Back in the late 1990s, a young graduate of Hampden-Sydney College became my office-mate at a doomed Internet-start-up called Value America. It was his first real job out of college, and he hated it. We shared an office the size of a broom closet with no windows, and created and cranked out stupid ads for laptops and Weber grills that ran in USAToday and the The Wall Street Journal. We had greedy hopes that our stock options would be worth something one day. Alas, Value America went down in flames. One Christmas, though, young Taylor Smack received a home beer-brewing kit. The rest, of course, is local history. Now, Smack and his partners have purchased South Street Brewery on the DTM, where Smack actually worked for five years as he was hatching his beer-making plans. Below, you’ll find a release from Smack – who was always a fine writer, by the way – that’ll give you some details about his plans for the place. This, my friends, is a welcome development for the DTM. – David McNair
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 Starlight Express, our coolest and cheapest way to get to New York City, has secured a bus stop within walking distance of the DTM (or a short distance on the Free Trolley), atop the steps to the Amtrak station on the eastern end of the Drewary Brown Bridge. The location is a partnership with CAT, Charlottesville Area Transit, the controller of the bus stop, and will be one of Starlight’s two Charlottesville stops, the other one along India Road, located between Seminole Square Shopping Center and the nearby K-Mart Garden Center. A former location at the Ix complex will be discontinued.
The new location launches tomorrow, March 27.
“This puts the Starlight Express in walking distance for thousands of Charlottesville citizens and creates new connections to transit systems,” says General Manager Dan Goff, who bought the bus company in 2004 from founders Oliver Kuttner and David New, in a release. “This is a win for the traveler and a win for the environment.”
Unfamiliar with the Starlight Express? Here you go:
What: Connects Charlottesville and New York City via safe, modern, comfortable, and affordable motor coaches.
Price: One-way tickets cost $49-69; round-trip tickets cost $99-139 (prices depend on demand and advance purchase)
Two curbside locations in Charlottesville: • Eastbound side of West Main (the CAT stop at the Amtrak stairway) • India Road (between Hampton Inn and K-Mart Garden Center)
One curbside location in New York City: • First block of 9th Avenue (the cobblestoned street between Catch restaurant and Gansevort Meatpacking NYC hotel — one block east of High Line Park)
Schedule/connectivity: Six weekly departures provide New Yorkers with a weekend in Charlottesville and Charlottesvillians with a weekend in New York. The Starlight Express requires just a little over six hours to reach New York City with such comforts as large seats, onboard snacks, as well as electrical outlets and WiFi on most departures. The new centralized location on West Main Street facilitates footstep connections to both Amtrak and to Greyhound.
Charlottesville, Virginia — The DTM, Charlottesville, Virginia’s hyper-local news and information website about the popular Downtown Pedestrian Mall area, announces the launch of DTM Digital Services, a comprehensive suite of Internet marketing services geared toward helping local businesses and organizations expand their web presence, promote their brand, and make their digital communications more effective.
Despite being launched just four months ago by award-winning journalist David McNair, The DTM drew over 70,000 views in January. Stories broken on the website have been featured on Gawker and other blogs and news websites across the country. A fundraising campaign for The DTM at Go Fund Me has raised over $3,000 so far, but McNair hopes the website will soon be self-supporting.
Indeed, The DTM’s coverage of the so-called “knock out attack” on the Downtown Mall in December, which broke stories on the incident that offered important details that went uncovered by the local media, prompted the executive editor of Fast Company Magazine, Rick Tetzeli, to comment, “Good stuff from what seems to be the best news source in Charlottesville.”
McNair—a former reporter/editor for The Hook newspaper, which, despite winning the state’s top journalism prize three times, most recently in 2013, was closed down by its owners last September—says the idea for The DTM grew out of his concern that truly independent local journalism was disappearing in Charlottesville.
“The fact is, the traditional business model for newspapers, which involves selling print advertising, is dying,” says McNair,” which is what led to the demise of The Hook, despite its record of outstanding journalism.”
The DTM, says McNair, is his attempt to build a local news organization “from the digital ground up,” optimizing everything the web has to offer for helping businesses market and promote themselves, while providing a news business model that will allow quality local journalism to flourish.
“It’s not going to be an easy task,” says McNair, “but if we want truly independent local journalism to survive, it involves figuring out how to make online news organizations self-sustainable. And The DTM is just the beginning. We hope to one day have a suite of hyper-local news websites, and create a model that might be used across the country.”
To that end, The DTM is adopting an advertising model that newspapers like the Press Democrat in Santa Rosa, California have successfully launched.
“Basically, it involves establishing an in-house internet marketing agency,” says McNair. “The Press Democrat has something called the MediaLab, which is dedicated to offering businesses a whole suite of internet marketing services and support. So far, its been more successful than any other business model I’ve seen.”
What’s more, creating such an agency within a news organization is right up a journalist’s alley, says McNair.
“Basically, effectively marketing, branding, and promoting your business across the web involves doing the same thing that makes journalism great– telling compelling stories,” says McNair. “What makes you unique? What special services do you offer the community? Why should people choose you over the competition? What are your core values? Now more than ever, the web is a dynamic place to get your story out and make an impression on the public.”
Indeed, a 2012 study by the Pew Research Center for the People & The Press found that one-third of adults under 30 get their news and information on social media networks. That’s double what it was in 2010, says the study, and that trends shows no sign of slowing down. Another 2012 Pew Research Center study found that half of all Americans now get their news and information digitally, topping newspapers and radio.
