Musicians sing out: Walk back radio pledge

Music groups are pressuring Congress to back down from a pledge to keep AM/FM radio stations from paying musicians.

“It’s hard enough to make a living as a musician — and even harder when your own representatives in Congress won’t support your basic right to fair pay for your work,” new ads from music industry groups said.

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The campaign from musicFirst, which includes music industry trade groups like the Recording Industry Association of America, the American Association of Independent Music and SoundExchange, asks lawmakers to remove their names from the Local Radio Freedom Act. 

The resolution, which would prohibit "any new performance fee, tax, royalty, or other charge” on local AM/FM radio stations, is supported by a majority of the House.

MusicFirst is targeting signatories of that resolution, starting with Reps. David Price (D-N.C.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), through social media campaigns and newspaper ads in their districts.

The ads call the resolution “an anti-musician resolution pushed by big corporate radio companies.”

Some in the music industry worry the overwhelming support for the resolution could be a roadblock for a music licensing reform bill down the road.

As Congress — especially the House Judiciary Committee — looks to overhaul the music licensing rules under current copyright law, many have homed in on traditional AM/FM radio stations.

While cable, satellite and Internet radio services pay royalty fees to musicians for the songs they play, AM/FM broadcasters do not pay musicians; they defend the practice by arguing they provide free promotion for musicians.

When the Local Radio Freedom Act hit 218 co-sponsors in April, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) hailed the milestone as indicative that there is no need for new fees for radio stations.

“This resolution reaffirms Congress's appreciation for the public service and economic benefits radio broadcasters provide to every community, while recognizing the mutually beneficial relationship between radio and performing artists,” the group’s chief executive, Gordon Smith, said in a statement at the time.

The ads from MusicFirst push back on claims from broadcasters that royalty fees would be a new tax for AM/FM radio stations.

“That’s a vicious falsehood designed to keep musicians from getting fair pay,” the ad said.

MusicFirst Executive Director Ted Kalo said he hopes the campaign makes lawmakers realize that their support for the Local Radio Freedom Act could impede an overhaul of the music licensing system.

“Any member that signs onto it should be aware that NAB is going to use it as a shield” against bills that would require radio stations to pay musicians, Kalo said.

“Their names are being used to fight fair compensation for musicians.”

According to Kalo, musicFirst will expand its campaign, targeting signatories who represent districts with “vibrant music communities.”

“It’s hard to imagine how people who represent such vibrant music communities ... would sign onto a resolution like this,” he said. 

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