Jeff Robinson can hear the music of the brew. After working as an audio engineer for nearly 30 years, the owner of South Lyon’s Third Monk Brewing doesn’t see that career as dissimilar: “…malt is the bass,” he says, “and hops are the treble, and the yeast is the mastering. I can take components of beers, like carbonation or a hops profile, and slot it right in like it’s full-spectrum audio. When I make a beer, I’m listening to a beer.”
Robinson is also listening closely to the local artists who perform at Third Monk Brewing, the venue he co-owns with Darlene Dunlop. While this South Lyon locale has been serving beers (such as the 5-time medal-winning Lyon Pride Strong Bitter) for nearly five years, with his background in the music industry, Robinson utilizes the 48 seat space for live music as often as possible. Included in the schedule is an open mic night, where Robinson has introduced several songwriters to mobile apps for ASCAP, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, and BMI, and the rights protecting organization known as Broadcast Music Inc., make sure that songwriters, performing free shows inside Third Monk, are getting appropriate and deserved reimbursement.
Educating musicians on earning potential
Robinson moved from Michigan to L.A. in 1990, moving back in the early ‘00s, teaching in the Recording Technology programs at Schoolcraft and Washtenaw Community College. After producing bands in studios for years, working as a radio D.J. and performances as part of a duo with songwriter Jason Dean, Robinson said he “was surprised by the disparity between (songwriters and their levels of organization of their original works)… I’m trying to educate musicians about how to take the next step and utilize (live performances) as a position to earn.”
“It’s possible, now, without the big hand of the music industry’s control, that you don’t have to sign to a major label— you can control all of your own revenue streams without giving it up to other entities.. . . indie artist(s), are the publisher(s) of (their) own music. If an artist is affiliated, they should be deriving their writing royalties.”
Robinson spreads awareness of both ASCAP and BMI among members of the local music scene.
“(ASCAP and BMI) collect royalties on behalf of the songwriter. Any indie artist I work with, I encourage them to take the steps to register with both services and send them your catalog. It allows the artist to get paid for original songs. Once they’re affiliated, they can report any song they play.” Beyond that, said Robinson, artists also have the option of becoming “an affiliate with ASCAP, as a publisher, (which pays artists for) performing rights. While BMI lets you be your own publisher.”
At the end of a performance, Robinson offers to onboard local artists onto mobile apps from BMI where they can then report the songs they played at Third Monk. “And they’ll have the full list of the types of venues you can report, not just a brewery, or a bar.” Made possible by Robinson’s payments of annual fees, as part of Third Monks’ fiscal budget, directly to these music licensing organizations, the affiliation assures that songwriters performing original material are eventually compensated with earned royalties.
Music fans and songwriters have heard that it’s harder than ever to make a living off of downloads, sales, or, worse, streaming (Spotify averages .003 cents per song). Robinson prioritizes the value of songwriters, which led to Third Monk paying out more than $8,500 to songwriters in 2019 alone. Because of the brewery’s relatively small output, Third Monk pays a lower amount in federal excise tax per barrel brewed, which gave Robinson the budgetary flexibility to support local artists. “It’s important for me to be able to offer this venue.” Robinson explains, adding that it was important that Third Monk is recognized not only for beer but as a “listening room.”
Third Monk is also the name of one of Robinson’s indie record labels, where he most recently engineered local songwriter Brion Riborn’s album Don’t Look Back, Never Look Back. Robinson has hosted 240 open mic nights to date, and he plans to start back up with more performances in the listening room in April.