The Performance Rights Act: NAB CEO Gordon Smith Speaks Out

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As usual every few days, it is now time to cast a jaundiced eye on that misguided piece of legislation called The Performance Rights Act. [If you missed it, the PRA is an attempt to add a royalty for performers to the royalties already paid to ASCAP and others by broadcast radio. Search the blog and you’ll find numerous postings on the subject.]

Today, National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) CEO Gordon Brown takes the battle to The Washington Post where he enumerates the flaws in this legislation, many of which I’m happy to see coincide with my own.

He starts off with one of my particular gripes — the fact that half of this money, touted as going to the artists, actually goes straight into the pockets of the record labels. For those of you paying attention to economic pattern displayed here, that means that most of it is leaving the country immediately. That’s not what sets my teeth on edge, though.

What about the rest of the money? That goes to the artists, right? Not necessarily:

With 50 percent in the labels’ pocket, the remaining money would be divvied up by SoundExchange, an organization launched by the RIAA to collect and dispense royalty payments to artists. The disbursement would be split 45 percent for the featured artist and 5 percent for the background musicians — if SoundExchange can locate them. But given media reports that SoundExchange had trouble finding the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the location loophole seems to be a rather big “if.”

And there we have my biggest issue with all of this, paying the artists is the job of the record labels — one they do not have a history of being good at.

The record label claim that this legislation is about “fairness to artists” is dubious. D.C. native Herb Feemster of Peaches & Herb” fame — as well as artists ranging from Benny Goodman to Pink Floyd to Cher — had to file lawsuits against their record labels to recoup unpaid royalties.

Contrast the record label exploitation of artists with that of radio stations that advance the careers of musicians with free airplay and concert promotions. With a growing audience of 239 million weekly listeners, free and local radio remains an unparalleled promotional platform for music, generating untold billions in album and concert sales and merchandising opportunities.

You see, I’m in my mid-forties. I remember in my high school and collegiate years it seems like there was always a battle between some artist who had not gotten paid and his label. The Jimi Hendrix estate went through all kinds of absurdity over issues like that. Never once, then or when I was producing shows, did I hear anyone complaining about radio unless it was because they were not on it.

I’ve been an activist on behalf of artists for a long time now, as most people in New Orleans can attest, and as such, it pains me to see the RIAA preaching concern for their artists as a smokescreen for efforts to shore up their failing business model. Just because they are on the ropes in the post-Napster / iTunes age does not mean that our industry should be jeopardized to pay their bills.

Image: abstractstvCC BY-ND 2.0
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