I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: nobody hates the music industry more than the music industry. At every turn over the past decade (perhaps the past century), the powers that be have made wrong choices. Proprietary formats versus MP3? Proprietary. Protect the album versus promote the single? Protect the album. Tell the people what they want versus give the people what they want?
You know the answer to that one.
But this about changing the rule that radio stations shouldn’t pay royalties on the music they play. Historically, radio stations have received a pass when it comes to performance royalties. The logic is that playing songs leads to increased sales. At least that’s how it has worked historically. You hear a song on the radio, you buy the album or single or tape or eight-track or CD or download or whatever. Radio has essentially served as the music industry’s promotional tool.
Hence, payola. Record labels to this day are engaged in finding ways to “encourage” radio to play their music. You don’t pay people to promote unless you see them as a vehicle for the advertising. There remains a strong perception that radio airplay leads to increased sales. I dunno, but I don’t listen to music radio. It bores the tears out of me.
I am, for the record, opposed to the imposition of performance royalties on Internet and satellite broadcasters for the same reasons I am opposed to the imposition of those royalties on terrestrial radio. The whole compensation system is a mess.
Does anyone out there really believe that composers and publishers are being fairly compensated on a per-play basis? If so, I am willing to let some of my swampland in Florida go. Likewise, does anyone really believe that performers are being properly compensated for satellite and Internet play?
The entire system is inherently unfair: a certain tier of artists gets richer while the lower caste struggles along. When the Los Angeles Times says this…
Mary Wilson, who with Diana Ross and Florence Ballard formed the original Supremes, said the exemption was unfair and forced older musicians to continue touring to pay their bills.
…it should at least note that there’s a entire industry built around cheating artists. Touring is the main way most musicians make money. Radio, at least, reminds people that the songs still exist and encourages sales and concert attendance. What are the record labels doing for these artists? Marketing? Promotion? Figuring out clever ways to get the music to new audiences?
Uh, no. They’re reveling in the beauty that is catalog. They are enjoying pure profits of products that have earned back their costs. It’s all good, baby, it’s all good.
Mitch Bainwol of the RIAA says, “The creation of music is suffering because of declining sales”, without citing anything resembling facts. The creation of music is not suffering. A NPR story documented the trend of geographically diverse artists collaborating on music — all of whom are drawn to the act of creation, inspired by the elements contributed by others. Creative expression is alive and well.
It’s the bottom line that is suffering.
Bainwol goes on to note, “We clearly have a more difficult time tolerating gaps in revenues that should be there.”
If radio — whatever format it takes — is expected to pay royalties to artist (and I believe artists should be fully compensated), then the question of how the music industry “pays” radio comes into play. What reason would stations have to play anything be if not for cash reasons? Arguably, radio stations earn money by playing the kind of music that draws crowds that draw advertisers. Big money music is limited to very few artists (and it’s arguable that those single artists are really drawing listeners to this station or that). If you’re paying to play, then you only play what pays.
The better argument is that overall programming, including the mix of music, draws the audience. Nobody listens to a station to hear one song. Okay, maybe there are listeners who are glued to the receiver all day long in hopes of hearing one particular song, but I suspect that’s largely a relict of Casey Kasem’s reign. Radio simply isn’t diverse or interesting enough these days. Listeners don’t need radio to hear what they want to hear. They listen for the mix.
Removing the performance royalty exemption for traditional radio doesn’t bother me. I think musicians should be paid for playing. And I haven’t been exposed to new, interesting music via radio in so long that I’ve forgotten what it feels like. What will happen is that terrestrial radio — like Internet and satellite radio — will see increased costs. Those costs will have to be covered in some way.
Yeah, more commercials. Increasing costs means guaranteeing advertisers that a set number of listeners will be tuning in. This means playing music that those listeners are guaranteed to like. Given the state of the industry, that probably means a huge emphasis on “classics”. How likely is radio to take a chance on the untried, the untrue when doing so will cost them more than they’ll make? Are the advertisers — the true underwriters of the music industry — willing to take a chance on the next Arcade Fire when the Eagles’ listeners are a proven demographic?
Never mind that those listeners aren’t really buying more music. I mean, how many copies of Hotel California can you own? There will be increased reliance on catalog performers to the extent that new artists will have a hard time finding a place on the playlist. I don’t know if this will stifle Bainwold’s creativity as much as it will choke off potential earnings for new, developing artists.
In my opinion, the entire system needs to be overhauled. Right now, radio is shallow and the last place people go to discover new music. Musicians are the lowest paid rungs of the music industry chain. Charging performance royalties to any outlet that promotes the music industry’s product is like begging for bruising. Like, how else do they expect people to find what they’re selling?
The music industry really seems to hate music. If it didn’t, it would find ways to make it easy for artists and listeners to come together. Instead, it’s looking for new ways to stifle the process.