Mindi Abair On How Her Royalties Fell By 90% In A Decade & What Comes Next
Stories of hard-working musicians struggling to survive in the face of unfair compensation are all too common today. Even sax songstress Mindi Abair can attest to the challenges, proving that successful touring and recording artist – a GRAMMY nominee – is not immune.
But Abair was not content to let these laws build barriers around her career. After several years of meeting with legislators during GRAMMYs On The Hill and using her platform as a national Trustee of the Recording Academy to enact change on Capitol Hill, now she's taken charge yet again as the co-chair of the Academy's National Advocacy Committee alongside producer Harvey Mason Jr.
One of the main initiatives of the group is to see that the Music Modernization Act is passed into law. The landmark bill promises comprehensive music licensing reform and has received bipartisan support on its way to passing unanimously in the House of Representatives and Senate Judiciary Committee – but there's still work to be done.
How do current music laws affect your livelihood?
I’ve watched my royalties diminish by about 90 percent over the last 10 years. And as an artist, I’m more popular and more established than 10 years ago. It’s a travesty that so many creators of music are having to make severe life adjustments to deal with the fact that our laws have not kept up with the exponential changes in technology that affect our livelihood. I write almost every song on my albums, but royalties on streaming music have not come close to what we were paid selling CDs and physical units. I wouldn’t be making a living based on my royalty income at this point in my career. I could have early on. Now my income comes from touring. Thank god my band is a live act. We were born and bred for touring and love it. But not everyone does. And it should be just one stream of income for an artist like me, not the whole enchilada. We need new laws that re-establish a fair rate of pay for all music creators.
Why do you support the Music Modernization Act?
We are in such need for the modernization of laws for creators of music. The House of Representatives passed this legislation unanimously. Now it needs to pass the Senate to get to the President’s desk. This legislation is nothing that should be argued about in my estimation… this is just common sense modernization of the laws. Most people don’t realize that artists who recorded songs before 1972 have no right to collect royalties on them. It’s unimaginable that no one in our government has stood up for our musicians and artists until now on this. The Recording Academy has been fighting for this for years, and I’m proud to have been a part of that fight. I’m happy our lawmakers have taken notice now.
Also our producers and engineers have had to go through a lengthy process to be paid royalties on records and songs they work on. The artist and/or label owner must write a letter of direction to allow them to collect their royalties. This Music Modernization Act streamlines this to give producers and engineers their rightful path to proper payment. Producers and engineers are an integral part of creating songs and records. This legislation also gives digital services a more convenient way to license songs. This has been very convoluted in the past, and it’s good for everyone that we can simplify the process to license a song. I know we are all fans of music. Sometimes the details of how musicians, writers and performers get paid is a little daunting, but I applaud our lawmakers and artists coming together to bring this to the forefront of decision making on Capitol Hill. It’s time.
What would you tell your fellow music makers about getting involved in advocacy?
It’s time to be a part of the solution instead of complaining about the state of the music business. Getting the Music Modernization Act passed by the House of Representatives is a huge feat. It came after years of the Recording Academy lobbying with thousands of artists, writers, musicians, and creators of music to stand up for our rights. It takes that. It takes standing up for something you believe in that affects you. Our government has a million things being thrown at them daily. We have to make our voice heard. So if your royalties have all but evaporated and you’re trying to figure out how to navigate this music business of 2018, start by making your voice heard and help us change the laws so you can be fairly compensated. We need you… and our voices are being heard. Get involved.
What are you working on now?
I’m on such a fun ride this year. My band Mindi Abair and The Boneshakers are touring all year. We haven’t stopped! We have dates all over the U.S. throughout 2018 – Blues and Music Festivals, Theaters, Cruises – we’re having a blast. Last month we won eight Independent Blues Awards including Artist of the Year, and we’re dropping a Christmas CD Oct. 26, Mindi Abair and The Boneshakers' All I Got For Christmas Is The Blues. It’s a rockin’ Christmas record made up of four originals and five classic songs. So look for us on the road… I know we’re coming your way. And enjoy the new Christmas music!