Column: Close radio loopholes in music licensing
I had the opportunity of being born and raised in the city of Detroit, a place constantly alive with music of every style from people of every background. It was the perfect place to be for a person with an insatiable appetite for music. Blues, jazz, rock, rap, metal, you name it, it was there and all you had to do was walk out the door to hear it in the streets or walk into any nearby club. Music in Detroit was not a “way of life,” it was and is life!
As a melting pot of cultures, music creators in the U.S. have much inspiration to draw upon. Such inspiration has led to the evolution of music—in styles, preferences and techniques. We’ve also seen an incredible shift in technology, both as it relates to the creation of, and ultimately, consumption of music. In this digital age, new mediums to distribute music have outpaced mechanisms currently put in place to compensate artists, and while music technology has advanced, the laws governing it have not. Mom and pop record stores that sold vinyl records are all gone. The chain stores that sold vinyl and CDs are all gone. Folks these days listen to music on YouTube or stream on Pandora. Welcome to the digital music age.
The impact of outdated music laws not only affects my work as a musician but also the work of my colleagues, the producers, sound engineers and songwriters that all play a part in the creation of a song. These individuals are not given fair recognition and compensation under current copyright and music licensing law. While the next generation of young artists is already pushing the next step in music’s evolution, such contributions to our society and culture are not being appropriately rewarded and we may lose out on something great. As music industry laws lag reality, it’s hard to image a future where creators see this industry as a viable career option.
The Recording Academy’s advocacy initiatives have always been a great way to connect with our representatives on a personal level and put a face on the group that is impacted directly by their decisions. These face-to-face meetings mean more than an email or a letter dropped in the mail, making these issues as human as the music we all work so hard to create and perform. At the same time, we are able to show our support and gratitude to our hard-working representatives who advocate on our behalf. Earlier this month, a coalition of more than 1,600 music creators from all 50 states met with their local member of Congress as part of the Recording Academy’s District Advocate day, including right here in Detroit, to promote legislative solutions to current law. Support behind these important music issues is the highest it’s ever been and now is the time for the 115th Congress to act. As our representatives seriously consider licensing reform, I and other artists are working to ensure that creators are part of that conversation.
I know firsthand how one person can change what seemed impossible to change in the juggernaut of the music business. Legendary studio owner Joel Martin from Detroit took on one of the biggest labels in the world and won a ruling that changed the way all labels now look at a download. Downloads are now looked at as a license as opposed to a single as previously priced out and defined by labels. The result has not only impacted my royalties, but also every artist from Eminem to Bob Seger, and even the Beatles. Knowing how experienced industry professionals advocated for me, I now advocate for up-and-coming artists to ensure they are given the recognition and compensation that they deserve for their work. The status quo must come to an end. Although some major industry corporations want to maintain current law, the tides are turning towards a more just system of compensation and recognition.
The main way this will be accomplished is through HR 1836: The Fair Play Fair Pay Act of 2017. This bill seeks to reform music licensing for sound recordings in a logical, comprehensive way and close current corporate radio loopholes. Through this bill, artists would be recognized and compensated for music played on the radio. In addition, this bill has the potential to bring home more than $200 million left overseas due to global standards in royalty payments, which are not reciprocated in the U.S. Congress must also address below market payments for songwriters and record producers.
Yesterday’s laws harm today’s artist and impact tomorrow’s rising stars. My fellow artists and I support these reforms.
Vin Dombroski is a singer and songwriter for Detroit’s Sponge.