Little Big Town and Rep. Steny Hoyer (center)
Photo: Paul Morigi/WireImage.com
Little Big Town, Lawmakers Champion Music Modernization Act: 2018 GRAMMYs On The Hill Awards
Buoyed by hope for an industry entirely in step with the modern age, the 2018 GRAMMYs on the Hill Awards gala convened a who's who of Capitol Hill heavyweights and music creators joining forces in a celebration of the power of advocacy, creativity and music.
Taking place at Washington, D.C.'s The Hamilton, the Recording Academy honored GRAMMY winners Little Big Town in recognition of their advocacy efforts on behalf of their fellow music creators. Additionally, this year's congressional honorees — Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), founder and co-chair of the Congressional Creative Rights Caucus, and Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), author of the Music Modernization Act and vice chair of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet — were recognized for their longtime support of the creative community.
"The time is now," remarked Recording Academy President/CEO Neil Portnow to a room that featured the likes of event host and GRAMMY-winning producer Peter Asher, Recording Academy Chief Industry, Government and Member Relations Officer Daryl P. Friedman, and Minority Leader of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Also, impressive was the roster of GRAMMY winners and nominees in attendance, including Erika Ender, co-writer of "Despacito"; Brann Dailor and Bill Kelliher from GRAMMY winners Mastodon; "Stay" singer/songwriter Lisa Loeb; Ben Tanner of blues-rock band Alabama Shakes, former "American Idol" contestant and Christian artist Danny Gokey; and producers Patrick "9th Wonder" Denard Douthit and Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins.
The "time" was a reference to the Music Modernization Act, a comprehensive package combining three previous bills that was unanimously passed by the United States House Judiciary Committee and is now awaiting consideration by the full House of Representatives.
Regarding the MMA, Pelosi noted, "It was through [the Recording Academy's] tireless advocacy that this has happened, and we look forward to the bill's speedy passage into legislation."
Speaking to the need to update outdated music policy and protect the future livelihood of the industry's numerous creatives, Collins said, "The creative spark inside of us is as important as anything that is made with hands, and is worth protecting, in this case, by updating. If we ever get to the point in our society where we take away the creative spark, we have failed the soul and heartbeat of music, of books, of our creative output as Americans. [That creative output] is America's greatest export."
"Congratulations on 20 years of working to advocate for the rights of music creators," said Chu, who also shared a sobering story with attendees. "I especially appreciate what you do because I get the opportunities to meet artists like Kevin Kadish, who told me the story of writing 'All About That Bass' with Meghan Trainor. Then he told me that, despite it being a megahit and being played over 37 million times online, he only received $964."
Notes like those underpinned an evening that closed with Little Big Town being surprised by songwriting trio behind their hit "Girl Crush." Lori McKenna, Hillary Lindsey and Liz Rose — collectively known as the Love Junkies — performed a spirited acoustic take on the song that netted them the 2015 GRAMMY for Best Country Song and the Homewood, Ala.-based quartet Best Country Duo/Group Performance honors.
Ender's plaintive take on "Despacito" and GRAMMY winner Jerry Douglas' stirring dobro-aided rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" provided for additional music highlights.
Upon taking the stage to both receive their honor and play a live mini set, Little Big Town's Kimberly Schlapman related the story of how McKenna was a Boston-based mother of five and independent songwriter who spent many years honing her craft before becoming an award-winning writer. "[It's] hardworking people like these who make the songs that define our lives and need greater support," said Schlapman, offering a compelling exclamation point on the proceedings.
"If we ever get to the point in our society where we take away the creative spark, we have failed the soul and heartbeat of music, of books, of our creative output as Americans." — Rep. Doug Collins
Speaking of Little Big Town's set, the highlight was a true "only at the GRAMMYs on the Hill Awards moment": a rousing run-through of "Boondocks" during which the group was joined onstage by a group of lawmakers. Pelosi, Chairmen Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), and Representatives Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Chu — who played mean maracas — were among the group who danced and sang along.
Fun aside, the awards gala served as a true reminder of how music and politics can blend to ensure and preserve a sustainable future for music creators.
