Radio stations fight bill to require them to pay musicians

06/01/09 Mitch E. Perry
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Legislation moving its way through Congress could soon require radio stations to pay artists and record labels for playing their music.

Radio currently pays hundreds of millions of dollars a year to record labels whose music they play, as well as to songwriters and music publishers.

But with the explosion of music on the internet and fewer people buying CDs, the industry has been using superstars like Bono and Sheryl Crow to testify in front of Congress to support the law.

Marty Machowsky is a spokesman for Music FIRST, the industry group lobbying for the royalty. He says the question to ask is not why is the industry asking for payment to artists and record companies now, but why hasn’t that already happened?

The main industry group fighting the law is the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). Locally, opposition to House Resolution 848 is being led by Christopher Gould, general manager for Salem Communications in Tampa and Sarasota; it operates four radio stations in the Tampa Bay area.

Advocates like Music FIRST say the legislation would accommodate smaller commercial stations, requiring them to pay $5,000 a year, while noncommercial stations like WMNF could pay $1,000. Larger stations’ rates would be created through negotiations between the radio and artists community. Music FIRST’s Machowsky says if a deal could not be mutually agreed upon, a rate would be established by a copyright royalty board.

Gould says for the 25 percent of major AM and FM stations that feature music, the passage of this bill could kill those stations.

Some critics have charged that the legislation is actually a way to bail out the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which has been struggling this decade as more artists have shucked working with labels and gone directly toward selling their music online.

Machowsky says most of the money that would be collected from radio stations would go to artists, not the labels. He says the U.S. is an outlier compared to the rest of the world when it comes to radio compensating musicians, and mentions North Korea, China, Iran and Rwanda as being the dubious company that share that distinction . Gould says comparing U.S. radio to other nations is inherently unfair.

The National Association of Broadcasters is lobbying legislators to support HR 49, called, “the Local Radio Freedom Act,” which would neutralize HR848. Locally, Ginny Brown-Waite and Vern Buchanan have expressed support for that legislation, and Salem’s Christopher Gould says this week he will meet with other members of the local Congressional delegation.

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The Radio has been the main means by which people learn about new music for ages. FM radio might as well have been the commercial for the record companies, as well as being a main customer. Now that the record companies have so bled radio dry with blatant payola and Clear Channel monopolies, now they want to get a few more drops from the body they have bled to death? The reason "musicians" do not get compensated is because the record companies use legal tricks to get the mast majority out of every dollar a musician makes. The record company wants to trot out two pampered show ponies like Bono and Crow; for every rich musician (that really made their money on tour anyway), we can trot out five platinum selling artists who are dead broke.