It’s clear musicFIRST has been lobbying the mainstream media to take up its case against the radio industry. They have found a willing ally at The Washington Post. An opinion piece in The Post written by Sonny Bunch starts out with this sentence, “Every time you listen to the radio you’re partaking in the exploitation of musicians.”
Bunch takes the approach that the game has changed and the NAB’s argument that free radio airplay and promotion for artists no longer leads to increased album sales. As if the failing business models of record labels is now somehow the radio industry’s fault.
But Bunch takes it even further. He says not only was this setup wrong from the beginning, it’s morally wrong. “All of this is to say that in the new system, the old assurances from the NAB and its allies don’t make a ton of sense. The question we should be asking ourselves is whether they ever really made sense in the first place. Not from an economic perspective, necessarily. But from a moral one.”
The NAB’s Dennis Wharton told Radio Ink last night, ‘This is more of the same tired nonsense that the labels have spouted for years. The fact is that local radio has jump-started and sustained the careers of countless artists. Many of those same artists have gone on to sue their labels for cheating them out of payments owed to them.”
Because a radio station can play an artist or a song as many times as it likes is fundamentally wrong according to Bunch. “It’d be like saying every broadcast network should have the right to air The Sopranos so long as it pays HBO a couple of bucks a day. Or it’d be like allowing a website (say, the Huffington Post) to republish a 5,000-word investigative piece by The Washington Post or a 1,200-word movie review by the New Yorker or a 60-word listicle by BuzzFeed, racking up advertisement revenue in the process, so long as it paid a few pennies per thousand clicks to the person who wrote it, regardless of whether the author (or the organization that paid for the work originally) had any interest in it appearing elsewhere.”
Bunch says The Fair Play Fair Pay Act musicFIRST is pushing in Congress is a start, and he adds it’s good that someone is fighting for performers to be compensated by radio stations that profit off of their work. “But I hope for a day when an artist has a total right to his labor and can say no to the radio stations that profit from it without permission. Sure: No musician has a right to a certain amount of pay for a certain amount of work. Similarly, though, no business has a right to your labor if you don’t want to sell your labor to it.”
Bunch doesn’t get into any of the facts about how important it is to artists that their songs play on the radio (artists thank radio for playing their music at nearly every concert). Or, how artists react when they first hear their song on the radio (they always remember exactly where they were the first time, just ask one). Or, that the goal of the artist is actually to get on the radio, not on Pandora or Spotify or Apple Music (so their music can be heard by the masses). Or how radio stations promote their concerts – at no charge – to help them fill arenas when they come to town (not every artist is a superstar like Taylor Swift).