American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) has launched a new social media campaign that appears to be in response to a recent Billboard exclusive that revealed that ASCAP’s main competitor, Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI), may sell itself to a private equity firm. Sources say the potential deal has an estimated price tag of $1.7 billion.
Just two days after the Billboard story was published on last Wednesday (Aug 23), ASCAP — which, along with BMI, is one of the largest U.S.-based performing rights organizations — posted a graphic on Instagram and X (formerly known as Twitter) that read: “ASCAP. Creators first. Not for profit. Not for sale.” In the caption of the post, ASCAP continued to point out that it is the “only U.S. PRO that operates as a not-for-profit” and that it is the “only one founded and governed by songwriters, composers and music publishers.”
In the last four days, the organization has posted nine other similar posts on its socials, seemingly highlighting their distinctions from BMI. The posts include quotes like: “Private equity never wrote an iconic love song,” “ASCAP. Growth without greed,” and “ASCAP writers. Who owns us? Who gets paid? You. And you.”
ASCAP CEO, Elizabeth Matthews, provided a statement about the social campaign to Billboard, saying “it’s important for everyone to understand what makes ASCAP different. We are a membership association, founded and run by songwriters, composers and music publishers. We are the only US PRO that operates as a not-for-profit, and our distribution policy is set by a board of writers and publishers, who are elected by our members. ASCAP’s governing articles require us to put creators first, which puts us in a category of one. And we’ve been overwhelmed by the positive response from our members.”
“Our focus is not on how our competitors position themselves,” replied a representative of BMI when asked to comment on ASCAP’s latest social posts. “Relying on the past never sustained a business for the future. Our goal is to stay ahead of the changing industry and invest in our business to grow the value of our affiliates’ music. Any path forward would prioritize the best interests of our songwriters, composers and publishers, including their financial success. Our focus is on delivering for our affiliates.”
BMI first began experimenting with its business model in March 2022 when it hired Goldman Sachs as an outside advisor to explore new strategic opportunities for growth. This was believed to include a possible sale to an outside firm, but by August 2022, Bloomberg announced that BMI had ditched its exploration of such a sale. A few days later, Billboard found that the PRO laid off about 30 staffers from its workforce, citing “uncertain” economic conditions.
By October 2022, BMI announced that it would be switching from its 80-plus year status as a non-profit organization to a for-profit company. In an interview with Billboard at the time, the company’s CEO and president, Mike O’Neill, explained that the company made this switch because “growth requires investment, not just maintenance… This new [commercial] model will grow at a faster rate.”
This summer, reports surfaced that BMI was once again considering a sale. O’Neill explained to his staff in a memo that the company’s new for-profit model and recent investments into improving its operations “has only intensified outside interest” in purchasing the PRO.
Amid growing concern about the future of BMI, songwriter groups — including Songwriters of North America, Black Music Artists Coalition, Music Artists Coalition, Artists Rights Alliance, and SAG-AFTRA — provided Billboard with an open letter to BMI on Aug. 18. Outlining three areas of concern, the songwriter groups question how they will be impacted by BMI’s increased profits; the proceeds from any potential BMI sale; and what may happen operationally at BMI in the event that the organization is sold. “Songwriters have a right to understand these decisions and how it impacts us,” the letter read.
Days after, Billboard reported that multiple sources say BMI is considering an offer to sell to New Mountain Capital, a private equity firm that has been quietly shopping for music assets over the last few years, according to sources. The deal has yet to be signed, as New Mountain Capital has entered an exclusive window to scrutinize the deal. Sources suggest that the deal, if it takes place, will be worth around $1.7 billion.
In response to that exclusive, the same songwriter groups provided Billboard with another open letter to BMI on Aug. 28, expressing that they were “extremely disappointed and upset” to hear the news of a possible sale. The coalition asked for BMI’s chief executive to respond to songwriters with more information “prior to taking any other action” towards the possible sale to New Mountain.
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