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Ever since radio first commandeered the airwaves, songwriters have made a small amount of money through royalties every time their tunes are played in most countries, while performers have received nothing. A group called musicFIRST (Fairness in Radio Starting Today) Coalition, a collection of music industry organizations including the Recording Industry Association of America, is working to change that.

They’re lobbying for a bill before Congress known as the Performance Rights Act (HR.848). The bill proposes that everyone who performs on a record from session players to lead and background singers be paid for the use of their work. Under current law, only songwriters are paid a royalty fee when their works are played publicly. The bill is set for final revisions this month before possibly being sent to the House floor for debate.

Radio Nerves Rattled

Record companies and artists have taken their appeal to Congress, seeking to get paid more for the content they provide. But radio stations are understandably resisting, feeling that on air exposure is more than enough compensation. Radio stations are also concerned because ad revenue has taken a substantial hit due to the downturn in the economy, forcing many station to downsize and even cut back on staffing.

It’s not clear exactly how much performers might make if the bill passes. Without negotiations, if the bill passes, the final royalty rate would likely be set by the federal Copyright Royalty Board. But according to musicFIRST, the Performance Rights Act will force small radio stations to shut down.

“They will pay $5,000 or less a year to clear the rights to all the music they use,” said musicFIRST spokesman Martin Machowsky. “Public and college radio stations will pay only $1,000 a year. Talk radio, radio stations that carry religious services, and other stations that make only incidental use of music will pay nothing.”

For several decades, AM and FM radio broadcasters have been exempt from current copyright law which requires satellite radio, cable radio channels, and Internet webcasts to pay a royalty for the use of music. The performance rights act would correct a loophole in the copyright law by removing the broadcaster exemption so that all delivery platforms are on equal footing and that artists would receive a performance royalty.

Call To Action Day

Both May 11 and 12 have been designated by musicFIRST to be a Call For Action Day. The organization asks that you call your congressmen to let them know how you feel. Singers and musicians generally receive a fee for their work on projects. These projects endure overtime, continuing to move, inspire and entertain listeners while the songwriter is the only artist being compensated.

Imagine a day when you receive additional compensation each time that voice you work so hard to perfect and engage is heard. Visit for more details.

Randy Moomaw

Author Randy Moomaw

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