors of the 1960s and 70s, or perhaps a modern-day maverick like Darren Aronofsky or quirky auteur like Wes Anderson. So far, Richards’ approach has worked with his short films where the bizarre and abstract can flourish and are even welcomed.
Whether it will translate to something more substantial will be tested with one of his next projects, a prospective feature length movie. “All my films are going to be fantastical, with wild imagery, special effects, and within the confines of science fiction and horror,” he admits, sitting on the green couch in his living room. A collection of H.P. Lovecraft stories rests on a corner table next to him while a cat named Valis (after his favorite Philip K. Dick book) purrs on his lap. “They’ll be surreal and lurid.” In other words, what we’d expect from the mind of Russell Richards.
Of course, the first Friday of every month means that DTM art galleries open up their new and on-going shows to the public. It’s a tradition. Go see some art!
First Fridays: March 7, 2014:
Angelo 220 E. Main St. “New Work: Marsh and Ocean,” paintings by Robin Braun. 5:00-7:30pm.
The Bridge PAI 209 Monticello Rd. A preview of the “Habitat City” on display for the public. 5:00-8:00pm.
CitySpace 100 Fifth St. NE. “Youth Art Month,” featuring artwork by students from Albemarle County Public Schools in the CitySpace Gallery. Artwork by Warren Craghead in the PCA office. 5:30-7:00pm.
C’Ville Arts 118 E. Main Street. “Adventures in Felting” by Karen Shapcott. 6:00-8:00pm.
FIREFISH Gallery 108 Second St. NW. “This is How You Open a Pomegranate,” a collaborative exhibit. 5:30-8:00pm.
The Garage 250 First St. N. “Scenes from Lake Elster,” photographs by William Connally. 5:30-7:30pm.
McGuffey Art Center 201 Second St. NW. “Planets & Plants,” featuring ceramic wall reliefs by Scott Supraner in the Sarah B. Smith Gallery; “Paper: On, Of,” a group exhibit of works on paper in the Lower Hall Galleries; and “Charlottesville In 2 Dimensions: Bridges” in the Upper Hall Galleries. 5:30-7:30pm
Well, its been 5 years and 351 days since the groundbreaking ceremony for the proposed “Landmark Hotel,” according to the DTM’s construction clock, and finally someone has come up with a sensible, if temporary solution to dealing with the concrete eye-sore. The Bridge Progressive Art Initiative has proposed doing a series of collaborative art projects on the exterior of the building.
From 2009 to 2013, Matthew Slaats, the executive director of BridgePAI, says he was involved in a series of projects in New York that looked at the ways that art could temporarily address vacant sites that would be developed.
“Especially after the 2008 financial crisis, there were a multitude of development projects that could not get funding and that provided opportunities for artists and designers to create projects which addressed those sites short term,” says Slaats. ” After the Planning commission voted to blight the Landmark, I saw an opportunity for this type of conversation to take place in Charlottesville. ”
In addition, Slaats says he wanted to “respond to all the negativity that was going on between the City of Charlottesville and Dewberry Capital in positive and generative ways. ”
The pitch is this: The Bridge will help to develop a series of art installations on the building that would both serve to remedy the security/safety issues the City wants addressed, provide a way for Dewberry Capital to do some public relations work around the development, and finally allow The Bridge to create an opportunity for local artists to participate in a very creative/public project.
“As of right now, “says Slaats,””we are still working with the City and Dewberry to see what is plausible.
Back in 2011, Downtown residents David and Carolyn Benjamin, representing 23 other Downtown residents, proposed “wrapping” the building, something that is common in Europe, and can be viewed HERE, but the proposal went nowhere.
We’ve provided a link to their full proposal below, which will be submitted to the current owner, Dewberry Capital, and the City of Charlottesville for approval, as well as photos of some of the proposed art projects.
Some proposed installations: