Nearly two years after arriving on the Carson music scene, the Warehouse is having to shut down because of one large problem: $3,500 in ASCAP fees.
Since March 23, 2007, the Warehouse has put together all-ages concerts, "Guitar Hero" tournaments and parties. They’ve hosted familiar locals like Weston Buck and Dorcia, along with touring acts from MxPx to Sleepwalk, a Robot.
ASCAP grants venues licenses that allow them to publicly exhibit music written or composed by ASCAP members. They offer different licenses to the grocery store that plays songs over the loudspeaker, the call center that uses hold music and the bar that has a jukebox.
But, music venues also need to be licensed, according to ASCAP, for the MP3s they play between live acts, for bands that are members and for the cover songs acts might perform.
In October, ASCAP sent the Warehouse a letter quoting about $10,000 a year for licensing. Kelly Dodge, who takes care of sound for the shows, figured that since the Warehouse is dedicated mostly to local music and bands that aren’t on major labels, it wasn’t something they needed to pursue.
ASCAP disagreed, and about three weeks ago, a representative showed up to hand-deliver the same quote.
After clarifying some venue details with ASCAP (such as lowering the capacity estimate), the parties reached a final number: $3,500 each year. But Dodge said there isn't room in the budget for that because after expenses in 2008, the Warehouse actually lost money.
Little choice but to close
“We don’t make money,” Warehouse promoter Sarah Armstrong said. “We can’t afford to pay licensing fees.”
Aside from paying each year and simply closing down, the other option is to insist to ASCAP that the Warehouse doesn’t feature any of the millions of songs in ASCAP’s purview and not pay.
But because ASCAP is now aware of the Warehouse as a venue, Dodge said, they will send inspectors periodically to audit shows, and the example he gave is that it would only take one guitarist warming up with a famous riff (for fun, let’s just say “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple) and the Warehouse would be subject to escalating fines because the venues are held responsible for allowing any performance.
“The bummer about this is that the only reason we ever did shows — the only reason we ever did this — was to create community,” Armstrong said.
And the Warehouse doesn’t intend to let that community go, even after the final show.
“We still have all our stuff and connections, so it’s not like we can’t be involved in the local music community,” Armstrong said. “We’re poised, if an opportunity presents itself, to do something new.”
But for now, the Warehouse is shutting down, even though the building and Freedom Church, its sponsor, remain.
“An all-ages venue doesn’t survive on its own,” Armstrong said. “And the fact is the Warehouse never existed without the church.”
So, while it’s tempting to take a “fight the power” stance and refuse to pay, losing the church building to potential fines is not worth the risk, she said.
Final show with She Has a Fashion Vice
The She Has a Fashion Vice concert is going forward partly on momentum, but everything else on the slate has been canceled, even including a kick-ass “Street Fighter IV” tournament in March.
At the Feb. 21 show, they’ll be selling the remaining concessions and merchandise, including commemorative buttons with RIP and “Thanks ASCAP” on the top.
Carson will be losing more than just a big room that hosts music. The Warehouse staff – all unpaid, mind you – tried to go above and beyond.
Dinner show tickets let fans eat with bands before the show, and they made sure the bands were well fed and had a place to stay the night if needed. Each show would have a specially-made button given out as proof of admission instead of a stamp or wrist band.
They also had a deal with Denny’s worked out where the restaurant would feed bands afterward, and anyone who came in with a button would get 10 percent off the bill. That’s the kind of economic and community boost it’d be nice to have had stick around.
“We’ve always been about building relationships and really making sure we’re taking care of people,” Armstrong said.