Intro by Michael Bracy, Policy Director, Future of Music Coalition
Those who have followed FMC’s work over the past decade know that we’ve been strong supporters of establishing a public performance right for terrestrial radio. Why? Because compensating performing artists directly for the use of their work is simply the right thing to do. (Check out our Public Performance Right fact sheet to learn more.)
On March 3, I spent a couple of hours on Capitol Hill with one of our favorite artists, the wonderful and talented Erin McKeown. As luck had it, we were able to attend a news conference hosted by the MusicFIRST Coalition that featured Dionne Warwick and top leaders from the civil rights community, all of whom endorsed legislation for a public performance right.
We thought it would be great if Erin could weigh in on how she views the issue as a working musician. Take it away, Erin!
Hey everybody. My name is Erin McKeown and I’m a musician. Like so many artists, I work hard at what I do, and am very lucky to have had my efforts rewarded in so many ways — from fan love to playing gigs across the country and even overseas. Yet the more I think about it, the more I realize that America is doing its performing musicians a tremendous disservice by not compensating them at all when their music is played on terrestrial radio. A little thing called a public performance right would fix that.
A lot of people don’t know this is the deal. They might think that artists get paid when they hear a song on the radio. Well, the songwriters and publishers do, for the underlying composition. But the musicians who actually perform the notes on record don’t get anything. It’s a completely different story in just about every other country on Earth, where artists and songwriters (say, I’m both!) are compensated for the over-the-air broadcast of their work.
Even weirder is that here in America, there’s already a public performance right for digital plays. Meaning, webcasters like Pandora and tons of online stations already pay performing artists and copyright holders (usually the label, but it can be the artist, too). So does satellite radio and those non-video music stations on the high end of your cable dial. Which gets you thinking: why should traditional radio be off the hook when everyone else has to do the right thing and compensate artists?
Then there’s the fact that U.S. artists who get played on terrestrial radio in other countries aren’t able to collect the money owed to them for those spins. This is because we lack a “reciprocal right.” As a performer, I know all too well how resistant American commercial radio is to playing new or independent artists, no matter how popular they are. But this isn’t always the case overseas. I’m psyched that there are stations in other countries that play my stuff. I’m less psyched that they would like to pay me but can’t due to an absurd exemption here at home.
I now know I’m not alone in feeling this way. A couple of days ago, I was on Capitol Hill to learn more about current legislative efforts to pass a public performance right for terrestrial radio. I was very impressed by Dionne Warwick, and not just because she’s an amazing music legend. She had a really great way of showing how important this right is to everyday working artists. I was also moved by how Representative Conyers talked about the basic injustice of not paying people for their hard work. That should be something that’s pretty easy for everyone to grasp, but the big broadcasters don’t seem to get it. Or maybe they just don’t want to. Either way, it’s not fair to artists.
One thing that’s super-important to remember about the performance right: it would compensate artists directly for the use of their work. So when you hear the commercial broadcasters and their round-the-clock radio ads saying that it only benefits the big labels, it’s simply not true. The artists’ 50 percent goes straight to the artists — it doesn’t go through the label to be held against so-called “recoupable” debt. This is a pretty big deal, and one of the reasons I support the performance right.
Of course, at the end of the day, it’s about artists, who are workers just like everyone else. And people who make stuff that has value in a marketplace deserve to get paid for their work. Makes sense to me. How about you?