The New York Times Sunday mag has a pretty interesting story this week on all that, told from the vantage point of how they track down and (inevitably) collect licensing fees from every hole-in-the-wall bar, venue or beauty parlor that plays their artists' music. But this isn't a tale about labels suing grandmothers and college kids who download illegally. It's about tracking down the lady who runs the Coyote Flats Cafe and Bar in Aguila, Texas, so she'll cough up the $16 a week in fees for the music she pipes in through a karaoke machine, TVs, and CD players.
The story follows Devon Baker, a woman who works out of BMI's Nashville HQ and travels the country trying to get people to pay anywhere from $300 to $9,000 a year to play tunes. (If you know anyone who's come out of the recording industry program at MTSU, you probably know someone who's worked at BMI or in publishing at Sony, scanning in copyright info or tracking down licensing violators on the phone.)
And surprisingly, she isn't as aggressive as you'd imagine: Because BMI has never lost a case they've tried in 51 years, they're able to approach the whole thing more like a chess game in the mail. They'll call, and call back. They'll send letters, maybe drop by. The reason? It's easier to rest easy when you're a little bit ahead of the game. They're like the Netflix of the music industry:
“We’re not about shutting things down,” [Richard Conlon, V.P. of new media at BMI] told me. “We’re about nurturing markets. We don’t want people NOT to use it. We know the market is fractionalizing. You wanna take our music and stream it and have electronic whatevers that play when you stick a chip into something or somebody? Go ahead! Do it! Just pay us!”