Music matters in Washington

Last week, members of Congress gathered at GRAMMYs on the Hill and joined Wynonna Judd on stage for a little bipartisan harmony. On that night, joining Wynonna, Martina McBride, Keith Urban, John Popper and other well-known artists, were more than 100 other members of the Recording Academy family. Songwriters, performers, producers and engineers. Less famous, but just as accomplished. They came to Washington to sound the alarm – that if we don’t change music licensing laws, the generation that follows them will not be able to sustain a career making the music the world loves and needs.

It’s part of a growing, but not surprising trend of creator activism. Three years ago The Recording Academy, announced a new program for Academy members to meet with their legislators in their home districts. That year, a hundred people signed up for GRAMMYs in my District. The next year, more than a thousand. And in 2016, the number surpassed 2,000, the largest movement for music advocacy in American history.

Is it any wonder? With so many critical issues facing music makers, creators are more knowledgeable and engaged than ever. What do they seek? Simply fair market pay, for all music creators, across all platforms.

Duke Fakir from The Four Tops joined us for GRAMMYs on the Hill. Should Duke be denied royalties for “Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)” simply because it was recorded before 1972?

Peter Asher attended. Is it fair that a producer who created more than 100 albums, from 1970’s Sweet Baby James to last year’s GRAMMY-nominated Bright Star, has no rights in the law as a producer?

GRAMMY nominee John Beasely came to D.C. for GRAMMYs on the Hill. Should composers and songwriters like John be treated as monopolies and regulated by antitrust enforcers to protect companies like Google?

Rick Nielsen, guitarist for Cheap Trick, also joined us. Cheap Trick has been a staple of radio for 40 years. This iconic band is part of what has made corporate radio a $16 billion dollar business. However, lacking a performance royalty in the U.S., Cheap Trick’s total performance earnings for their radio plays over the past decades has come to exactly zero. Should the very bands that drive radio be denied the royalties they deserve?

The answer to all of these questions is a resounding no. It’s time for change.

A community of creators under The Recording Academy banner is making its voice heard louder than ever. 

There are nearly 40 GRAMMY awards owned by the music creators that came to Washington D.C., many of them newly won just two months ago. They received our industry’s highest honor, the musical equivalent of winning the Super Bowl, but they didn’t go Disneyworld, they went to Washington - to fight for the future of music.

Blues icon Bobby Rush, William Bell, Dimitry Lipay, Contemporary Christian artists Natalie Grant and Bernie Herms, Latin artists Jesse and Joy, Nashville songwriter Rory Feek, are just part of the one hundred strong group of music creators talking to policy makers, seeking to ensure a vibrant music community for years to come.

Realistically, we know that Congress is wrestling with many important issues that may seem a higher priority than music and copyright. But consider this: at the end of each contentious day on Capitol Hill, what do legislators do? They head to their cars and homes -- and whether to inspire, relax, or just get fired up, they listen to music. Music drives our culture and our economy. And without it, we would not be able to advance as a nation.

So today, tomorrow, and beyond, our creators will take pride in what they do and will continue to ask Congress for nothing more than a basic American principle: when Americans work, Americans should get paid. 

Music gives our country so much. Our nation’s leaders should ensure that our country gives them what they have earned. Not only for the creators sake, but to keep the music playing, for all of us.

Daryl Friedman is Chief Industry, Government & Member Relations Officer of The Recording Academy.

The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.