If you’ve ever negotiated with bandmates about where to eat after a gig, you know that musicians can have strong—and sometimes divergent—opinions about a lot of different things. Expand that to the broader music community—which includes independent and major record labels, managers, advocacy groups, artist unions and fans—and it gets even more complex. (Are we still talking about grub? Kinda getting hungry ourselves.)
Future of Music Coalition is a big tent and we respect the many and varied viewpoints of those who comprise our community. We understand that not everyone is going to see eye-to-eye on every issue. But sometimes consensus does occur. One recent example is the music community’s opposition to relaxing the rules around payola.
Over the last few weeks, musicians and their partners weighed in on an important matter before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Previously, a coalition of commercial broadcasters filed a petition to obtain a waiver that would allow them to take money in exchange for airing content without disclosing that information at the time the content is aired. If the waiver is granted, it’s a win for Big Radio, a loss for everyone else.
Such a change to the rules would have the effect of legitimizing payola, essentially making it even harder for independent artists and labels to achieve airplay.
FMC created the StopPayola.com website to help musicians and fans file in the official FCC docket. And we were psyched to see so many individual artists make their viewpoints known. We were also impressed that so many music groups—from trade industry associations to nonprofits—weighed in. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) The American Association of Independent Music (A2IM), the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (the GRAMMYs) and FMC were among those pushing back against Big Radio.
All of this sends a clear message to the FCC: the music community stands together against payola on the airwaves. Undisclosed pay-to-play schemes are not good for listeners who want to know that the music they hear on the radio is chosen because of its artistic merit or popularity. And it’s definitely not good for artists and labels who are unable to pony up the cash to reach audiences on this still-vital platform. So what’s next? Well, the FCC has to decide whether to grant the waiver. With an overwhelming number of comments in opposition, we feel pretty confident that they’ll make the right decision.
Another thing the music community is united on is closing the loophole in US copyright law that allows AM/FM radio to not pay performers and sound recording owners (usually the label, but sometimes the artist) when their music is broadcast on terrestrial radio. Satellite radio pays. Webcasters pay. The rest of the developed world pays performers and labels. Songwriters and publishers are paid when music is played on AM/FM (as well as on digital radio). But incredibly, Big Radio has managed to convince members of Congress that not paying performers is OK. This isn’t just an issue for artists who are broadcast on US stations. It’s a fundamental imbalance in global trade. Due to the lack of a so-called “reciprocal right,” American artists are unable to collect money owed to them for overseas plays. Can you think of another export that the US would be cool with the rest of the world using for free? We can’t.
There have been many attempts to close this loophole over the decades. Currently, there’s a bill in Congress called the Fair Play Fair Pay Act that would, among other things, eliminate this unfair exemption. As we just learned from the payola issue, it is possible to come together and make our voices heard as a community. It might not happen all the time on every issue, but when it does, we’re that much closer to a brighter future for music.