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.