Politicians Coming After Radio

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As the NAB battles to prevent radio stations from having to pay for the music they air, legislation has been introduced that may pave the way for radio managers to have to dig deep into their wallets. It’s called the AMFM Act. Here are the details…

The Ask Musicians for Music Act was introduced by Representatives Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) in the House and Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) in the Senate. The AMFM Act gives music creators control of their own work by requiring broadcasters to obtain consent before playing their music. Under the AMFM Act, artists who want to allow terrestrial radio to continue to use their work for free can choose to do so. Artists who seek compensation for their work can exercise their right to negotiate rates for the use of their sound recordings from broadcasters. Both bills provide special treatment by protecting small, public, college, and other non-commercial stations.

For years now SoundExchange CEO Michael Huppe has been attempting to get radio to pay for the music it airs. Huppe believes radio has been profiting on the backs of artists and “Big Radio” needs to pay up.

The radio industry believes the relationship between artists and radio has been working successfully for both sides since day one. Radio plays the music, at no charge to artists, to its millions of listeners. That results in free promotion of the music, hit songs and artist recognition. That leads to music being sold, concerts venues being filled and both record labels and artists making money.

The NAB issued a statement about the AMFM Act, obviously opposing it, adding it could decimate the economics of hometown radio stations that have launched the careers of countless musicians and exposed legacy artists to a new generation of listeners. “NAB’s door remains open to work with the record labels to find a holistic solution to this issue that reflects the enduring value to artists and labels of local radio to our hundred of millions of terrestrial and digital listeners. Unfortunately, the record labels have shown little interest in having those discussions.”

SoundExchange CEO Michael Huppe was quite happy with the new legislation. “The AMFM Act ensures that the people who make the music have a protected property right in their own work by requiring broadcasters to get permission before they transmit recordings over the air. It sets the table for meaningful marketplace negotiations and ends the current market distortion in our laws that forces artists to subsidize the multi-billion-dollar FM radio broadcast industry. I applaud Senator Blackburn and Chairman Nadler for their continued commitment to ending this egregious inequity for American music creators.”

The NAB already has 201 House members and 25 Senators signed onto the Local Radio Freedom Act, a resolution opposing any new performance fee on local radio. With 425 House members and 100 Senators in Congress, and 2020 set to be a big election year, anything can happen. It’s important every radio manager stay involved in the process and work on their local elected officials. They are the same politicians that love to use your airways to get their message out when they run for office.

17 COMMENTS

  1. This would be a disaster, but not an unmitigated one.

    If this passes, we can expect a lot of no-name artists to negotiate really cheap play rates with stations, and a lot of big-name artists to see a sharp drop in plays (and album sales) by pricing themselves too highly. In this one way, this could be a Good Thing(tm), by bringing a new crop of talent and sounds into position.

    We could see a bunch of local — and even international — artists become national names while still selling home-duped CDs through their PO boxes . . .echoes of the 1960s, but without the follow-through to the big labels, because there won’t be enough advantage to the artist to sign with them! You will see a bunch of samplers on YouTube, both from artists and from stations which play them (remember the “Night Janitor” spots?). Anyone old enough to remember the early days of MTV remembers the low-budget videos which were often featured there (“Dog Police” comes to mind), and artists who dodge the big labels will resurrect this genre (one of Asia’s big hit songs had a video that cost less than $350 to shoot).

    The local stations who survive will take on the flavor of the 1960s FM stations — they will play what sounds good to them, rather whatever Barney Schlock is pushing from his corner office.

    So far unmentioned is the damage that would be done to the clearing houses. If multi-million-sellers like Tiffany Young are getting checks directly from local stations, why would she need ASCAP?

    That one good thing isn’t worth the heartache and the loss of stations that would follow, however.

    • “…a lot of big-name artists to see a sharp drop in plays (and album sales) by pricing themselves too highly.”

      You might be surprised, but the big name stars have the most to gain, because of the headline touring revenues they make, and they attribute the large numbers to having their songs in the airplay charts. There’s a reason why you never see big name artists speaking out in favor of these various laws. Some big stars even pay their labels for the promotion services to keep their songs on the radio.

      However one of the problems with “negotiating for cheap airplay” is that becomes payola, and Congress doesn’t want to eliminate payola laws, which they’d have to do in order to pass such a law.

      • The big-name stars have the most to lose. If one of their songs costs two or three times as much as a song from another talented artist. the local station’s PD is going to be much less likely to play the big name. On the other end of the spear, you will have the labels pushing for bigger payouts, not only for the money that will directly come in, but also to keep the star’s image up (“8-Cow-Wife Syndrome”).

