Portnow: Artists No Longer Thank Radio


Neil Portnow is the CEO of the Recording Academy, the trade organization that represents music creators, including artists, songwriters, producers, and studio professionals. Portnow knows radio’s biggest decision-makers are in Austin this week and he took that opportunity to write an op-ed piece asking the radio industry to “reassess its relationship with artists and listeners, both of whom have many other ways to connect.” He says this is a way for the two industries to move forward, which of course, includes a performance fee. Here’s what Portnow had to say…

“This morning on my way to work, I turned on the radio. It’s a regular habit, but this morning I tried an experiment. As I arrived at our office parking lot, I stopped to ask a number of our staff members how they listened to music on their commute. While the answers varied, often by age bracket, one thing was consistent: The 20-somethings barely knew where the FM button was.

As the radio industry gathers this week in Austin to take stock of its place in a crowded media market, leaders at the National Association of Broadcasters are aware of this dynamic. In fact, their conference materials note, “With all the choices from YouTube to Spotify to Pandora, radio struggles to remain relevant to a younger generation.”

The data supports NAB’s declaration:
– Although about 50% of radio listenership is in cars, that segment is under assault
– More than 33% of cell phone owners are streaming music in their cars—a rapidly growing figure that has increased 600% in the past five years
– Last year saw a 27% increase in the number of listeners who stream Internet radio in their cars
– Radio media spends have dropped precipitously, falling out of the top five media channels, replaced by mobile, according to BIA/Kelsey
– Among 18-24 year olds, streaming beats out radio as the top source of music listening
– And a new report just last week from NYU shows radio listening by teens has declined by almost 50% from 2005 to 2016.

This poses a daunting challenge for radio. But there is a path forward. As the head of the trade association representing songwriters, artists, and studio professionals, I’ve criticized the broadcast industry for not paying artists and producers for over-the-air (terrestrial) radio play, even using my remarks on the GRAMMY telecast to call for that change to be made. And the music creators who comprise the Recording Academy have lobbied Congress in growing numbers. In 2014, 100 advocates lobbied on this subject. The next year, 1000. The next, 2000.

Their argument is undeniable. The lack of a radio performance right is the only instance in our economy where one party can use another’s intellectual property without permission or compensation. Every other broadcast platform in America (Internet, satellite, and cable) pays, as do radio broadcasters in every other developed country in the world. There are no arguments to support the continued exploitation of artists and use of music without any compensation to its makers.

As radio battles the music community over this issue, it also battles digital platforms for the future audience. Perhaps here is where our common interests can unite. Music creators want a healthy, competitive online marketplace. While we will fight for the terrestrial right as a matter of basic fairness, we also know the future of radio is digital (where there is a right). With the performance right issue resolved, radio and music could work together to develop a digital framework that’s fair to both sides across the board. If instead the radio industry chooses to continue to deny artists payment, the chasm will widen and the future for broadcasters will look more troublesome.

Fifteen years ago, at my first GRAMMYs as president, I remember hearing artist after artist come to the stage and thank radio in their acceptance speeches. This past year, not a single winner on the telecast thanked radio. This is an unhealthy rift that should be reversed.

I hope the radio community gathered in Austin realizes that it must reassess its relationship with artists and listeners, both of whom have many other ways to connect. Rather than putting its efforts into fighting artists in Washington, radio should work with us to resolve the performance right dispute. It’s the first step toward our industries working together to create a balanced and equitable future as partners. A future where music fans still turn to radio, advertisers deem radio relevant, and music makers are paid fairly for their work.

Neil Portnow is President/CEO of the Recording Academy, the only trade organization that represents all music creators including artists, songwriters, producers, and studio professionals.


  1. A platform for artists to get known? In what era? The 80s?

    I run a recording studio. I see new artists every day. For the last 5 years I have never heard any of my clients say they discovered an artist on FM. Every single major label artist or indie they discovered was on youtube.

    And even if radio were still relevant to make somebody a star… can you explain why the US should be the ONLY market in the world where use of other people’s intellectual property doesn’t warrant retribution? If you didn’t have music to play on your radio how would you attract advertising dollars? Besides: half of what radios play is from established artists. It is easy to see radio stations are relevant only because they rely on playing hits from major stars. If a radio station really broke new records from unknown musicians all the time they wouldn’t have an audience.

    Radio people are in a little bubble. It’s bursting. Evolve or die.

  2. Thank you BigA. Your response stated it well.
    Perhaps Portnow IS the problem, not radio. His statement is filled with halftruths and gross omissions.
    As an FM radio station that streams all its programming, in the online world, Portnow gets his royalty, from us.
    These attacks by him on broadcasting are unfair and unwarranted.
    Its time for Portnow and the Grammys to recognize the public service AM-FM radio has been doing for years
    and continues today for artists, record labels, songwriters, publishers, and various assorted other benefitters, at no cost to them.
    And instead of attacking AM-FM Radio, join in supporting AM-FM Radio for the public service they do for artists and record labels, but also join in helping AM-FM Radio and supporting them for all the free public service and good that they do for multiple public service organizations in and out of their respective service areas, for free public services to multiple communities, and for the free help they provide for multiple in trouble and needy citizens EVERY DAY.
    Do artists and record labels have the same level of public service commitment that AM-FM Radio provides?

  3. Radio continues to help artists hit the mainstream, but at one point they were the only outlet for music discovery. that is just not the case anymore. Also, musician’s don’t make money selling their music (as A pointed out, they stream). They never made much there anyways, their labels did. Where artists make their make money is Touring. And, unfortunately for Radio, it’s the streaming companies who are the best partners for ticket sales (knowing exactly what band you are listening to or a fan of). Radio will continue to help artists with exposure, but there are too many other ways out there for artists to get that nowadays (streaming, youtube, social media) that Radio is not as important as it once was. And, Radio is cluttered with a number of stations playing the same exact songs over and over. There are artists out there with literally billions of streams and YouTube views racked up that are not even played on the radio.

  4. The Grammy Awards is the ONLY place where artists no longer thank radio. Perhaps because Portnow says they can’t. I was just at a music event a few days ago where artists thanked radio. But Portnow wasn’t there. Perhaps the problem isn’t radio, but Portnow. If you ask artists and record labels, they will tell you they view radio as their partners. Their partnership isn’t only on air, but it’s online as well. In the online world, Portnow gets his royalty. Those millions of dollars are being paid by the exact same companies he’s attacking in this article. He needs to understand that the reason he gets the royalty from digital is because digital killed the business of music sales. AM/FM didn’t. People now stream their music instead of buying it. That is why Congress approved the royalty in the first place. This is why they’re not extending that royalty to AM/FM. These attacks on broadcasting are unfair and unwarranted. The music that gets played on radio is done not only with the permission of artists and labels, but with their encouragement. What Portnow isn’t saying is there are some artists & labels who get a royalty from radio. They are the ones who have negotiated directly. Portnow wants a federal right. That can only be obtained from Congress. If the major labels want a royalty from broadcasters, they should negotiate directly. Leave Congress out of it.

    • Harlan, how many minutes a day do you hear American radio where they break new music? On most stations nothing. Sometimes they have a show on Sunday night etc. where they play local music. Or a few minutes where they interview a strange new band on NPR. The rest is the established artists that are already on the charts or old hits like on classic rock.

      So American radio is for the most part a platform for established artists to sell more than they already do and to keep the competition (new artists) out.


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