"No industry survives generations of not changing," said Gokey. "America is an industry innovator, and ideas like the Music Modernization Act ensure that this will remain the case.”
(Marcus K. Dowling is a world-published journalist, broadcaster, and entrepreneur with 15 years of experience. Also, he was the concept development lead for Decades, a retro-themed 12,000-square-foot nightclub in downtown Washington, D.C.)
Music Modernization Act: The Ball Is Now In Congress' Court
"The Music Modernization Act passed the House Judiciary markup unanimously on Wednesday. And the bill not only has support from both sides of the aisle, it has the support of interest groups from across the political and ideological spectrum. How often do you see the AFL-CIO and Americans for Tax Reform agree with each other?" — Conversations In Advocacy #16
Music creators should be paid fairly whenever their work is used by someone else. Makes perfect sense, right? Well, in the case of the Music Modernization Act (MMA) it makes so much sense that even groups who don't traditionally align with each other or take a strong interest in music legislation are coming out of the woodwork to support the bill.
The widely supported bill, endorsed by music and tech stakeholders, will correct lapses in copyright law that fail to recognize the reality of music's modern economy. Because of outdated, certain digital broadcasters remain exempt from any obligation to pay royalties to artists for music recorded before 1972; furthermore, royalty payouts for music provided through digital platforms remain tied to antiquated regulations, and music licensing laws still fail to recognize the contributions of producers, mixers and sound engineers whose efforts are essential to the creation of recorded music in the first place. The MMA delivers modern solutions that bring music licensing into the 21st century.
These solutions haven't just been embraced by the music and tech communities; in the past several months, as the House Judiciary Committee has reviewed the MMA, groups as varied as the NAACP, Americans For Tax Reform, the AFL-CIO, Citizens Against Government Waste, the U.S. Chamber Of Commerce, and more have submitted public statements praising the bill and calling on Congress to act.
"Digital radio platforms have stations with playlists and formats entirely dedicated to playing pre-1972 music. It's simply unjust and unfair for those platforms to cash-in on massive subscription revenues while denying elderly artists fair pay for their valuable work," stated Hilary O. Shelton on behalf of the NAACP in their statement to the House Judiciary.
Meanwhile, Citizens Against Government Waste commented in late January that "while technological advances have changed the way consumers listen to music, compensation for performers and songwriters remains in the dark ages. Digital radio services continue to be regulated under a compulsory licensing system established in 1972, with rates set by the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB); composers and songwriters are compensated through mechanisms set up in 1909. Their compensation is unlike any other form of intellectual property rights."
Along with addressing the pre-1972 royalty loophole and providing compensatory recognition of the efforts of producers, engineers and other key professionals involved in the recording process, the MMA will seek to increase industry efficiency and transparency by establishing a single licensing entity to administer statutory licensing for music rights holders and facilitating identifications and payment to creators, all while making it easier for internet platforms and streaming services to lawfully license the music in the first place.
The bottom line? The MMA will protect fair compensation for creators across the board and establish an outlet to streamline the entire licensing process for digital broadcasters. Now that the bill has survived inspection by the House Judiciary Committee, passing out of committee on April 11 with a unanimous 32–0 approval, it moves to the full House of Representative for a vote. The ball is in our legislators' court to respect the will of the people.
Reps. Bob Goodlatte and Jerrold Nadler
Photo: Sean Zanni/WireImage.com
House Judiciary Committee Approves Music Modernization Act
The Recording Academy has been trumpeting the Music Modernization Act a lot lately, and for good reason. Since rumors broke on the comprehensive bill in January, which garnered historic support from the far reaches of the music industry, the Academy has remained optimistic and enthusiastic that the MMA would pass Congress this year. Now, that dream is one step closer to becoming a reality.
On April 10 House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and 29 additional members of the House of Representatives introduced the MMA. Today, the bill, H.R. 5447, went to the House Judiciary Committee for markup, where it passed unanimously with a vote of 32–0 following review.
From here, the MMA will proceed to the full House for a vote in the near future, and then attention turns to the Senate who will be tasked with considering similar, comprehensive reforms. A Senate Judiciary hearing and markup on music licensing reform is anticipated in the next few months.
