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Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Performance Rights Bill

Next week congress will vote on the Performance Rights Act (officially H.R. 848), a bill that would grant a royalty to the recording artist (not just the songwriter) when a record is played on the radio. This bill has huge implications for the future of both music and radio, although it's not getting the amount of press that it deserves.

Despite popular belief, record artists do not get paid whenever their songs are played on the radio. The Righteous Brothers never saw a single dime for You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling, which is the most played record of all time at over 8 million (Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil and Phil Spector got paid as writers of the song). The Association never received a penny for Never My Love, nor did Johnny Rivers for his version of Baby I Need Your Lovin' (both in the top 10 of most played songs at over 7 million plays each). The writers of those songs got paid very well though.

The bi-partisan Performance Rights Act aims to end that though, and compensate recording artists for their radio popularity. Not surprisingly, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) is heartily opposed to the measure, stating that in this time of economic downturn, the last thing they need is more money taken from the till.

The fact of the matter is that the United States is the only country in the world where performers currently are not compensated for airplay, and the broadcasters have gotten incredibly fat over the 75 years they've had a free ride.

Despite claims otherwise, the payment schedule is pretty fair as to who has to pay:
  • Very small commercial stations (the ones who would feel the brunt of this act the most) would pay a flat fee of $5000 per year.
  • Non-commercial stations like NPR and college stations would pay $1000 per year.
  • Religious stations would be completely exempt.
But commercial stations that play music as their main programming source would pay a single negotiated fee per year that would be divided between the artists and their record labels similar to the way they currently pay publishing royalties to ASCAP, BMI or SESAC.

How much the artists would actually see after the labels are paid are grounds for discussion in another post, but any payment is better than the zero $$ currently received.

The NAB is painting artists as greedy for wanting more, saying that they (radio) are the ones that have actually been helping the music industry all these years. But the truth of the matter is it's time to pay the piper. The radio industry has always had it's own self-interest in mind and always will. They're not doing any artists any favors right now, and a tiny piece of the action will go a long way for recording artists well past their prime.

Newer artists shouldn't expect a whole lot out of this bill unless they have a big, big hit, however. And hits like that are pretty much non-existent these days. Still, a small piece of something is far better than the big piece of nothing they've been getting all these years.


L Martin Johnson Pratt said...

I am radio host/producer in NYC thank you for posting this..I am passing it on to my fellow radio hosts and the station management.

Bobby Owsinski said...

It's an important issue for all involved however it shakes out.


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