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Pay That Funky Music

June 6th, 2009

American politicians are currently debating a bill that would require radio stations to pay a “performer’s royalty” for music when it airs. Until now, the only royalties paid for on-air play were to songwriters who held copyright. 

r4The idea to pay performers sounds fair and due, but there are problems with the bill. One is that smaller stations may be get squeezed. Already not earning much, some stations will be forced into bankruptcy. The short-term workaround proposed by those pushing the bill has been to grant a three-year grace period to these stations, but this will serve only to postpone the inevitable.

It’s wonderful that performers might also be compensated for radio play, but anything that pushes us towards more consolidation in media can’t be good. There’s another reason to oppose the bill: The new system might actually provide less incentive to create better songs

Thinking for a moment of the first track on Bruce Springsteen’s first album, one that never went anywhere in a commercial way. “Blinded by the Light” was produced a few years later by Manfred Mann, and that version went all the way to the #1 slot on the Billboard 100. Evidence like that suggests that it’s more about the performer, but you can’t ignore the songwriting…  

Some brimstone baritone, anti-cyclone rolling stone, preacher from the east

He says: “Dethrone the dictaphone, hit it in its funny bone, that’s where they expect it least.”

The United States is one of the few countries that doesn’t pay performer royalties. An editorial in the Detroit Free Press noted that Iran, North Korea, China and Rwanda all pay artists when their songs are played on the radio.

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