[Editor Charlie sez: Our friend and supporter Blake Morgan has an important opinion post on the bi-partisan American Music Fairness Act (AMFA) in The Hill, a long-time and influential DC insider journal. Blake tells the human story of why artists need the AMFA legislation and the #IRespectMusic campaign.]
We musicians are used to fighting. For our livelihoods, our families, our dreams. In recent years we’ve fought battles we’ve neither sought nor provoked, against powerful corporate forces devaluing music’s worth. Streaming companies, music pirates, and AM/FM radio broadcasters who, in the United States, pay nothing––zero––to artists for radio airplay.
It’s shocking, but true: The United States is the only democratic country in the world where artists don’t get paid for radio airplay. Only Iran, North Korea, and China stand with the United States in this regard. ADVERTISEMENT
Broadcasters make billions of dollars each year off our music, and artists don’t earn a penny. This impacts not only the artist, but session musicians, recording engineers, songwriters. Virtually everyone in music’s economy.
Isn’t being paid fairly for one’s work a bedrock American value?
I cannot tell you the number of times U.S. artists have said to me, “I don’t need to join SoundExchange, I’m already a member of BMI.” (Or ASCAP.) Then I have to explain to them why SoundExchange collects an entirely different royalty–for the performance of the sound recording not the song. It’s SoundExchange for recordings, PROs for songs. Say it like a mantra. It is a testament to the decades of propaganda from the National Association of Broadcasters and especially SiriusXM that has kept U.S. artists in the dark.
Strangely–and I’m being sarcastic–I never get this question from artists who are not Americans. They are very aware of the performance royalty for sound recordings.
What neither the US nor the UK artists know very often is that when an American artist is played in the UK, the US artist receives no royalty due to decades-old trade rules. But when a UK artist is played in the US, the UK artist receives their full royalty from SoundExchange as a matter of law. A new organization called the Fair Trade of Music campaign wants to change that so that artists are treated the same in the UK regardless of where they call home.
Why do we care?
We care because Fair Trade of Music estimates that U.S. artists lose about $330,000,000 each year due to this lack of fairness and reciprocal treatment.
We care because due to COVID-19, live music income has collapsed to zero or near zero. Public performance income from SoundExchange is one of the few income streams left that American artists can count on. And this is not a Yank thing. The idea that American artists are generating income that is denied to them because of ancient trade laws is just as maddening to their sisters and brothers among artists in the UK as it is to the Americans.
We care because fixing this inequity is not a zero sum game. UK artists should not make a penny less if US artists get their rightful share. The money is already being paid and the rates are already determined–it’s just that the payment of the money for US artists must be redirected.
We care because we have a chance to fix the ancient trade rules that perpetuate this inequity. There are a lot of trade rules about many different products and services including the rules for these payments to American artists. Those rules can be changed by vehicles like the upcoming UK/US trade agreement.
Right now the focus is on the UK because we have a vehicle to take a big step toward fixing this treatment (which is true in many other countries, too). That vehicle takes the form of the upcoming UK/US trade agreement which maybe signed in the next few months. Even if it isn’t actually signed it will be negotiated, and the outlines of the UK/US deal will likely be much better defined before the end of the year. (This “bilateral” trade agreement with the UK must be put in place due to the UK leaving the European Union.)
We need to be at that table. Now is the time to take action.