Pay The Piper

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Black radioThere has been a battle going on in the music industry for years now, and it may just end. The fight is for singers, not just songwriters, to be compensated when a song they have performed on plays on the radio. The Act, as introduced, asks to amend federal copyright law to (1) grant performers of sound recordings equal rights to compensation from terrestrial broadcasters and (2) establish a flat, annual fee in lieu of payment of royalties for individual terrestrial broadcast station. But the Performance Rights Act has Black Radio and Civil Rights groups up in arms. Its passage, they say, could bankrupt Black Radio.

According to a statement by David Honig, president of the highly respected Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC), “Black and Spanish radio would be hit the hardest by this legislation because these stations face the greatest challenges” – including weaker signals, advertising discrimination, and the FCC’s failure to enforce its equal employment opportunity rules.” The MMTC is just one minority group to speak out against the act. Also joining the chorus are the National Association of Media Brokers, about half of the membership of the Congressional Black Caucus (including Elijah Cummings, Danny Davis, Al Green, John Lewis, Charlie Rangel and Bobby Rush ), as well as the Rev. Al Sharpton, Dick Gregory and Tom Joyner.

But others in the music industry support the act, such as John Simson, Executive Director, SoundExchange, a non-profit performance rights organization that collects royalties on behalf of sound recording copyright owners. “Compensating people for their work is an issue of basic fairness. Every time you stop the dial to listen to an artist’s distinctive voice, radio stations make money by selling advertising around it. But corporate radio doesn’t pay a cent to the musicians, vocalists, and recording artists or labels who make the sounds that bring in listeners – and money,” explains Simson. “The Performance Rights Act (H.R. 848) would require radio stations to compensate recording artists and copyright owners when they use recordings to make money, just like they compensate songwriters.”

Recording artist DA-NI agrees, comparing the music business with the film industry and how its artists are compensated: “When we look at the movie industry, its set up where the lead characters do receive residuals as well as the writers and director. So its realized that a team is required. If you have the wrong actor who doesn’t deliver, then you have a movie missing out at the box office. Well, music is very similar in nature where it does take a team and the right talent to deliver the material from the writers and producers to the consumers’ ears,” notes DA-NI, who has just released his first single from his upcoming debut CD, UNDANIABLE. “If you have the wrong talent,” he continues, “you miss out on radio play, physical sales, digital downloads, social network spins, ringtones and PR exposure. However, the right talent will deliver and drastically change the dynamics of that project – particularly, revenue stream, thus justifying the worth of that talent to that particular product. But how things move forward is up to the powers that be,” he says.

DA-NI goes on to explain that besides relying on radio revenue, the music industry has to come up with other ways to generate new revenue streams. “In this digital era, it’s possible to – with minimal expenses – reach a targeted demographic. This kind of outreach instantly spans the globe. And in reaching a larger potential audience, this global outreach will equal more money in total sales,” he says.     

According to Simson, the act wil have a global impact as well. “In addition, every ‘modern’ industrialized country except the United States has a performance right. That means when American-made music is played overseas, other countries collect royalties, but don’t pay American artists because we don’t collect for their artists here,” notes Simson. “That’s millions of dollars that’s not coming into our country because the U.S. is behind the rest of the world on a basic human rights issue. The notable countries who also don’t pay performers for their work are Iran, North Korea and China…not exactly the kind of company we should be keeping.”
 
As far as Black Radio, Simson doesn´t see the act as financially hurtful. “Firstly, let’s dispense with the notion that fair pay for work is somehow a racially-based idea. The fight to pay musicians for their creative work is supported by the NAACP, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, The Rhythm and Blues Foundation, A. Philip Randolph Institute, members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and thousands of your favorite artists, of all races. That’s hardly a team who’d be in favor of burdening black radio,” says Simson. “Many of the supporters of this legislation like Dionne Warwick, Mary Wilson (Supremes), Duke Fakir (Four Tops) and Martha Reeves (Martha & The Vandellas), have been huge contributors to Black Radio. They understand the importance of Black Radio and have always been there for the stations that have played their recordings. Under the law, any commercial or nonprofit station that makes less than $100,000 annually will pay only $500 annually for unlimited use of the music. That’s just $1.35 a day. For stations making under $5 million a year, the payments won’t even start for three years, providing time to weather this economic storm. Three-quarters of all radio stations, including 90% of all African- American owned commercial music radio stations, would never pay more than $420 a month for all the music they can play.”