I know there is a lot of chatter about the uneven playing field that Spotify and other streaming services provide, particularly when it comes to royalties. But it is worth noting that similar inequities exist across the board in music—even our dear beloved terrestrial radio.
Not to dive too hard into the details, but AM/FM radio in the US does not pay what is known as a performance royalty. This means that if your song gets airplay, you get paid. Just like streaming. Instead, the current system relies on stations buying blanket licenses, then divvying up cash to artists. This isn’t exactly the same as getting money every time your song is played.
The US House of Representives introduced a bill called the American Music Fairness Act (HR 4130) to help rectify some of these imbalances in the AM/FM payout system.
- Ensures performers are compensated when their songs are played on terrestrial radio.
- Treats competing music platforms the same and create a fair market value for music performance royalties by including terrestrial broadcasts in the existing Section 114(d)(1) of title 17 of United States Code.
- Protects small, local radio broadcasters through an exemption for stations with less than $1.5 million in annual revenue and whose parent companies make less than $10 million in overall annual revenue. For less than $2 per day ($500 annually), small and local stations can play unlimited music.
- Exempts qualified public, college, and other noncommercial stations (who would only pay $100 a year), and super small stations.
- Supports American artists when foreign stations play their music, recognizing American artists’ performance right.
- Protects songwriters and publishers, ensuring no harmful impact on the public performance rights and royalties payable to songwriters, musical work copyright owners, and publishers.
I’d say overall, the compromises here for both large and small stations are pretty good. The big pushback over the years—this has been a topic of conversation for at least 15, if not much much much longer—has been how this would impact local/small/independent/college broadcasters. What can I say, real change is hard.
(I’ll even put aside my feelings that I think the college/indies should be paying a liiiiiittle more because of the unique service they provide through playing alllll kinds of music—not to mention that commercial broadcasters are highly consolidated and play the same 10-20 artists—but honestly? The end result is everyone benefits. Provided this bill doesn’t get mangled up by House/Senate silliness.)
I’ve spent 20 years doing radio, with some of that being a nobody musician, so I have first-hand evidence of how impactful radio can be for artists. It is still a thrill for artists at every stage of the game (myself included!) to hear their stuff coming out of the car radio (or so I’d like to think), and in most cases, that airplay winds up leading to someone purchasing their album/single/whathaveyou. In a time when artists have been struggling pretty hard even before the pandemic hit and Bandcamp Fridays being positioned as the nu-savior of the music industry during it, passing this bill would be another net gain.
So here’s the deal, you can performatively cancel your Spotify account OR seize this opportunity to help musicians. Contact your Congressional represntatives and let them know they need to support the bill.
There is also a hearing tomorrow, Wednesday 2/2/22 at 10:00 AM ET that you can watch! But the most important thing to do is to WRITE YOUR REPS (even if they already support it, they still need that extra push).