I love music. I was lucky enough to grow up in Cleveland during the time that WMMS ruled the airwaves. Their promotion of new and upcoming acts, and their support of the local music scene, set an example for me to follow when I started working in radio.
It was my honor to use my position at WJCU/The Heights to help launch musicians such as Mumford & Sons, Bastille, American Authors, Hozier and Walk the Moon.
In October 2015, I co-wrote a letter with Blake Morgan, a musician and founder of the ‘I Respect Music’ campaign, to Representative Bob Goodlatte, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, to express our support for H.R. 1733, the Fair Play, Fair Pay Act. That letter and the Huffington Post article about it have helped bring focus to the plight of unpaid musicians in radio.
In short, terrestrial radio stations don’t pay recording artists a performance royalty. They never have. The United States is the only democratic country that doesn’t. In fact, there are very few countries in the world that don’t pay royalties to musicians when their music is played on AM/FM radio. Some of the other countries? Iran, North Korea, Rwanda, and China.
While radio stations reap the revenue from broadcasting a recording artist’s work, the life of a ‘starving artist’ is no joke. For every mega-millionaire pop star out there, there’s an army of struggling musicians, pursuing a dream while trying to make ends meet. The life of a touring band isn’t easy. They spend months on the road. Their vans are usually held together with duct tape and prayers – breaking down, missing a gig and missing out on the revenue of merchandise sales is the stuff of nightmares.
These recording artists scrape together money for food and gas on the road, sleep at rest stops, wash up in the bathroom, and spend time away from their families while they pursue a dream.
We had a three-member band visit the station a few months ago. When they arrived, only two members came in. I asked about the other band member and they told me she was feeling pretty sick and they were going to take her to urgent care after the interview. I offered to let them skip the interview, but they were determined to go forward.
That night at their concert I found out she had been diagnosed with walking pneumonia. But there she was on stage, performing her heart out. They couldn’t cancel the show. And she couldn’t give a performance that wasn’t 100 percent even though she knew it would delay healing.
I’ve helped bands load their equipment and run cable for them. I’ve worked their merchandise tables. I’ve run them to the store because they needed the basics. I’ve washed their laundry for them. I’ve fed them. And even one or two have slept on my couch because I couldn’t imagine them sleeping in their tour van another night.
I’ve seen firsthand how hard these musicians work day in and day out. They are no different from any other American, deserving of fair compensation for the service they provide. Without the constant flow of new music from up and coming artists, radio stations would not have a product to offer their listeners, and the music world would be a lesser place.
I find it unfathomable that terrestrial radio thinks it is entitled to profit from the work of others without offering them a slice of the pie. This is why I support the Fair Play, Fair Pay Act.
I love music, but I don’t love what’s happening to musicians. It’s time for radio stations to play fair and support these hard working American artists. It’s time for music fans everywhere to speak up and demand that radio does the right thing.
*Note: This piece first appeared in the Music Technology Policy blog.