You would think as a lover of music both old and new, and as a writer of a blog that obsesses over music, that I would be all in on the Fair Play Fair Pay act. Not exactly true. I will not say that I am not for it, but I will say that my thoughts on the matter are a little different than what most artists are spouting.
If you are asking what the Fair Play Fair Act is, you are not alone. I only became aware of this act recently due to a plethora of emails flooding my in box. Allow me a moment to break down the act in its simplest terms. In April of this year, congress introduced an act that would force terrestrial radio stations to pay artists every time their music is played over the airwaves. Your local AM/FM station would have to pay an amount that is yet to be determined to artists for playing their songs. For stations that make less than $1M in annual revenue, there would be a cap of $500 per year paid out to the artists. Here is a link to a much more detailed information if you are interested: https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/1733/text
As you can imagine, almost all musicians are for this act passing in congress. LA Guns recently released this statement:
“L.A. Guns fully supports the Fair Play Fair Pay legislation that is currently under consideration in Congress. As artists, it’s important to have as much control over our music as possible and to be compensated for our work at all times. The current AM/FM loophole takes advantage of not only bands like ourselves with deep music catalogs, but also up-and-coming artists who are just entering the industry. By forcing radio stations to step up, this bill levels the playing field. So let’s get it passed in Washington and support the next generation of rockers!”
Other artists have also come out over the last few weeks in support of this act. And while I am not against the act of paying artists for their music, I do think that a lot of underlying issues are not going to be resolved by this and that ultimately, it could end up hurting some artists more than it helps.
Let’s take a band like LA Guns for example. How many “regular” radio stations do you hear this band on? In the NY/NJ/PA area that I live in, the answer is simple---none. Okay, maybe once a year, I might hear them on our local rock station, WDHA, but even that is a stretch. I can hear them on satellite radio a lot, most notably on “Hair Nation.” And since satellite radio is a pay service, I am totally on board with the artists getting a cut of that money, even if it is only fractions of a penny per play.
However, when it comes to radio play in general what these artists are forgetting is that this is an outlet helping to promote their art. What happens if the act passes and then radio stations decide to cut certain artists from their playlists because they don’t want to pay royalties for “borderline” songs?
Again, I am not against musicians being paid for the music they create. That’s why I don’t steal songs online. It’s also why I attend a lot of concerts. I whole heartedly believe artists should be paid. But they also need to recognize how radio is helping to promote their art and make fans aware of these bands in the first place. It’s a lot like social media that way.
I get a mass amount of emails on a daily basis asking me to listen to this band or that band and provide a review, or go see their show, or somehow give a mention on The Rock And Roll Guru. Why? Because these artists need promotion! And I do the best I can, and I try to review/mention/tweet as many as possible, because I would love to see them succeed. But acts like the Fair Play Fair Pay act may actually hurt most of these indie bands. Stations may decide to cut them out completely, not wanting to pay royalties for songs that no one knows. They may even change their entire station format. It has happened before.
Artists should consider the entire landscape instead of painting the radio stations as bullies, who have been getting something for nothing for years. I would also like them to recognize that radio stations help promote who they are and raise awareness of their music, instead of just portraying them as greedy corporations.
Multiple messages from both sides of the argument are getting out as more attention is drawn to this act.
“Music artists, especially in our society, are chronically under compensated for their huge contribution to our culture, except for the fraction of one percent at the top,” said William Hochberg, Partner at Greenberg Glusker, who handles creative legal matters and writes on legal entertainment topics for The Atlantic and WIRED.
The National Association of Broadcasters has fired back at this legislation.
“We think it would be potentially devastating to the economies of a lot of local radio, kill jobs and actually hurt artists in the long run because if you have fewer financial resources, you have less ability to expose new artists,” said Dennis Wharton, NAB’s executive vice president for communications.
And this is exactly what I am concerned about. That there will be less avenues to expose new artists. If radio stations are paying out royalties, they are held to even higher standards of revenue and profit. Program Directors may decide to go with a safe format, playing cookie cutter songs that everyone has heard thousands of times. It could seriously hurt many indie artists.
And then there is this to consider---the hypocritical nature of some of these bands. Certain well known artists have come out and applauded this act demanding fair pay for their songs being played on the radio. Other artists have complained in the past about the royalty rates they currently receive and how their song(s) would have to be played over 25,000 times just to make the same as the sale of one album.
Yet, these same artists have no problem charging $40 for a T-shirt with their name on it (which is essentially free advertising for the band anyway) and high prices to see them in concert (yes, I found a way to tie ticket prices in). Yet, when they are called out on this, they claim “That’s the going rate for a T-shirt. Industry standard.” Well, fractions of a penny for songs is the going rate for your music. Industry standard.
It just annoys me when artists complain about compensation from corporations out of the left side of their mouths, and then gouge fans on T-shirts, concert tickets, fan clubs, and other merchandising out of the right side of their mouths. And all of these bands are guilty of it. Even my favorites. Especially my favorite, I’m a KISS fan for crying out loud!
If you want the public to really feel for your cause, then don’t rape them on prices. I truly believe that the high concert/merchandising prices are leading to more music being “stolen” online, although the execs will claim just the opposite. But, if I am only giving you $25 to see your concert, I have no problem paying another $10 - $15 for a CD of your music. But when I pay $85 to see you in concert, I am less inclined to give you any money for your album. How much is enough? And I think that’s what a lot of these artists don’t get, especially the ones who grew up on tons of royalties. The landscape has changed. The industry is not the same as it used to be. There are no more record company execs swooning over your band, taking you out for expensive dinners, and throwing a huge advancement your way. Those days are gone forever. This is the new medium now.
The bottom line is this; musicians and artists do deserve to get paid for their work. But they also need to remember that there are hundreds of thousands of acts just like them out there. Some of the most talented, incredible bands are ones that almost no one has ever heard of. And getting your name out there is all part of publicity. And publicity is a very important piece in the machine of the music industry. If they aren’t careful, artists are going to be told that they have to pay to get their songs on the radio. I wonder how that would go over.