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Hey Congress! Like Music? Let’s Pay Creators | Commentary

By Daryl P. Friedman This week, more than 1,600 songwriters, artists, musicians and producers in nearly every congressional district will put down their instruments and leave the studios to become citizen lobbyists. Oct. 14 is Grammys in My District Day. Creators will not be handing out awards, but they will be looking for music’s new stars among members of Congress.  

Their cause is the future of music and their sense of urgency is high, because the companies that are built on music are turning their backs on music creators. Satellite radio and new digital music platforms such as YouTube, Spotify and Pandora have fashioned business models that under value music, while large corporate radio companies pay nothing to artists and musicians for the product they put on the air.  

The irony is that this is happening at a time when there can be an explosion of creativity in the music community. New digital tools and new digital platforms make it possible for creators to reach new and niche audiences. Creators and listeners are connecting in ways that are both imaginative and intimate. We should be entering a new golden age of music, but, instead, we are risking an implosion as creators are forced to leave the profession.  

According to Nielsen, more than 164 billion songs were streamed on audio and video platforms in the U.S. during 2014, a number almost matched in the first six months of 2015 alone. Worldwide, more than 1 billion songs were streamed during the same six-month period. Listeners use services such as Pandora, Spotify and YouTube to find new music and listen to old favorites. These platforms are growing as both physical album sales and digital downloads decline. But these new music merchants are shortchanging creators by relying on outdated music licensing laws that allow them to pay creators below market rates.  

On Grammys in My District Day, the largest grass-roots creator movement in history will ask legislators to support laws that will ensure they are compensated fairly by those who earn billions of dollars selling music.  

Here is how they can do it:  

For performers, end the decades-long embarrassment and create a performance right on radio. For far too long AM and FM radio have grown without fairly compensating artists and producers. Broadcasters argue that performers benefit from the promotional value of radio airplay. But AM and FM radio’s promotional value has declined dramatically since the golden age of radio. Most of the music played on the radio today is catalog music, or oldies. It is great music, which is why corporate radio stations play it; listeners tune in to hear it. But catalog music does not generate record or CD sales. And radio has lost its standing as the top source of new music for listeners.  

For older performers, close the discriminatory practices of digital music services that don’t pay artists for songs created before 1972. Services that have 50s and 60s channels do not compensate performers for use of their work.  

For songwriters and composers, any rate-setting proceeding should reflect what a song would be worth in the marketplace. But sadly, outdated consent decrees treat individual songwriters as monopolies while treating billion dollar music services as a protected class. The result is below-market rates for musical compositions.  

For producers, we must ensure royalty payments are fast, accurate and direct. The law should follow the lead of nonprofit collective SoundExchange and recognize the rights of those who create the overall sound of the recordings we love.  

These three classes of music creators — who comprise our membership — will be advocating for the Fair Play Fair Pay Act, a comprehensive bill that addresses many of these issues and brings a rational balance to music licensing. They will also support the Allocation for Music Producers Act and the Songwriters Equity Act which includes important provisions that should be part of any comprehensive legislation.  

America has had a long running love affair with music, and thanks to new technology, we are closer to our music than ever before. Creators who bring us the music have a basic proposition. They welcome new technology and new businesses and want them to use their music. What they ask for in return is that they are at the table and compensated fairly by those who earn money selling their creations. When they knock on their representatives’ doors on the 14th, they will ask Congress to join them in this quest for basic fairness.  

Daryl P. Friedman is chief industry, government & member relations officer for The Recording Academy.

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