Music Modernization Act a start, but more to do
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Less than a year ago, the Music Modernization Act (MMA) was passed by Congress and signed into law. While it is the most sweeping music copyright update in decades, public radio music stations hope that the MMA is the beginning of a more comprehensive music licensing reform effort that recognizes public radio’s role in music.

To build on the MMA’s success, Congress needs to ensure that the next phase of music licensing reform empowers local public radio stations to better connect audiences, artists, and communities across traditional and digital platforms.

Today, 734 local noncommercial public radio music stations serve more than 20.5 million Americans each week in communities across all 50 states including the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam.

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These local public radio music stations fill local airwaves with a broad collection of sounds and styles that are tailored to local tastes, amplify new or less-known artists, and feature long and diverse playlists of music often heard only on public radio. 

From classical to jazz to bluegrass, folk, roots, and other eclectic sounds of adult album alternative, public radio music format, these stations are united by a Network of Values. They share a deeply held commitment to a noncommercial, nonprofit, public service mission - with an exclamation point on educational value, cultural support and community enrichment.

Through core values of music discovery, curation and preservation, these stations enliven America’s communities through rich, deep encounters with musicians.

Through an emphasis on music presentation, public radio connects new, emerging artists to loyal audiences, adding to the journey of life-long music enjoyment and bringing millions of Americans closer to music every week.

And through an insistence that music experiences are educational priorities, public radio brings the instruments and experience of music to schools, hospitals and other places within America’s public square to ensure that access to music is widely available.

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To fulfill their public service mission, public radio stations do far more than play music. A recent report by the noncomMUSIC Alliance demonstrates the essential role these stations play in connecting artists with listeners, bolstering local music economies, and directly serving their communities. They’re combining an array of creative programming to make music more accessible, with knowledgeable local hosts, expert curation, music news and journalism, local performance information, and community events.

Gone are the days when public radio music stations could be described as “just radio.” Today stations connect with audiences on air, online, on video, onstage, and on-the-go.

Providing music programming on traditional and digital platforms brings a vast assortment of complicated music licensing regimes. Since the MMA addressed only certain aspects of music licensing geared to the needs of major music industry players (with major resources), public radio stations must continue to navigate a convoluted maze of outdated copyright laws that require multiple licenses and negotiations to present just one song across their distribution platforms.

And these stations want to do much more. The only thing hampering their public service mission is an outdated, overly complex music licensing structure.

It’s time for MMA 2.0. And this time, Congress needs to empower local public radio stations through a streamlined, more efficient licensing structure that will allow them to better serve their listeners, artists, and communities.

Mike Riksen is the Executive Director of the noncomMUSIC Alliance and the Vice President for Policy and Representation for NPR and the public radio system.