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article imageMusicians rally together for performance royalties

By Tim Sandle     Jan 30, 2014 in Entertainment
In the U.S., performers of songs are not paid when their songs are broadcast on public and commercial radio. A group of musicians have got together to campaign for what they regard as fair compensation.
Most countries in the world pay the performer of a song a sum of money each time the music is played on the radio (albeit often a small amount). The only countries not to do so are U.S., Iran, North Korea, China, Vietnam, and Rwanda. This means that the singer most associated with the song "Respect" — Aretha Franklin — has never received a penny when the song has been transmitted over the airways.
For musicians who do not earn high sums through the lucrative concert circuit, this results in many artists struggling to pay bills. Commenting on these issues, the Executive Director of The Jazz Foundation, Wendy Oxenhorn, recently released a statement explaining why performance royalties on radio broadcasts are so vital:
"For nearly 14 years, I've been working to save jazz and blues musicians from eviction, homelessness and hunger. On a daily basis, legends who recorded with Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Chet Baker, Miles Davis are having to be saved. Even the legends themselves; including Odetta, Abbey Lincoln, Hank Jones, Elvin Jones, Ruth Brown, Etta James and so many others have been touched by the Jazz Foundation of America. Had there been radio royalties all these years, I can guarantee that many of the crises these great talents have had to face in their old age would never have had to exist."
To clarify on the issue of payments, songwriters and publishers of songs do get paid a little bit, but there is nothing allotted for the artists who record and sing the versions of songs that are broadcast and which are used to sell advertising on commercial radio.
To redress an issue that many in the music world see as unfair, a bill supporting artists’ radio royalty is being sponsored by former Congressman and newly appointed Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency Mel Watt. The bill is backed by Jerry Nadler (New York).
Discussing the issue David Byrne (formerly of the band Talking Heads), Vloggerheads asked the musician a few questions about this issue of radio payments. Byrne has become a leading member of the campaign group calling for payments to be made to singers.
How would this affect music fans? How would it affect broadcast radio?
Byrne: "Music fans wouldn’t be directly affected—it wouldn’t cost them anything. If anything they’d benefit, as some of the artists they like would stand a better chance of having a continuing life in music. How about radio? Public radio and college radio, which run on tight budgets, would not be affected. This is only about commercial broadcast radio—the folks who make money by playing music. Many of those stations are owned by large conglomerates, and we musicians can expect them to hire lobbyists and propagandists to convince the public and congress that somehow, unlike most of the countries in the world that A) musicians can live on the “exposure” their radio play provides and B) these companies won’t be able to make a profit if they are expected to pay a little bit to performers who provide the content that draws listeners."
Byrne added: "But, if most of the world can do it, why can’t we?"
Will this affect digital and streaming radio?
"No. Digital and streaming radio stations already pay royalties to artists. Pandora, the streaming radio service, was lobbying Congress in the hopes that they might be allowed to pay less, but that effort has been abandoned, for now.
So our little group thinks this is a clear and simple issue—and definitely winnable. It’s not an issue that is likely to encounter partisan resistance: all political sides pretty much agree on this, and everyone benefits. Even the radio station owners will benefit indirectly, as they rely on the constant and continued creation of recordings to fill their airtime."
In terms of the campaign, Byrne seems optimistic: "The momentum behind addressing this issue is approaching critical mass."
Byrne has sponsored a petition on the issue. With a nod to Aretha Franklin's synonymous song it is called "I Respect Music."
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