        The whole payola thing is a crock anyhow, especially in this day and age. It’s no longer possible for a schlepper to control a market by influencing a couple of DJs and PDs, because broadcasters can no longer control the audience. If the listeners like a song, they will listen, but if not, they will to so satellite, online or to their smartphones to hear what they DO like. Case in point, myself. When it seemed like the oldies stations were just playing the same handful of CDs over and over, I went online, where I discovered gayageum rocker Luna Lee, Girls’ Generation, and music videos from back when MTV played music videos.

        With that competition, there’s an incentive for local stations to stay as fresh and interesting as possible — add any major price difference between big star and unknown-but-talented, and the latter won’t be unknown for much longer.

        There is no shortage of good music or artists, whatever the genre. The Monkees proved that you can put any four talented people together and if they don’t kill each other, they can go to the top — they don’t have to get together on their own. Many of the current crop of stars prove that they don’t even have to have talent, if they are handled properly.

        And, simply put, a lot of today’s talent aren’t WORTH paying more to hear than you would pay for the latest song from the kid down the street

  2. Radio pays huge music license fees to ASCAP, BMI, SESAC and GMR. How could this story run as a Radio Ink article and not acknowledge or even mention that important fact? Record companies get more than half of these fees. The new fee system give record companies half of the new money. Record companies don’t need another load of money. They do nothing for the catalog music; after a couple of years it is all gravy.

    • Keep in mind that if this law passes, it wouldn’t just apply to new music, but classic hits and oldies too. So radio stations would have to ask Michael Jackson if it’s OK to play “Thriller.” They’d have to get permission from his estate. Stations would have to research and contact rights holders of long-dead artists before playing their music. Are you starting to understand how ridiculous this is?

      • Do you think that’s something today’s record companies want, anyway? How many ‘oldies’ are playing in modern formats? It would seem that the record companies would prefer that radio stations not play Any music by dead artists.

  3. Radio is a distribution and marketing channel, and artists benefit from the free exposure in terms of sales, concert tickets, etc. Every song you ever decided to purchase probably came from hearing it first on the radio. If they demand payment, radio will find the artists who appreciate free distribution, limiting where the greedy artists can have access to the public. Production and distribution should work hand in hand for the benefit of both. We create equine TV programming, and when PBS screwed over producers of content with their warehouse scheme, hundreds of producers said “Screw it” which is why there are so many snake and bug shows on, no one wants to produce compelling, informative, entertaining content for them since they got greedy.

  4. That’s my point too A, let’s remember the model since day one has been the label sends the music to the station, then lobby’s them to PLEASE add it, move it up etc,. There was never any discussion of $$$ until their merchandising model collapsed

  5. This is just another attempt by the recording industry to recover the money they lost when they got hit by the Internet and digital platforms. It has more to do with the record companies trying to get an extra percentage for their big acts, and not for the up-and-comers who love promoting their music on the radio. Good luck on trying to beat the broadcasting lobby. Politicians would rather be in good graces with their local broadcasters than the record companies.

    • I remember when the hits were on AM. There used to be grooves in the pavement between the publishers and KHJ, KRLA, etc., as they ran their latest releases over at the speed of heat.

      Then came FM.

      AM stations evolved when the hits when FM stations took their listeners, by going to lo-fi music (oldies), news and talk. They found a market and filled it.

      Under this ironically-named scheme, local stations will again evolve. As before, some will become robots and some will merely be translators for distant studios, but there is an opportunity for locals who love the business to move into new genres and find new talent, while getting away from having to play what is being offered from the big labels, and I’m sure that a lot will take the opportunity.

  6. It should be pointed out that the concept of artists having a “protected property right” has already been fought, argued, and decided in the courts over 80 years ago in the Paul Whiteman vs WNEW case. The judge said if a record label makes music available to the public, radio has the right to broadcast it. No need to ask permission.

  7. As we say with the Taylor Switch brouhaha, it will not be the artists that benefit. It will be the likes of Sony Music, Bertelsmann, and other large companies that own these rights.

    The real issue is where the money is coming from? We’ve seen national/regional spot buys–and rates–shrink dramatically. In some instances 20% over the last several years.

  8. Just last week, Jennifer Nettles, half of the Grammy winning duo Sugarland, wore a cape to the CMA awards asking radio programmers to “Please Play Our Music.” That request didn’t come with a demand for payment. Jennifer understands the benefits of free radio airplay. Every day, we receive calls from record label promotion departments asking us to play their artists music. None of us play music without first being asked. I think every radio station would gladly comply with the request from any artist who wished to not have their music played. But that’s not what this proposal is about.

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