The MMA marks a historic step forward for music legislation, which hasn't been updated in a generation. The comprehensive package combines three previous bills, including a songwriter-focused Music Modernization Act (H.R. 4706), which establishes an independent board to handle mechanical royalties while offering digital music services a "safe harbor" from copyright infringement lawsuits.
It also includes the CLASSICS Act (H.R. 3301), which requires digital services to pay for songs recorded prior to 1972, and the Allocation for Music Producers Act (H.R. 881), which codifies into law the way that producers and engineers get paid royalties for their work on sound recordings.
The current version of the MMA has also adopted a feature of the Fair Play Fair Pay Act (H.R. 1836) to update how the Copyright Royalty Board determines the rate digital services pay for recordings.
The Music Modernization Act is the first major update to our music licensing laws in decades. Will help ensure American music creators are properly recognized and rewarded for their works, and is vital to promoting American creativity and innovation in the digital age.
— Bob Goodlatte (@RepGoodlatte) April 10, 2018
"This legislation, which is the first major update to our music licensing laws in decades, brings early 20th century music laws for the analog era into the 21st Century digital era," said Goodlatte.
"I look forward to working with [Chairman Goodlatte], and all those who made this bill a reality, to see that it is enacted into law," added Nadler.
"We are thrilled to celebrate the introduction of the Music Modernization Act," Neil Portnow, President and CEO of the Recording Academy told Billboard. "This historic bill has been a goal of the Recording Academy for several years as it unites the music community under one piece of legislation and provides meaningful updates to copyright law to help all music creators.
"This collaboration is the kind of work that changes the game for the music industry. Congress is recognizing the impact and cultural significance of work before 1972, while paving the way for the next generation of music creators."
Photo: T.J. Kirkpatrick/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Next Steps For PROs After BMI's Consent Decree Victory
Unlike the music business, competition between player-piano roll manufacturers or buggy whip makers has really died down. But one thing they all have in common is that their competitive marketplace is shaped and controlled by the same consent decrees with the Department of Justice.
"The way music is licensed has been governed by these consent decrees since 1941," said Justice Department Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim, who oversees the agency's antitrust division. "So 77 years of a consent decree, rates being set by a judge in rate court as opposed to free market competition … we are taking a look at that."
Speaking at Vanderbilt Law School on March 27, Delrahim described his department's present rate of progress, having reviewed two-thirds of the Justice Department's 1,300 consent decrees still in force.
"As public agencies we need to take a look and see if those consent decrees are still relevant in the marketplace," he said.
Delrahim wants to ensure that his agency's designated role enforcing U.S. laws is not sidetracked by becoming a mini-regulator or micromanager. Last month, the deadline for appeal expired on the DOJ's courtroom loss to BMI without action being taken, a hopeful sign the department is stepping back from that micromanager sideline. In line with such hopefulness, BMI President/CEO Michael O'Neill wrote a recent Billboard op-ed addressing the question, "So where do we go from here?"
"We've never been more optimistic about the future of music than we are now," said O'Neill, outlining three broad areas for continued positive change in the music marketplace.
One of the areas is updated copyright and music licensing reform, an area where the Recording Academy's continuous efforts will be on full display April 18–19 during GRAMMYs on the Hill when recent GRAMMY winners, nominees and other music creators meet directly with lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
Another area ahead is for performing rights organizations to spread into related business by licensing additional rights, which seems ripe for future developments as the internet continues to spawn new formats and digital experiences.
And perhaps the most exciting and paramount of O'Neill's future areas is what he describes as "insight and transparency into the licensing process." There is more to this than meets the eye. The fundamental level O'Neill emphasizes is BMI's database collaboration with ASCAP.
"The intention is for this to be a vital asset to assist radio stations and other businesses in assessing their music needs, while providing greater insight and transparency into the licensing process," he said.
A future where the creative catalog serves licensees while treating licensors fairly is a dream worth making into reality, and a platform for futures we can't hope to imagine yet.
Perhaps the problem to be solved with optimism is balancing the need for patience with staying proactive daily. With unprecedented music community unity on copyright reform, thousands of professionals who care are striving to achieve a legal and regulatory environment suited for innovations ahead.