ASCAP payouts to songwriters and publishers grew in pandemic 2020 – but it was the smallest increase in 5 years

Elizabeth Matthews, CEO, ASCAP

US-based collection society ASCAP distributed more money to its publisher and songwriter members in 2020 than it did in 2019. That’s positive news for a music business that might have feared Covid’s impact on these numbers would have seen payouts go into decline.

However, the margin of the increase, at just +$29 million (to $1.213 billion), was the smallest YoY jump in annual payouts by ASCAP for half a decade.

In 2019, that increase stood at $75 million, and the year before it was $102 million, according to MBW’s analysis of ASCAP annual reports.

You have to go back to 2013 – when ASCAP saw an annual rise of $24 million in its annual distributions – for a smaller year-on-year growth. (That said, in 2015, the PRO saw a $16 million YoY decline in distributions.)

ASCAP logo

In contrast to its payouts, ASCAP’s annual revenue collection sped up in 2020.

The body’s new annual report, published today (March 9), shows its yearly revenue collections grew by $53 million last year, up on the $47 million growth in collections the org saw in 2019.

ASCAP says that between 2015 and 2020, its collections saw a 6% compound annual growth rate, and its annual distributions demonstrated a 7% compound annual growth rate.

As compared to 2019, ASCAP’s revenue collected from overseas (via PRO affiliates around the world) rose by 9% to $358 million in 2020.

ASCAP’s collected domestic revenue was up by 2.5% in 2020 at $969 million, an increase of $24 million from 2019.

That domestic US revenue was partly driven by gains of 28% in audio streaming revenue and 8% in audio/visual revenue.

In a media release, the org added: “ASCAP’s strategy to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 helped to offset uncontrollable declines in other sectors, including a 30% decline in revenues from businesses that were shut down or at reduced capacity during the last three quarters of 2020, such as live concerts and events, music venues, bars, clubs, restaurants, retail stores, hotels and more.”

ASCAP operates on a not-for-profit basis and distributes all revenues collected, less operating expenses.

The body now counts over 800,000 songwriter, composer and music publisher members, “from the most successful names in music to those at the early stages of their careers”.

That number is up on the 570,000 members ASCAP counted in 2015; in 2013, ASCAP counted around 500,000 members.

The mean average payout for each of the 800,000 ASCAP members in 2020 (from the body’s $1.123bn total distribution) was approximately $1,516. (Though obviously many of those 800,000 members – such as the three major music publishers and leading songwriters – would have been paid much more than this, while many others will have been paid less.)

In ASCAP’s annual report, Elizabeth Matthews, CEO of ASCAP, wrote: “How did we accomplish such progress in the midst of a global pandemic? It helps to have the greatest community of music creators in the world. It also helps to have the greatest team of talented, hard-working and passionate employees committed to the mission of ASCAP, which is to protect and advocate for our members.

“Together, we harnessed strength and resilience to overcome the many challenges this crisis has thrown at us. When COVID-19 first hit last March, ASCAP seamlessly pivoted to remote work and gave our employees the tools, support and flexibility to adjust their lives to continue to deliver excellent service for ASCAP members.

“We quickly made operational changes and expense cuts to mitigate the pandemic’s impact. We optimized and aggressively executed our collection efforts. As so many of our valued licensees closed their businesses or suffered revenue declines, we finalized important deals with major licensees that were positively impacted by consumer behavior during the pandemic.”

“When COVID-19 first hit last March, ASCAP seamlessly pivoted to remote work and gave our employees the tools, support and flexibility to adjust their lives to continue to deliver excellent service for ASCAP members.”

Elizabeth Matthews, ASCAP

Added Matthews: “We did this to make up for revenue loss in categories that were outside of our control. In addition to the many multi-year deals already in place for 2020, we closed or renewed over 130 deals in categories such as Cable, Broadcast TV, radio and Audio/Visual and Audio Streaming.

“We accelerated our distributions, including our Symphony, Recital and Education royalties, and adjusted our financial management protocols to stabilize distributions and give our members more financial security going forward. We completed system upgrades to boost performance and continued with the migration of our infrastructure to the cloud, all while improving security and increasing efficiency and reliability across all of our tech operations.”

Paul Williams, ASCAP Chair, said: “I am so impressed by ASCAP and its extraordinary efforts in 2020. The team worked extremely hard and under incredibly difficult circumstances to make up for revenues lost due to the pandemic and to deliver the financial security and support that music creators need to survive the crisis of our lifetime.

“Their work will have an impact for years to come and as an ASCAP member, I am deeply grateful. Together, we have met the demands of this challenging time period and we look to 2021 with greater hope and strength as a community.”Music Business Worldwide