Nashville and the Performance Rights Act

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Hello, all. Sorry to be back online a day or two late. I got stuck with a pretty severe case of the flu which has kept me from being able to write. Now that I am back, I’d like to steer your attention to the great state of Tennessee, home of that country music powerhouse Nashville!

Being an epicenter of the music industry, Nashville has a lot on the line in the current battle over the Performance Rights Act (PRA). Whit Adamson, President of the Tennessee Association of Broadcasters, feels strongly enough about the subject that he addressed the issue and the public directly in the pages of The Tennessean:

For over 80 years, radio broadcasters have had a mutually beneficial relationship: free radio airplay of music by over-the-air broadcasters, which in turn promotes record labels and artists and generates millions of dollars in music, hospitality, small-business and merchandise sales. Yes, the Grammy Awards and other single night ceremonies like the Country Music Awards are terrific showcases for Nashville’s music. But let’s not forget that all over America, local radio stations do this every single day!

Free, local radio reaches 236 million listeners every week — which vastly dwarfs the promotional value of artist airplay on all of the other music platforms like satellite radio, Internet radio and other subscription-based radio that pay this fee.

And it is usually at about this point in the discussion that those supporting the PRA point out what they consider the glaring inequity of broadcast not having to pay. An argument, like many of those on the other side of the fence, that means little due to its skewed presentation. Radio does indeed pay, just not this additional burdensome fee being proposed by the labels. Adamson continues:

It’s important to note that our radio stations currently pay hundreds of millions of dollars annually to groups like BMI, ASCAP and SESAC, which goes to compensate songwriters and Nashville music publishers. We recognize that songwriters have less opportunity to monetize their work than do the performing artists.

There lies an important and often ignored distinction. Radio has always supported songwriters and publishers, the people who create the music (sometimes the same people as those performing it, but far from always).  Performers have concert receipts to generate income, as well as other avenues such as merchandising. The songwriters, not always as much. While the singer/songwriter is an American icon, a quick check of the liner notes on most CDs will show that it is not by any stretch the majority.

Adamson loses with the following abjuration, one with which I agree:

For the sake of our region and the future of music, we should not risk the viability of free and local radio stations that have been such a huge economic engine for Nashville over the decades.

Image: jimbenttree / CC BY 2.0
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