With only one month and change left of the year, most of us are ready to give 2020 a quick goodbye and a shove out of the proverbial door. However, while many get ready to dismiss this year altogether, before it ends, Congress has one last opportunity to make a positive mark on 2020 and improve the lives of those who bring joy to all of ours.
Beneath the stack of introduced legislation lie several bipartisan bills waiting for action. Combined, these bills help the music community in a variety of crucial ways and will benefit music creators and small business owners for years to come.
As the pandemic has progressed, we’ve seen industries such as restaurant and hospitality start to open up, as they find new ways of doing business. However, with music venues remaining closed, music creators have struggled to find sustainable ways to earn a livable income. Instead, many are using this time to create and produce new music, with the goal of returning to the studio in order to record. As we prepare for a new year and an end to the 2020 tax season, Congress must pass the Help Independent Tracks Succeed (HITS) Act (H.R. 7886). This bill would allow independent artists to deduct up to $150,000 of their production expenses in the same year those expenses were incurred. Current law only permits artists to gradually write off the initial cost of their production expenses over a period of multiple years. This bill would bring qualified independent music artists onto the same level as film and television creators, allowing them to not only safely reenter the studio to record music but also employ gig workers such as session players and backup singers who contribute to the overall production of an album.
This music ecosystem is only a small part of a larger business environment made up of music venues, independent studios, and other small businesses which, while adapting to new ways of doing business, are struggling to stay afloat amid continuing lockdowns. There are two bills that would help individuals and small businesses in the form of both grants and loans to eligible music creators and the venues and promoters which help enable their success. Both have received bipartisan support for the solutions they offer to those who lost wages due to the pandemic.
The first is the Save Our Stages (SoS) Act (H.R. 7806)/S.4258) which provides grants to eligible live venue operators, producers, promoters, or talent representatives to address the economic effects of the COVID-19. The second is the Reviving the Economy Sustainably Towards a Recovery in Twenty-twenty (RESTART) Act (H.R. 7481/S.3814). This bill, which has bipartisan support in the House and Senate, helps independent creators, music studios, and other small businesses stay afloat by providing funding to cover up to six months of payroll, benefits, and fixed operating expenses for businesses. Together, these two bills will help ensure that when it becomes safe to do so, fans will once again be able enjoy the experience of hearing new music, live.
When creators produce new music, they justifiably want assurance that their works will be protected from infringement by law. However, despite copyright protection being a constitutional right for all creators, many don’t have unlimited resources to do so. The expenses incurred from federal litigation create a barrier for many independent creators to defend their rights when someone infringes on their work. The Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act (H.R. 2426/S. 1273), which is based off of a 2013 congressionally-mandated policy study, would create a purely voluntary copyright small claims systems for creators to seek damages for infringement on their work. This bill, which passed in the House in 2019 but is awaiting further action in the Senate, would limit the disenfranchisement of smaller creators and provide a more level playing field within the music ecosystem as a whole.
When people think of this ecosystem, the term “gig worker” doesn’t always come to mind. However, many creators, including singers, composers, and others are actually the original gig workers — individuals who are self-employed and work on several individual projects a year. Among those eligible for CARES Act benefits extended to gig workers, many were unable to receive their entire benefit because so many of the unemployment systems weren’t able to process mixed income streams. The Mixed Earner Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Act (H.R. 7691/S. 4442) would fix that issue and ensure that gig workers are not left out in a future stimulus package. Compounding matters, many of the CARES Act benefits, including expanded unemployment for self-employed and gig workers, are set to expire on Dec. 31 — leaving 13 million Americans without unemployment benefits.
Our country is on a slow but steady path to recovery. As the 116th session comes to a close, Congress can make the lame duck session anything but lame by passing bipartisan legislation which not only helps music creators survive the pandemic but create a small note of harmony on this otherwise discordant year.
Harvey Mason Jr. is the Chair and Interim President/CEO of the Recording Academy. He has penned and produced songs for music industry legends including Aretha Franklin, Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake, Whitney Houston, Britney Spears and Chris Brown.