Harvey Mason jr.
Photo Courtesy of Harvey Mason jr.
Harvey Mason jr.: Congress Must Help Music Creators Survive The Pandemic
The CARES Act proved to serve as a bridge over troubled waters for creators during the early onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Serving as a lifeline to many music makers, several of the important pro-creator provisions included in the legislation have already expired or are set to expire at the conclusion of this year, including the expansion of unemployment insurance for gig workers (expires December 31), the paycheck protection program (expired in August), and supplemental funding of the National Endowment for the Arts (exhausted in June).
Congress has the ability to intervene to reauthorize and extend these critical programs and continue necessary relief for thousands of creators. Alongside our music community peers, the Recording Academy recently drafted a letter calling on Congressional leadership to take additional action. “The live music business – once a sign of a thriving community and a draw to our cultural and commercial centers – has gone tragically silent. The music community remains grateful for Congress’ bipartisan relief efforts earlier this year, but more must be done soon to avoid a level of loss that that could devastate artists, musicians, engineers, producers, venues, and everyone in the music industry for a generation,” penned the coalition.
In an opinion piece in The Hill, Recording Academy Chair and Interim President/CEO Harvey Mason jr. expanded on this call by urging Congress to take action before the conclusion of the 116th Congress. Mason, who has produced tracks for Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, and Britney Spears, understands the fragile financial state of the music community and shares how Congress can help build a path towards recovery by including key legislative provisions in any future COVID-19 stimulus package. “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,” writes Mason.
Outlining the specific pro-music legislation, Mason first discusses the Help Independent Tracks Succeed (HITS) Act (H.R.7886), a bill introduced by Reps. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) and Ron Estes (R-Kan.). “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,” argues Mason. A small tax incentive to help get independent artists back in the studio, the HITS Act allows these artists to deduct 100% of their production expenses in the United States, up to $150,000, in the year expenses are incurred.
Mason argues that the HITS Act also creates equitable tax treatment within the creative community, writing, “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.”
In addition to cancelled gigs and rescheduled tours, Mason next describes the immense impact a struggling creative community has on the surrounding economy, stating, “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.” Mason endorses two legislative solutions to help the greater music ecosystem: the Save Our Stages (SOS) Act (H.R.7806/S.4258) and the Reviving the Economy Sustainably Towards a Recovery in Twenty-twenty (RESTART) Act (H.R.7481/S.3814).
Introduced by Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Reps. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Roger Williams (R-Texas), the SOS Act provides six months of financial support for struggling independent live music venues. The bill would appropriate $10 billion in Small Business Administration grants for the industry. The RESTART Act, championed by Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Reps. Jared Golden (D-Maine) and Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), gives a boost to small- and medium-sized businesses that are struggling to survive the pandemic. With music venues and other music businesses still shuttered (and no reopening in sight), the RESTART Act is essential to keeping the music playing after the pandemic. “Together, these two bills will help ensure that when it becomes safe to do so, fans will once again be able [to] enjoy the experience of hearing new music, live,” states Mason.
The penultimate solution offered by Mason is to pass the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act (H.R.2426/S.1273). “When creators produce new music, they justifiably want assurance that their works will be protected from infringement by law,” writes Mason, continuing, “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 CASE Act establish a small claims court for copyright cases through a tribunal within the U.S. Copyright Office. Mason endorses the CASE Act, stating the House-passed bill would, “limit the disenfranchisement of smaller creators and provide a more level playing field within the music ecosystem as a whole.”
Finally, Mason advocates for the inclusion of the Mixed Earner Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Act (H.R.7691/S.4442) in any future stimulus legislation. “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,” Mason writes. Earlier this year, the CARES Act extended unemployment insurance to eligible gig workers, a subsection of the workforce typically boxed out of traditional financial relief. The CARES Act unintentionally prevented “mixed earners,” those with both traditional and freelance incomes, from receiving their full share of unemployment assistance. Sponsored by Reps. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Judy Chu (D-Calif.) and Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Tina Smith (D-Minn.), the legislation ensures that all workers have equitable access to the maximum possible support in future unemployment benefit programs.
Mason concludes the piece on an optimistic note, stating, “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.”
Read Harvey Mason jr.’s full opinion piece in The Hill.