Performers Royalties Bill Comments


Nashville’s and the U.S.’s music writers and performers may be really unhappy when they learn what the proposed Performers Royalty Bill really does if it passes in Congress. This is the Bill that will require Radio Stations to pay a so called Performers Fee to play music on “free” over the air radio.

Most performers/writers don’t realize that 50% of any monies received will go to the mostly international music companies.  These are the same companies that have been unfairly treating writers and performers for years. Only 45% of the proposed monies will go to Performers and 5% to Unions.  But how will it be divided up?  Is there to be just one more bureaucracy?
Writers royalties now paid through ASCAP/BMI/SESAC will inevitably decline. As radio stations switch from music to talk, as many certainly will, they will stop paying writer’s royalties.  How many will switch is unknown, but 25% (3,000+) is not an insane number. Proponents of the Bill say that writers will be protected.  How can they be when radio stations switch to Talk or Sports?   That can not be legislated or protected against.

In many cases, international record companies will be triple dipping.  They now get a piece of the writer’s royalty; they now get a piece of the performers business. Now they want 50% of the proposed Performer’s Royalty.  Most writers and performers know they have made bad deals in the past with record companies.  The Performers Royalty Bill is just one more bad deal for writers and performers favoring the international record companies.

Many Performers are already getting paid because they get all/part of the writer’s royalty as a writer/co-writer. Others secure a negotiated “writing credit” for “recording” the music.  It is not uncommon in Nashville for a writer to give up a piece of his/her creative copyright just to get a song recorded.

We hear of older artists testifying before Congress that their music is being played on the radio and the radio stations are making tons of money and not paying them. But who made the deal with the record company?  Who has been making money all these years from the releases, re-releases, and compilations?  Certainly the record company has.  Why didn’t they share it with these older artists?  Just two years ago Porter Wagoner and a host of Nashville artists and writers testified here before the FCC that they needed more “Free” airplay of their music to sell music and more tickets to their concerts and events.

Porter certainly was a revered and respected writer/performer/artist and his comments were written by AFTRA. Porter and AFTRA were right. Music played on the radio helps writers and artists.

Many writers do not really understand how they are paid for their writing and airplay.  While ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC may do a great job in distributing royalties to writers, how many really understand how they get paid for writing?  Will it be any more understandable with a performers royalty?  Why shouldn’t ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC and Sound Exchange all have to put the money into one big pool, prove the share they have and distribute it in a transparent way?

A lot is said about Parity…that if Satellite, Cable and Internet have to pay, why shouldn’t over the air radio stations?   Satellite, Cable, and Internet are mostly subscription services for which subscribers pay a Fee to listen to the music.  Performers get a small share of every subscription these services sell. Those services usually are downloadable services that can impact music sales negatively.

Free over the air radio does not receive a subscription fee and generally is not downloadable.  This is also true of Restaurants, Bars, Hotels, Elevators, Doctors Offices, Malls, Gift stores, etc. where no fee is collected, but music is played.  If a radio station should pay a Performer’s Royalty, why not all of these others?  Shouldn’t they be included in any proposed Performers Bill?

While virtually all of Nashville Area’s Congresspersons have signed on as co-sponsors of the proposed Performers Royalty bill, over 200 members of Congress have actively signed another Bill against such a new Fee.  It would be hard for a local Congressperson not to be supportive of our very valuable performers and writers.  As a Nashville radio station licensee, I am supportive myself. My friends and neighbors are writers and performers and work at ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. Many members of Congress want to find a negotiated arrangement and are working hard at it.

However, for a Broadcaster there is not much to negotiate.  If a new fee is imposed, there is no new revenue (like a subscription) to offset the new expense. A radio licensee’s only source of revenue is advertising, which at the moment is in the Tank.  Some broadcast companies in large markets do make enormous profits, but this year most of them are off 20 – 30%.  Radio still reaches more than 90% of the U.S. population (270 million + people) each week, but revenues are certainly not up for most.  In smaller markets where most of the stations exist, profits are seldom if ever enormous.

I am certainly sympathetic to Older Artists who feel they have not continued to earn from their hits of long ago.  When they were first played on the radio they were thrilled and their careers soared.  Their record companies have prospered all these years from those Older Hits.  Why have they not shared?  It’s not the radio stations who have failed the artists and left them in poverty.  Newer artists, or those with new recordings, still think it is important to be played on the free over the air radio.  If there is a performer out there who does not want to be played on our radio stations, just tell us and we’ll delete the song.  We certainly do not want to play an artist that does not want to be heard on the radio.

— Bud Walters, President/Licensee Cromwell Group, Inc and Affiliates