Songwriting is more than a melody. It’s more than a few chords and words. Songwriting is more than stories about losing and finding love, and it’s more than whatever gets you through the night. Songs are the catalyst that have brought people together across the globe for generations. Songs and those who craft them are meant to ignore, cross and obliterate barriers – bridging the gaps we’ve created over the centuries: race…religion…language…nationality…

So this begs the question, “why are songwriters viewed as a disposable resource, waiting on an Inconvenient Truth of their own to enlighten the masses to their plight”?  Why are we not taking actions to save the songwriter as readily as we chastise shoppers who’ve forgotten their canvas bags at Whole Foods?  If songs are at the core of local, domestic & global unity and a key to cultural understanding amongst this human race, why don’t we seek strong and swift actions to preserve this endangered species?

Well, some are.  And though others are slowly joining the cause, the media would rather report on, and consumers would most likely rather read about Kanye West making his 15th variation of his 10th record, or is it ninth (I kan’t keep up).  There are bills, movements, committees and subcommittees that do not seem newsworthy in the minds of the 24 hour networks, despite their direct impacts on nearly every member of the general public – dare I say more impactful than the oft covered annual easter egg roll on the White house front lawn?  So, I am happy to shine a little bit of light on what is being done, and what needs to be done to ensure that ours and future generations have the opportunity to continue to heal ourselves through the divine, the supernatural…the song

 

SO, HOW DID WE GET HERE –

To start – (1)  people get paid off of two things when it comes to broadcasting music – the performance of a song, and the usage of a particular recording of that song.  In the ‘20’s, radio stations started playing records over the airwaves and while an artist may have been paid for the broadcast of a particular song, the writers were not.  Neither were making a dime off of the use of the recordings – only the radio station benefited through sponsorships.  With lobbying from songwriters’ advocates in the form of performance rights organizations (PRO’s) such as ASCAP, BMI & SESAC, we arrived at the very short sighted and incomplete solution of “Blanket Licenses” & “Consent Decree”.  Blanket licenses are fees paid by anyone using music for a public performance, from a radio station to a bar owner with a jukebox. Consent Decree means that all PRO’s must grant a blanket license to anyone who requests one.

 

 

Really?! Anyone?! The idea behind this was that bars and clubs have the most success when their patrons can drink and dance; why make this difficult on establishment owners and necessitate individual deals with music rights holders, when they could use a low/flat fee that covers anything.  Who cares if the songwriter’s aren’t getting their due?  When a songwriter or publisher does feel they’re not getting their due, they have their pieces of music valued by a rate judge.  And I found this to very interesting… Said judge can not know the success or amount of distribution the piece of music in question has. This is unfair enough to cover the above situation for brick & mortars, but what about to accommodate today’s advances in the way we consume music? The exact same antiquated blanket license & consent decree system is still being used by major streaming platforms such as Spotify, Pandora, and Apple music, to list a few.

 

But how is this fair? The short answer is, it isn’t.  While labels and artists would surely like to be making more money off of the current landscape than they do, they are way more fairly compensated than are their songwriting counterparts… this is why we risk losing our songwriters, if we don’t start taking care of them.

SO, WHAT’S BEING DONE?

The first major ruling in regards to Consent decree was in 1995 in the form of the Digital Performance Rights Act. This ruling set the precedent that Internet Radio had to start paying royalties to record companies in exchange for licensing their music to online services.  This is a nice starting place, but naive to expect that said royalty will somehow trickle down to the songwriters.

Fast forward to 2015: The PRO’s (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC and World Global) have banded together in a number of different ways.

In 2015, ASCAP and BMI put together a subcommittee and proposed a “partial withdrawal”.  The partial withdrawal would give publishers the right to exclude digital services from the consent decree, thereby increasing the inherent value of the work.

The other, possibly more pressing item, that was discussed in this 2015 subcommittee (3) was the Songwriter Equity Act.  If passed, this would change the current copyright law to allow a rate judge to see the rate at which a particular sound recording is earning…this should create some more parity between the songwriter and master owner (ie – record label).

Despite the apparent progress – a bill introduction to the house and senate, a congressional subcommittee, and interest from representatives in both the House & Senate – this bill only has a 7% chance of passing in the House and a 1% chance of passing in the Senate (according to govtrack.us). Both proposals have yet to be voted upon, and while their prospects of passing may be bleak, their presence is evidence of recognition of the need for change.

So what can we, as creatives, consumers, and connoisseurs do to effect change? We need to educate ourselves. We need to understand the very real possibility that music and songwriters are an actual endangered species. The decreasing value of songwriters continues to tumble, so much so that businesses are no longer try to fix the problems with piracy of music, rather they just pivot around them.  This creates a hostage situation for the content owner: “You either receive the fraction of a fraction of pennies that you have rightfully earned, or you will receive nothing and your music will be downloaded illegally.” Obviously, that isn’t fair, however only we as creators and consumers have the power to unite and begin to turn this industry back on its feet.

(2)

 

HOW TO EDUCATE YOURSELF?

 

Check out the sources used in this very article linked below.  Learning more about these landmark decisions, that will set the principles for future new media cases is the first step to righting these wrongs.

Contact your local and federal representative about your concern; we’ll even make that part easy for you!

Below to contact your representative in the house and Senate. After clicking on this link you’ll see a button that says Call Congress and you’ll be asked if you want to support or oppose this bill. You will then be asked of your zip code/ home address and just like that you will be given the district you are in and who represents you. Mine is D-Senator Barbara Boxer and her actual number is  202-224-3553.

The House of Representatives

Senate

Let’s start making some serious changes in how we view songwriters & their craft. Let’s not continue to let major distribution facilitators price out what our creative value is. For songwriting to become a precious commodity again, we need to show our decision-makers and lawmakers that a world without music, is a world without progress.

Sources:

(1) http://musicbizadvice.com/tag/a-little-history-on-music-piracy/

(2) https://www.publicknowledge.org/files/The%20Case%20Aganst%20the%20UMG-EMI%20Merger.pdf

(3) http://www.c-span.org/video/?324761-1/hearing-music-market-governance

 

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