GiMD Opinion: A Penny For Your Thoughts, a Paycheck for Music Creators
by Gregory “Blodie” Davis
This commentary originally appeared in The New Orleans Advocate.
In October, I, along with more than 1,600 other music creators in the U.S., met with my local representative as part of Grammys in My District to encourage them to support the performers, studio engineers, songwriters and producers who make up our community. Specifically, I urged my local congressman, Rep. Cedric Richmond, to co-sponsor legislation in Congress that will ensure that music creators receive fair compensation by those who earn billions of dollars selling our music.
The music industry has seen many changes throughout the years. 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 the worth of 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 music since 1977 as one of the original members of The Dirty Dozen Brass Band. In our 38th year, we have been fortunate enough to have a robust career, still performing up to 200 shows per year worldwide. However, throughout the years, my music career has evolved. I am a performer, composer, entrepreneur and college professor.
In September 1998, I formed my own company, Blodie Entertainment LLC, to book talent for public and private functions and produce various events (music, sporting, social gatherings). I’ve booked talent for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, the Essence Music Festival, the New Orleans Saints, Harrah’s Casino New Orleans and more. In addition, I was an adjunct professor at Loyola University.
This is the reality of today’s music economy. While I am fortunate to have music be my primary income source, talented music creators are being forced to place their musical careers on hold just to provide the basics for their families. The artistic and creative process is no longer valued enough to sustain living wages, so much so that music creators are having to seek additional income sources.
That is why music creators are calling on Congress to take action.
What can Congress do?
First, there’s no performance rights 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. The U.S. joins the likes of China, Iran and North Korea as countries that do not honor radio performance rights. 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 HR 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 Rep. Richmond or your local representative and let them know you support the creators that make music possible and encourage them to co-sponsor the Fair Play Fair Pay Act.
Gregory Blodie Davis is a New Orleans-based performer, composer, entrepreneur and college professor.