There’s something ugly going in the world of pop music and radio that maybe you don’t know about, and it’s not fun.
After 50 years, there’s an actual Performance Royalty bill going through Congress. The act would provide that performers get paid every time they’re played on the radio. Believe it or not, for all these years of rock and roll, the only people getting money when a song is played on the radio are the composer and publisher.
This means that everyone from Elvis to Frank Sinatra to Celine Dion and Beyonce ‘ singers who don’t write their own songs ‘ get zip from radio play. Of course, people who wrote their own songs ‘ like the Beatles or Stevie Wonder ”and sang them, too, only receive a writer’s royalty.
Radio ‘ pop, rock, country, R&B, all of it ‘ has lived for free for over five decades. Now several members of Congress are trying to help them.
Radio companies are not pleased. They are advertising heavily against this. Here in New York., I’ve heard commercials on both WINS and WCBS AM intended to scare listeners with misinformation. “Someone is trying to take your free radio away from you.” is how they put it. In fact, no one is suggesting that. But it sounds good.
MusicFirst is the lobbying organization fighting for the artists. They have just filed a complaint with the FCC. They claim that they can’t buy similar airtime on radio stations to plead their case. Surprise! On top of that, MusicFirst is gathering evidence that artists who back the Performance Royalty Act are being blacklisted. Their songs aren’t being played on the radio.
U2 may be the test case for this complaint. Their lead single from their new album. “Get Your Boots On,” got little radio play. It pretty much killed off their newest album. No one from U2 has made the accusation. But little by little, sources say, people are figuring this out.
Older performers from Motown and other labels are already attending so-called Town Meetings around the country, explaining the situation. They’re brave, but have nothing to lose: radio has already exploited them for 50 years. It will take contemporary artists to stand up and demand the passing of this act before radio will take this seriously. I do mean everyone on the top 40 right now, from Beyonce and Britney to Nickelback and Eminem.
Radio ‘ in the form of their lobbying group, the National Association of Broadcasters ‘ will take the position that the artists “owe” them the music for free, that playing it sells copies of CDs and concert tickets. But the proof is in the pudding: CD sales are nil, and downloads don’t make up for them. The concert business is great if you’re a current act, but if you’re new, marginal, or old, depending on ticket sales for income could have dire consequences.
One look at the artists who tour and tour and tour should shed light on the problem. Cher is the best example. She’’s never written a song, and never been paid a royalty. She hasn’t sold a CD in a major way in more than a decade. To make money, she tours. Her retirement tour went on for years. Now she’s installed in Vegas. Believe it or not, Cher is 64 years young. It’s not like she can do this forever.
Tina Turner is another good example. Last winter, at age 69, she took America by storm with a high priced, quick tour. Why? No royalties. She didn’t write “Proud Mary” or “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” She must sell tickets to earn an income. It’s that simple.
And Cher and Tina are at the high end. What about performers who can’t tour, or don’t perform any more? Meanwhile their music plays 24/7 on the radio. “Classic Hits” and “Oldies” radio is free’to the radio stations that program it. It generates income only for them ‘ in commercials. That’s money that artists have never shared. Until, maybe now.
So MusicFirst will continue to host Town Meetings, and to investigate blacklisting. And artists are going to be called on more and more in the next few months to step up and represent their colleagues.