GiMD Opinion: Creators Deserve Fair Pay For Music We All Play
By Michael Freeman
This commentary first appeared in The Daily Herald.
On Oct. 14, I, along with 68 other music creators in the state of Illinois, met with our local congressmen as part of program called "Grammys in My District." We encouraged them to support the producers, studio engineers, songwriters and performers and who make up our community. Specifically, I urged my local congressman, Rep. Peter Roskam, to co-sponsor legislation in Congress that will ensure that music creators receive fair compensation from those who earn billions of dollars selling our music.
While satellite radio and new digital music platforms like YouTube, Spotify and Pandora have increased access to music and allowed for the discovery of many new artists, their business models actually undervalue music. At the same time, AM and FM radio stations get away with paying nothing to artists and musicians for the product they put on the air.
This has real-world economic implications for music creators.
I am one of the creators who is impacted by this issue. I have been making records since 1977. My work appears on more than 200 albums in varying genres. I am a Grammy Award-winning and Blues Music Award-winning record producer; a recipient of a "Keeping The Blues Alive Award" from The Blues Foundation; an engineer and songwriter; and owner of Blue Point Records and Alwyn Music BMI. Just like many Americans, I am an entrepreneur, a small-business owner, and as such, an important part of the American economy.
However, with today's antiquated music laws, all of this simply isn't enough. While I am fortunate enough to have music be my primary income source, I also teach Master Classes in Recording as adjunct faculty at Columbia College Chicago for supplemental income. Other music creators have it worse and have had to place their music careers on hold simply to earn a living wage.
As a producer and as an engineer, my work is not supported by current music legislation. We are an integral part of the studio experience and the overall creation of the music we love to hear, but we are not included in the financial rewards and not identified as our own class within the music-making process. Financial rewards have always been hard fought-for in this field, but to see large corporations who control radio make their living on the backs of creators' works without paying any usage fees at all is outrageous.
We now live in a digital age where streaming is the delivery system of the day, and yet we do not have standardized rates for streaming. Streaming rates are currently percentages of pennies per stream. To earn the same amount from streaming as you would from a single download, the song needs to be streamed more than 250 times. Standardized rates for streaming will allow the music industry to establish a stable business model to ensure music's future economic success.
That is why music creators are calling on Congress to take action. What can Congress do?
First, there's no performance right on radio. That means that even though radio stations around the U.S. make $17 billion a year, they don't compensate the artists and musicians who make the music played by those stations. That needs to change. In almost every other country in the world, artists and musicians are paid when their music is played on the radio. In fact, the only countries besides the U.S. who do not have a radio performance right are China, Iran and North Korea. As a result, an excess of $100 million remains in other countries, unpaid to U.S. artists and thus, removed from our economy.
Second, music royalty rates should reflect true market value. Outdated consent decrees treat individual songwriters as monopolies while treating billion-dollar music services as a protected class. The result is below-market rates for songwriters and composers. We need to replace government established rate setting standards with one standard that reflects what a true market negotiation between a seller and a buyer would produce.
Third, we have to make sure that creators are compensated for music written and recorded before 1972. This loophole is being challenged in court with some success. We need help from Congress to close it.
Much of this would be addressed in the bipartisan bill H.R. 1733: The Fair Play Fair Pay Act. This legislation will help level the playing field for all creators and allow us all to be compensated fairly for the products we create -- the products that millions of Americans enjoy every day.
I urge you to get involved. Reach out to your local congressman, let them know you support the creators that make music possible and encourage them to co-sponsor the Fair Play Fair Pay Act.
Michael Freeman, of Barrington, is a Grammy Award-winning producer and engineer and the past president, trustee and governor of the Chicago Chapter of The Recording Academy. He serves on the board of directors and the executive committee for The Blues Foundation in Memphis.