(L-R) Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Neil Portnow and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)
Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage
Neil Portnow's Legacy Of Advocacy: Retrospective Of A Creators' Rights Champion
Neil Portnow's tenure as Recording Academy President and CEO will come to a coda on July 31 with his retirement, but his devoted Advocacy work on behalf of music creators will resonate and reverberate throughout the music community. Since taking over the prestigious role in November 2002 he has made it his mission to raise the voice of the Academy on behalf of music makers to create meaningful policy changes that build a better system for songwriters, musicians, artists, producers and engineers. Now, nearly 17 years later, we look back and celebrate his remarkable career wins as wins for the whole of the music industry.
Portnow's long list of accomplishments, milestones, programs launched, and legislation passed shows what is possible through hard work, collaboration, and passion for the betterment of the music community. His leadership proved to all that with dedication, anything is possible. Just last November, Portnow stood at President Donald Trump's right elbow as the Music Modernization Act was signed into law. The MMA represents the biggest update to music legislation in 40 years, and Portnow was there to shepherd the bill from inception to fruition. President Trump even made mention of the Recording Academy’s leader as he put the finishing touch on the monumental moment. That's how integral Neil Portnow has been to music policy.
— Recording Academy / GRAMMYs (@RecordingAcad) October 11, 2018
But Portnow's lasting impression on the modern music industry began long before his watershed legislative triumph. In fact, his very first remarks as Recording Academy President laid out the organization's core pillars, setting advocacy as a true Academy priority for the first time ever. Before Neil, Advocacy was a project of the Washington D.C. Chapter, but Portnow saw the value, responsibility and urgency of creating a distinct Advocacy department with a dedicated public policy team.
In 2005, while still in the springtide of his tenure, Portnow helped launch the Recording Arts and Sciences Congressional Caucus and expanded the popular GRAMMYs On The Hill Awards ceremony to include a high-level lobby day to better educate lawmakers on music makers’ issues and to connect music makers and lawmakers
He also laid out the vision for the first-of-its-kind grassroots music advocacy day, now known as District Advocate Day, to take place simultaneously with thousands of music creators nationwide connecting with members of Congress to discuss what matters to the music community. Last year's District Advocate Day saw more than 1,500 music creators raise their voice and meet with their representatives.
— Recording Academy / GRAMMYs (@RecordingAcad) October 24, 2018
Portnow's vision for creating comprehensive change to an outdated music licensing laws began to take focus when he saw discrete bills for songwriters or producers or artists fail to be passed. On Apr. 2, 2014 during the GRAMMYs On The Hill Awards, he delivered a momentous speech to a record-turnout packed house calling for unity within the music industry to achieve parity for all creators across all platforms. The galvanizing speech was featured in an advance story in The New York Times, and in an editorial in Hill publication Roll Call. Two months later on June 10, he testified before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet on the issue of music licensing, where he was the only one of seven witnesses to represent all music creators.
On Jan. 8, 2018, Portow led the Academy in joining a broad coalition of 20 music organizations to support key music legislation pending in Congress, fulfilling a Recording Academy vision for legislative unity. With the coalition in place, artists, songwriters, labels, publishers, and performing rights organizations united to endorse music licensing bills including the elements that formed the foundation of the Music Modernization Act. This action marks a significant step forward towards creating a fair and updated marketplace for music creators.
Neil Portnow speaks at GRAMMYs On The Hill Advocacy Day, April 26, 2012
Photo: Paul Morigi/WireImage
When the milestone 60th GRAMMY Awards came around later that January, Music's Biggest Night and the many GRAMMY Week festivities traveled to New York City, Portnow's hometown, for the first time since 2003. That same week in the Big Apple, the House Judiciary Committee held a special GRAMMY field hearing with Portnow and other Recording Academy witnesses and Trustees titled "Music Policy Issues: A Perspective From Those Who Make It." The hearing sets the stage for significant progress towards updating current music legislation.
Drafting off the GRAMMY Week momentum in New York, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R- Va.) and Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) went back to D.C. and started stitching together the comprehensive bill after the hearing. One week before April's GRAMMYs on the Hill, Goodlatte and Nadler introduced the Music Modernization Act (H.R. 5447).
Where the worlds of music and politics overlap, Portnow made it his business and the Academy's business to coalesce, to understand and to unite.
During GRAMMYs On The Hill, Portnow was part of the catalyst to bring the newly introduced MMA to the floor for votes, ultimately pushing the landmark legislation over the finish line just a few short months later.
Fittingly, Portnow would be not only attend the White House ceremony when the the Orrin G. Hatch-Bob Goodlatte Music Modernization Act was signed into law by President Trump on Oct. 11, 2018. but also receive special thanks form the president. This storybook ending came only after years of hard work to realize the bill that brings music licensing into the 21st century with one comprehensive piece of legislation, a position championed by Portnow and advocated by the Recording Academy since 2014.
While the Music Modernization Act stands as Portnow's crowning accomplishment in advocacy, the product of a career of hard work, but it was far from the only legislative accomplishment under his tenure. Portnow fought persistently to preserve and increase NEA funding and music education reminding budget-setters why arts funding is so important for both fostering a healthy entertainment industry and enriching the minds and spirits of the next generation with the joy and knowledge of music.
— GRAMMY Advocacy (@GRAMMYAdvocacy) March 16, 2017
As a voice for the music community, Portnow spent his career at the Recording Academy fighting to improve the system that governs the music industry, uniting music and politics with diplomacy, efficacy and class. As the Recording Academy bids Neil a very fine and grateful farewell, it also celebrates the many ways his Advocacy efforts will continue to support music creators long after his retirement.