In the history of the Great American Songbook from around 1925 to 1965, there was rise and fall in the quality of music, other than just art and genius, the chance was also related to the rivalry on licensing and royalty between the two biggest performing rights organizations—ASCAP and BMI.
The ASCAP, which full name is The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, was firstly estalished in 1910s and its main members were songwritters and lycrists from New York’s Tin Pan Alley ( the collection of New York City’s songwriters and music publishers who gathered in 28th street between Fifth and Sixth Avenue in Manhanttan). The initial goal of ASCAP was to protect the copyright of composers and lycristes by collecting money from restaurants and hotels that offered live music. The founders and early members of ASCAP included Jerome Kern, Gene Buck, Victor Herbet, Otto Harbach, Harry B. Smith and Irving Berlin. ASCAP not only collected money for composers, its formation was very important for lyricists in American music history: It’s the first time that lyricists could receive the same payment and respect as composers. They used to get very few flat fees for writing lyrics for songs from original Tin Pan Alley. Under the influence of ASCAP, American music started to reach its peak of early age. The late 1930s was described as the highest point of the American Songbook from both Broadway and Hollywood out of the Great Depression. When Harold Arlen looked back this period, there were lots of wonderful memories: “It was a great period! Maybe it was the accident of all of us working there because of the Depression. Practically every talent you can name. So many, Jerry Kern, Harry Warren, the Gershwins, Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh, Oscar Hammerstein—even Irving Berlin. ” (p.76) Yes, Irving Berlin, the man who was described as the master of the entire range of popular music, was a member of ASCAP. And his famous song “How Deep Is the Ocean” in 1932 was a representation of the rise of music in 1930s.
But ASCAP’s good time didn’t last for long. In 1941, the radio broadcasters established a boycott of ASCAP called BMI (its full name is Broadcast Music, Inc.) when ASCAP tried to rise the lisence fee again. From then on, the conflict between ASCAP and BMI lasted for a long time. In 1941, the radio stations of NBC and CBS banned ASCAP songs as a protest of high lisence cost. Instead, these radio stations began to play some blues, Jazz, gospel and country music which were not welcomed by ASCAP. After ten months, the ASCAP compromised and agreed to lower its license fee on copyright. One reason why there was competition between ASCAP and BMI was that ASCAP had been too arrogant: They only let show writers and elegant music in, no way for Jazz singers and hillbillies being part of them. But BMI accepted them. As a result, in 1940s and 1950s, some hillbilly music appeared on Billboard for the first time. When it comes to 1950s, there was a big beat on American music: Country music, Rock N’ Roll and rhythm&blues started being popluar. This period was described by famous Rock N’ Roll singer ang songwriter Bob Dylan as