Although restaurant patrons may never fully be aware of it as they alternate between food and conversation, many restaurateurs use background music to enhance their establishment’s ambience.
But with the costly fees charged by music licensing companies, background music also can add headaches to the daily lives of restaurant owners.
So Ventura musician and entrepreneur Tivadar Madl has come up with a plan to supply music to restaurants--and any other businesses that provide background music for their customers--that would serve as an alternative to typical licensing agreements.
His plan would also provide a foot in the door for musicians who are otherwise unable to get their music played.
Through his MSC Records recording company, Madl and his San Francisco-based partner, Gyula Sziracky, have begun to record the music of lesser-known composers across the country and plan to sell a collection of self-produced CDs to business owners for a one-time fee of $20 to $30 per compact disc.
That compares to annual charges of a couple of hundred to several thousand dollars required by such organizations as the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers and Broadcast Music Inc. for the rights to play the music of major recording artists.
So far, Madl has signed up five musicians and he is searching for more.
“We’re taking this very seriously,” said Madl, who specializes in creating a wide range of instrumental sounds using a synthesizer and a computer. “We’re trying to make a mass amount of music available, to provide CDs of different music and artists and offer quite a variety.”
Madl has tested interest in his venture by contacting establishments in downtown Ventura. But he said the idea should work in similar communities nationwide.
“I think if Main Street restaurants in Ventura will be happy we are providing music, then we should go off Main Street and to the rest of the town, and then go outside California,” Madl said. “Why should we stop? This is a great opportunity to help restaurants in places like Wisconsin as well.”
Madl has received strong support from Kris Pustina, owner of Franky’s restaurant on Main Street in Ventura.
In 1991, Pustina was sued by ASCAP for $20,000 for unlicensed playing of one song by Yanni and another by Suzanne Vega. The two sides reached a $5,000 settlement.
“It’s very difficult to be a small-business person in this day and age in the first place, but it makes it exceedingly difficult to pay anywhere from $140 to $5,000 [for rights to play songs],” Pustina said. “I think it’s important that we at least have a choice. I’ve talked to many restaurants and other small-business people who think the time has come.”
Pustina currently is playing music provided by Madl and a few musicians from whom she has received direct permission. Other restaurant owners often pay royalties to both BMI and ASCAP solely as a precaution, restaurateurs said, since each licenser declines to publish its client list in many states, including California.
Alberta Hultman, assistant executive vice president of the California Restaurant Assn., said she was unaware of the specifics of Madl’s plans but the association’s membership has been active in seeking legislative changes in music licensing fees and enforcement.
“I don’t think there’s a restaurant owner out there that is going to say they don’t want to pay,” Hultman said. “But they don’t want to pay more than they should or what’s reasonable.”
In addition to helping out the establishments, Madl’s venture is intended to assist musicians like himself who have tried the club circuit and other venues and would like their music heard by a larger audience.
“If they play music and other artists’ music, I’m happy. We want to help out the restaurant people, but we also want to get our music out,” Madl said.
“As a local musician, it is really hard to make a living. I know a lot of people who have quality material, but it’s hard to get it out to people.
“When I heard about the restaurant situation, I thought it was a great opportunity to get my music and other music out there.”