“Let’s face it,” says McNair, ” if your business doesn’t have a solid online or social media presence these days, you’re going to be left out of the conversation, and left behind.”
As McNair points out, for many business owners, this brave new digital world can be scary and confusing. What the heck is SEO, SMS and SEM? What’s a mobile news app?
“What’s more, trying to develop an online/digital presence can be tedious and time-consuming for business owners,” says McNair, “who really need to be focusing on what’s important–running their business and dealing with actual real-life customers!”
Again, as McNair points out, internet marketing is really about telling stories, despite all the technical jargon, and using the various new channels to deliver those stories. As an award-winning journalist in the digital age, a published fiction writer, and a marketing professional, McNair brings a unique set of story-telling skills to the table.
“I’m willing to sit down and explain this stuff to people, work with them, and come up with a compelling, smart way to use all this amazing technology to tell their story,” says McNair. “It is confusing, and in a lot of ways we’re learning as we go, but like it or not, the internet is where our public discourse is now.”
Event features and promotions, web ads, search engine optimization, email marketing, social media marketing, video production, public relations, and blogging services are just a few of the internet marketing tools offered by DTM Digital Services.
To learn more about The DTM, and DTM Digital Services, visit charlottesvilledtm.com or contact David McNair at 434-305-9364 or email@example.com
USAToday–It takes more than beans to serve a great cup of coffee. The country’s best coffeehouses also specialize in hospitality, says David Heilbrunn, who runs Coffee Fest, a trade show that promotes specialty coffee: “They know their customers. You feel like family when you walk in the door.” He works with industry expert Chris Deferio on an annual competition to find the country’s top coffeehouses. They share some of their favorite spots with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY.
Mudhouse Coffee Charlottesville, Va.: “ It’s not surprising to find a busy shop in a university town, but it’s much rarer to find good coffee, Deferio says. “Mudhouse has both. It has the local art and the quintessential coffeehouse feel — and they have amazing coffee.”
Photo from Mudhouse website
Sorry, a bit of shameless marketing for you today. But its a great opportunity for Downtown area business and organizations who want to create a buzz or get some attention. The DTM had 69,000 page views in January, and just recently a post about the new restaurant The Alley Light generated close to 2,000 direct page views in two days! Listen to what one Downtown business owners had to say recently:
“Since I don’t have much time (or interest) in social networking other than an occasional post on Facebook, I appreciated the information posted on The DTM by Dave McNair. Trying to let others know that the musician “88 Keys Wilson” was turning 88 was difficult at best. But after The DTM posted something about the birthday event we held for him people who wouldn’t have known otherwise came to the event. I will continue posting information on The DTM because it seems to reach so many people!” – Jaclynn Dunkle, owner, Fellini’s #9 Restaurant, on the effectiveness of the DTM’s Event Feature.
Indeed, if you’ve got a special event or promotion coming up, advertising on The DTM is a fast, affordable, and effective way to get the word out. What’s more, as a stakeholder in the Downtown area, you’ll be helping to build a go-to online destination for all things DTM. Visit our Advertising Section for more information and contact us today!
Paintings and Prose will be moving out of its location at 406 East Main Street this week, making way for My Chocolate Shoppe, which offers hand-crafted specialty chocolates in 29 different flavor combinations.
Painting and Prose bookstore and gallery is, ah, the brain child of Virginia NeuroCare Inc., a brain injury services program funded by the Department of Defense, which operates the bookstore and gallery as a non-profit business, but more importantly as a treatment program for those service members suffering from brain injuries. who work in the store. They say they will be relocating. They are also having a special offer this week–buy four books and get SIX books free. Though DTM ran into a few people who just got a pile of free books!
As for My Chocolate Shoppe, it’s a business that someone should have thought to put on the DTM years ago! Seriously. It’s hard to believe that no one has opened a chocolate shop on the DTM.
My Chocolate Shoppe is the tastebud-child of Mary Schellhammer, who opened her first chocolate shop in Fredericksburg, and now has decided to re-locate to Charlottesville. Back in 2006, Mary left a sales career to become a personal chef. She’s always loved mixing herbs and spices and on a whim she mixed up some chocolate with some rosemary and found it was delicious. The experimenting continued and sons she found that the demand for her chocolate creations had taken over. In 2010, the Virginia Department of Agriculture named her chocolates the “Best New Product in Virginia.”
“I never thought of myself as an artist, but I do believe I have found my creative passion,” writes Mary. ” I like to say “I am an artist…my medium is chocolate and my canvas is your tongue.”
Schellhammer says that while the new store will carry her line of 29 herb and spice infused chocolates, My Chocolate Shoppe will be a “fully functioning chocolate factory utilizing pure milk and dark couverture imported directly from Belgium.”
” I want it to be the first place you think of when you crave chocolate,” she tells The DTM.
To that end, there will be 20-feet of glass cabinets containing over 200 chocolate truffles, bon bon’s, creams, jellies and nuts choices, allowing customers to customize their own boxes of chocolates. In addition, they will be offering home-made fudge, caramel, chocolate dipped apples, and hand molded hollow chocolate specialties.
Right now, any cravings will have to wait a little longer, as Schellhammer says she’s shooting for a December 15 opening if all goes according to plan.