On February 13th, 1914, at a gathering in New York City, a small, but visionary group of the nation’s most distinguished and popular songwriters founded The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP). A few years later, the United States Supreme Court upheld ASCAP’s right to collect royalties for the public performance of its members’ copyrighted music.
Over the ensuing century, ASCAP has been as prominent a force for the advancement, nurture and financial wellbeing of songwriters as any record label or publishing outfit one could care to name. Governed by a Board of Directors elected by and from the membership every two years, ASCAP has defended creators’ rights at every turn against those who would seek to devalue music. Today, with copyright under renewed assault, that mission is as resonant and vital as ever, along with its role as nurturer of the young songwriters and composers who represent the future of music.
The organization has seen its ranks grow to 480,000 current members – a majority of whom have joined in just the last few years. ASCAP processes a staggering 250 billion performances annually, resulting in $4.2 billion in distribution to members in the last five years alone.
In A Friend in the Music Business: The ASCAP Story (Hal Leonard Books; Feb. 4, 2014; $29.99), award-winning music writer Bruce Pollock looks back at ASCAP’s influence on the music industry over the last 100 years and its continued relevance and importance today. The book features a foreword by Quincy Jones and a preface by Lyle Lovett.
Pollock opens with chapters covering the early triumphs of ASCAP co-founder Victor Herbert, who championed the cause of his fellow composers and lyricists in the halls of Congress in 1913, and Gene Buck, who guided ASCAP through the “Golden Age” of pop songwriting from the mid-1920s through the 1930s.
He then looks at the influences of radio, one of ASCAP’s prime sources of income since its inception in the 1920s and, in time, one of its prime sources of conflict, and television, where Tin Pan Alley, Broadway and Hollywood songs found a whole new audience through adult-oriented hosts like Ed Sullivan and Arthur Godfrey. The emergence of rock ‘n’ roll in the late 1950s; of Bob Dylan and an influx of new folk, pop and rock writers soon after; and Berry Gordy’s decision to move much of his massive catalog to ASCAP in 1971 all get their due.
In bringing the story to the present, Pollock examines the complexities of giving songwriters their just rewards in the age of the Internet.
The ASCAP Centennial Songbook (Hal Leonard; March 1, 2014; $19.99) recalls 55 song highlights spanning the history of ASCAP and celebrating its representation of some of the greatest songwriters of all time. Among the songs included are “Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life,” “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “Over the Rainbow,” “At Last,” “Moon River,” “The Way We Were,” “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now),” and “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It).”
The book features a foreword by ASCAP President Paul Williams, notes about the songs by decade, and photographs of the composers and lyricists.
“For one hundred years, ASCAP and its music creator members have been at the very heart of American music business with great songs and compositions and with a common sense way for songwriters and composers to earn a living,” said Williams. “ASCAP’s challenges, innovations and tireless efforts to protect its members’ rights over the past century is a story well worth telling and it all can be found in the newly published A Friend in the Music Business: The ASCAP Story. We are so grateful to author Bruce Pollock and the good people at Hal Leonard Books for putting together this deeply informative, entertaining and readable account. Bruce covers all the bases – the music business, the cultural impact, the personalities, and what lies ahead. To top it off, Hal Leonard soon will a beautifully combined companion ASCAP Centennial Songbook, containing sheet music and information on classic ASCAP songs from each decade of the past hundred years, ranging from Berlin to Bruno Mars.”