Royalties in Mind: C-Span The Communicators


cspanExcitement is not the word that usually comes to mind when people think about C-Span. This weekend, however, there was excitement to be had, at least if you have an interest in radio. Steve Newberry, Joint Board Chair for the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and Commonwealth Broadcasting President/CEO, appeared on The Communicators and his topic was the Performance Rights Act.

Mr. Newberry expressed an opinion that I share, that the recording industry is completely invested in a failing business model and are attempting to stop the financial hemorrhage by coming to broadcasters with their hands outstretched. If that were not the case, then why is it that 50% of the royalties collected are supposed to go into studio coffers as  opposed to being distributed to the artists?

He also addressed one aspect of the ongoing argument that is left by the wayside way to often: our responsibility to the next generation of performers. Radio Ink delivers the direct quote:

“But if we do see [performance royalties] happen, and radio stations are forced to pay, I think that one of the unintended consequences could very well be that it becomes a pure business transaction, and radio stations are forced to do one of two things: expect compensation or a pure business investment, a return on my investment. If I am paying … you’d better believe that I am going to be much less willing to take a risk on new artists or unknown artists, and I am going to play those that have the most consistent performance recognition. And you could see the new and evolving artists really take it on the chin.”

When you look around at the complaints levied at commercial radio, one of the most often seen is the assertion of a lack of variety. True or false, this is a mere glimpse of what the musical future could be like in the wake of this sort of financial juggling. If stations are no longer willing, or no longer able, to afford to take chances on new music, then the artists that the Performance Rights Act purports to benefit will be muzzled over the long run.

This is setting up our creatives for failure, just to provide a few pieces of silver for the labels. Yes, there are inequities in the way things are now, but if you do a little digging, you will find that the majority of the horror stories come from artist interactions with their labels, not with radio. I believe that the family of Jimi Hendrix is only one out of many that would attest to this.

The C-Span piece can be watched online, and also includes Duke Fakir, an original member of The Four Tops, as the proponent of the act. One of his main supporting arguments is that Internet and Satellite already pay performance royalties and since they’re just the same as radio, broadcast should as well. I find this argument to be invalid. The royalties paid by these two types of media were originally brought about on the grounds that both Internet and Satellite “radio” were in fact completely new and different species of media and in need of a new structure. Sorry, but you can’t have it both ways.

Image: C-Span Logo / Fair Use: Reporting

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