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You Want to Hear the Band? Pay Them

Photo courtesy of StudioHole Recordings

When you hear a song on an AM/FM radio in your car or the radio in your garage or workout room, you probably figure the folks who made that music are getting paid. But the men and women doing the singing and playing do not see a penny of royalties for the hits they made. A new bill introduced in Congress today would pay the band.

The bill, the Fair Play Fair Pay Act, would ensure that the performing musicians and vocalists would receive fair market value when their work is played on AM/FM radio—also known as terrestrial radio—and on satellite radio, which currently pays far below market value royalties. It would bring those services in line with the fair market value that Internet radio platforms such as Pandora pay.

Rosanne Cash, Elvis Costello, Gloria Gaynor, Cyndi Lauper and Abdul “Duke” Fakir, the last surviving member of the Four Tops, and numerous other artists joined Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) at the press conference announcing the legislation. Said Nadler, one the bill’s chief sponsors:

The current system is antiquated and broken. It pits technologies against each other and allows certain services to get away with paying little or nothing to artists….The Fair Play Fair Pay Act fixes this broken and unjust system by making sure all radio services play by the same rules and all artists are fairly compensated,

Blackburn, the other chief sponsor, told reporters:

Many music creators struggle to make ends meet even when they write a hit song because of a quirk in the copyright law….All radio platforms should be treated the same when they use music to draw in listeners and earn billions in revenue. The playing field needs to be leveled, and this is long overdue.

In a statement, Ted Kalo, executive director of the musicFIRST Coalition—which includes the American Federation of Musicians (AFM)—said:

AM/FM radio, satellite radio and Internet radio exist side by side in car dashboards and compete for the same listeners. But whether performers and copyright owners are paid, and how much, depends solely on what button you press or app you choose….The solution: all radio services should pay under the same ‘fair market value’ royalty standard for all of the music they play

The United States is the only major nation in the world that does not provide radio performance rights. That is a double whammy for musicians. Because U.S. copyright law does not provide for performance royalties for U.S. or foreign artists’ airplay, U.S. performers receive no royalties when their music is played on foreign stations.

This is the latest development in the long fight for fair performance royalties. While the artists who write the music do receive royalties, the musicians and vocalists whose performances bring it to life do not. In 2008, the AFL-CIO Executive Council adopted a resolution supporting performance rights and cited the late country legend Patsy Cline as an example of the unfair treatment of performers.

The greatest jukebox hit of all time, Patsy Cline’s recording of “Crazy,” demonstrates the difference. Willie Nelson receives a royalty every time Patsy Cline’s recording of “Crazy” is played in public because he wrote the music and the lyrics to the song. But Patsy Cline, the Jordanaires and the inimitable session musicians who created the great recording receive nothing.

Find out more from musicFIRST

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