American middle-class musicians are worth fighting for
The Irish tell the story of a man who arrives at the gates of heaven asking to enter, and Saint Peter says: “Of course! Just show us your scars. The man says: “But… I have no scars”, and Saint Peter answers: “What a pity. Was there nothing worth fighting for?
We musicians are used to fighting. For our livelihoods, our families, our dreams. In recent years, we have fought battles that we neither sought nor provoked against powerful corporate forces that devalue the value of music. The streaming companies, music pirates and AM / FM broadcasters in the United States pay nothing – zero – to artists for radio broadcasting.
It’s shocking, but true: the United States is the only democratic country in the world where artists are not paid to appear on the radio. Only Iran, North Korea and China support the United States in this regard.
Broadcasters make billions of dollars every year from our music, and artists don’t make a dime. This has an impact not only on the artist, but also on session musicians, sound engineers, songwriters. Most everyone in the music business.
Isn’t being paid fairly for your work a core American value?
In recent years, I have met with members of Congress about the rocky economic landscape in which musicians operate. Each meeting has been memorable and meaningful, but one in particular has stayed with me.
I was explaining to a congressman how these issues don’t just affect the strong bank accounts of superstars, they affect musicians like me. Musicians who, like other Americans, have families, mortgages and health insurance to pay. He leaned over in amazement and said, “Wow… you have a mortgage. “
Before I could make up for the sudden awkwardness, he spoke again and quite sincerely. “Forgive me how naive I just sounded, but we don’t hear this sentiment often enough about musicians. He continued, “Every day in Congress we trumpet the plight of the middle class, and yet you are sitting here: a middle class musician demanding grassroots fairness.” It was an emotional moment – and in truth – I choked on it. It was striking to see him “have it” in real time, and I thought I was brave that he said it.
So he’s right: I’m a middle-class American musician. And maybe we don’t hear musicians described in this way often enough. But we should.
I have been a professional musician since the age of 13. I am a recording artist, songwriter, performer, multi-instrumentalist, sound engineer and record producer. I can claim an accomplished career. But surely no one would claim that I am a “star”.
Few musicians are. Just like in other professions, the vast majority of music professionals are middle class and the downward economic pressures we face affect us disproportionately.
But now there is hope.
After years of popular organization and growing political will, a bipartisan group in Congress introduced the U.S. Music Fairness Act. This bill, supported by both Republicans and Democrats, even in this polarized political environment, would close the loophole that has allowed terrestrial broadcasters to go nearly a century without paying artists. No stroke of the pencil could affect more middle-class American musicians.
In addition, passing the bill would bring billions of dollars back to the US economy: because we don’t pay international artists for radio waves here in the US, other democratic countries no longer pay artists. Americans in their countries. The bill would end this de facto embargo.
Broadcasters argue that radio royalties are unnecessary because they give artists “exposure”. Musicians cannot pay their electricity bills with an exhibition.
Broadcasters sow fear by calling any proposed license a “tax”. It is not a tax. It’s a salary.
Broadcasters claim the bill would kill local radio. But the bill specifically protects small broadcasters: stations with less than $ 1 million in annual revenue would see their annual royalty payments capped at $ 500, or $ 1.37 per day.
Broadcasters say the bill would stifle innovation. American music makers don’t need a lesson in innovation. Rock & Roll is an American innovation. Hip-Hop is an American innovation. Jazz, Blues, Country, Gospel, Bluegrass and so many more are distinct American innovations.
Expect these bogus claims and hijack attempts from billion dollar broadcasting conglomerates, but one truth runs through them all:
Music is one of the things America still makes and the world still wants. The people who make this music should be paid fairly for their work.
It will be a battle, for sure. We’re going to have to fight these lies, and fight for our profession. We are going to have to fight by organizing, educating and defending. We’re going to have to fight for the American Music Fairness Act by putting political pressure on our leaders (you can sign this new petition here: IRespectMusic.org).
We all know Congress acts when real people care enough for them to do it.
The time has come.
The battle is upon us. It’s a victory that middle-class American musicians can earn.
And years from now, if anyone asks us how we got our well-deserved scars, we’ll say, “Something worth fighting for.” “
Blake Morgan is a singer-songwriter, music producer and activist.