More than 200 musicians, songwriters, and other music stakeholders visited Washington D.C. yesterday as part of the ‘Grammys On The Hill’ Advocacy Day.
‘Grammys On The Hill’ is the largest annual political lobbying event in the music business. Spanning two days, the event began on April 15 with the 2015 ‘Grammys on the Hill’ Awards, where singer/songwriter/pianist Alicia Keys was honored with the Recording Artists’ Coalition Award.
House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and ranking member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) were also honored for their continued support of new legislation that advances the interests of artists.
The following day, musicians and songwriters were invited to meet with lawmakers as part of the aptly titled Advocacy Day. Saxophonists Mindi Abair and Kirk Whalum, vocalists Ledisi and Ray Parker Jr., and producer Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins were among the attendees that the event, which celebrated its 11th anniversary in 2015.
The aim of this year’s Advocacy Day was to lobby in favor of The Fair Play Fair Pay Act of 2015 (FPFPA).
The act, which was introduced by Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), aims to close the many loopholes that allow broadcasters to get away with paying no royalties on certain music broadcasts.
The biggest change proposed by the bill is the introduction of a new public performance royalty on sound recordings broadcast on terrestrial radio.
As it stands now, every time you hear a song on terrestrial radio, the songwriter/publisher gets paid but the artist/record label does not. Broadcasters have long tried to justify this practice by claiming their airplay provides “valuable promotion,” which helps boost record sales for the artists. However, that excuse can no longer pass muster in an age when the few engaged radio listeners are much more likely to seek out internet streams from YouTube or Spotify than to actually buy the music.
It could also be seen as ‘unfair’ that companies like Pandora and Spotify, who also serve as a broadcaster-of-sorts, are forced to pay royalties on recordings while terrestrial broadcasters do not. The U.S. is one of just a few countries in the world that have this inherently biased system in place; and, if passed, this bill will bring the U.S. in line with the rest of the world.
The bill also appears to solve a problem I have already written at length about – A loophole that allows streaming services like Pandora to avoid paying royalties on any songs recorded before 1972. This problem disproportionately affects jazz artists more than any other genre, as songs recorded before 1972 make up the majority of the songs suggested by services like Pandora, so getting this loophole close should be a priority for our community.
However, even with the support of the Recording Academy and countless others, it will be an uphill battle to get this bill passed.
While it makes special provisions for religious, non-commercial, and smaller radio stations; the bill has still caught the ire of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), who have already dismissed the bill as disappointing, claiming that “…the bill retreads years-old policy positions rather than advancing the copyright dialogue through policies that help grow the entire music ecosystem.”
And, dare I say, they are right to a certain extent. While it’s important to close these loopholes, this bill barely mentions the continuing disparity between artist and songwriter royalties on some streaming services. Songwriter Aloe Blacc provides the perfect example of this problem. Blacc received less than $4,000 from Spotify for his role in co-writing a song that received over 168 million streams on the platform.
The NAB has already demonstrated their power as a lobbying group by effectively creating the very loopholes FPFPA is trying to close, so their position was easily predicted. However, 81% radio of listening hours still comes from terrestrial radio, according to the Pew research center, so the NAB’s influence shouldn’t be discounted. Particularly as many of the congressmen that will vote on the FPFPA will, no doubt, rely on radio ad spots to promote their own campaigns for re-election.