GiMD Opinion: Music Is Changing; So Should The Laws
By David Glasser
This commentary originally appeared in The Denver Post.
Last week, I contacted my U.S. representative to encourage him to support the songwriters, performers and producers who make up a vital part of our community. Specifically, I urged the passage of legislation that will ensure music creators receive fair compensation by those who earn billions selling 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. Additionally, AM and FM radio stations pay nothing to artists and musicians for the product they put on the air.
This has real-world economic implications for music creators. A system that does not support music creators as part of the economy is destructive to the future of American music and a threat to the next generation of artists.
I am part of the music production process as owner of Airshow, an audio mastering facility with a 34-year history, 18 of those years in Boulder. I've worked with many musicians in our community, from the vibrant Lyons bluegrass scene, to Nederland jam bands, Colorado singer-songwriters, and Denver jazz artists. Our clientele is global, but the local music scene is very dear to me.
I have observed with alarm the systemic devaluation of the music that my clients work very hard to create. Over the years, as a result of this devaluation, music sales have fallen, royalties have fallen, and recording budgets have shrunk. The costs of running a professional recording facility have risen while studio rates remain flat. Imagine what our community would be like without music creators.
Why are music creators calling on Congress to take action? 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, artists and musicians are paid when their music is played on the radio. In fact, the only countries besides the U.S. that do not have a radio performance right are China, Iran and North Korea.
Second, music royalty rates should reflect true market value. Sadly, outdated consent decrees treat individual songwriters as monopolies while treating billion-dollar music services as a protected class.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 them to be compensated fairly for the products they create — the products that millions of Americans enjoy every day.
I urge Colorado's representatives in the House to support the creators that make music possible by supporting the Fair Play Fair Pay Act.
David Glasser is a Grammy-winning mastering engineer and local business owner. He is a San Francisco Chapter Governor