Music Business

What's next for the Music Modernization Act?

By signing the Music Modernization Act in an Oval Office ceremony on October 11, President Trump enacted the first major changes to US copyright law since 1976.

That the creative community was able to agree on such a wide-ranging set of changes is one thing, and for the legislation to then survive attacks from SESAC and The Harry Fox Agency’s parent company The Blackstone Group, as well as from SiriusXM Radio is another all together. But now that celebrating the Act’s passage is over, the focus can turn to its implementation.

We know what the MMA is supposed to do, but what are the next steps?

It's time to pass the Music Modernization Act.

The Music Modernization Act (MMA), a collection of changes and updates to laws governing copyright and other music business-related practices, is tantalizingly close to becoming law. Final passage would be a great step forward for recording artists, songwriters, producers, and and engineers.

Why the "Dancing Baby" decision is good for the internet.

Why the "Dancing Baby" decision is good for the internet.

Earlier this week, a judgment was finally reached in the long-running dispute between Stephanie Lenz and Universal Music Group (Lenz v. Universal [PDF]) known as the "dancing baby" lawsuit. The decision represents a very important ruling protecting the concept of "fair use" and helps to eliminate a means of censorship on the internet.

Basics of a solid booking strategy, part 2: A 10-step guide.

In the first part of this two-part series, I described the roles of agents and managers and how they work together to book shows. In the final part of this series, I’ll describe 10 steps to help streamline your own efforts, with or without a team.

The music business is driven by relationships. Being able to develop and leverage these relationships will be instrumental to your success as a working musician. The best way to get more gigs. . .

Basics of a solid booking strategy, part 1: Agents and Managers.

In this two-part series, I’ll take a look at the process of booking shows from a musician’s perspective, from the roles of agents and managers and how they work effectively together to implementing a 10-step plan designed to help focus your own efforts, with or without a team.

“How do I get more gigs?” “How do I get an agent?” Every musician I work with asks these same questions—sometimes even if they already have an agent!

Getting paying shows is an essential part of being a working musician. But the prospect of booking your own can seem overwhelming at first. With so many potential places to perform, how do you know which is best? And with so many other bands vying for the attention of promoters and venues, how do you get an offer if no one is even getting back to you? These may seem like difficult questions to answer, but like all big tasks, booking shows becomes much easier if you break things into manageable chunks.

Applauding the Fair Play Fair Pay Act

There was very exciting news for creators this week as on Monday, Representatives Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) introduced the Fair Play Fair Pay Act of 2015. This bill proposes a number of updates to existing legislation that would serve to correct antiquated provisions in the copyright act and bring modernization and fairness to the way performing artists and songwriters are paid.

Most importantly, the bill proposes to finally grant a public performance right for terrestrial radio broadcasts and to ensure that royalty payments are made in connection with streaming of recordings made prior to February 15, 1972.

The current system is antiquated and broken. It pits technologies against each other, and allows certain services to get away with paying little or nothing to artists. For decades, AM/FM radio has used whatever music it wants without paying a cent to the musicians, vocalists, and labels that created it. Satellite radio has paid below market royalties for the music it uses, growing into a multibillion dollar business on the back of an illogical ‘grandfathered’ royalty standard that is now almost two decades old.
— Congressman Jerrold Nadler

The United States does not currently grant a public performance right for radio broadcasts. (A surprising fact when you consider that the other nations that don't are China, Iran and North Korea.) This means that when a song is played on terrestrial radio, neither the singer nor the record company get paid (while the songwriter does). The Fair Play Fair Pay Act would grant that right, allowing artists to make money when their performances are broadcast. 

A side benefit of this could also mean that US performers would become eligible to collect public performance royalties from foreign broadcasts. Currently they do not collect these neighboring rights, as foreign governments don’t allow their PROs to pay on broadcasts of US recordings, their rationale being, “why pay US performers if the US doesn't pay ours?” (This would also require the US signing The Rome Convention, but passage of the Fair Play Fair Pay Act would certainly pave the way.)

Granting a public performance right would finally end a long-standing record business tradition originating from the idea that radio equals free promotion and that performers are ultimately paid through increased record sales. While that may have been true once, as consumers transition from purchasing music to streaming it, that free promotion will no longer mean increased revenue.

Under current law, internet and satellite radio stations are paying a digital public performance royalty. By ensuring terrestrial broadcasters make these payments too, the playing field for terrestrial radio stations and internet and satellite broadcasters will leveled, allowing greater competition and standardization of rates and payments.

To answer critics that suggest the bill will make it difficult for radio stations to make money, it attempts to mitigate the expense by putting in place caps on their royalty payments. Stations with less than one million dollars in annual revenue would not pay more than $500 per year. For non-commercial stations that amount would be $100 per year, and religious stations or incidental uses of music would need no royalty payment at all.

The other very important aspect of the bill is implementing royalty payments for so-called pre-1972 recordings. These recordings are not covered by federal law, and as a result, some digital broadcasters have not been paying any royalties when the recordings are streamed. Several lawsuits are working their way through the courts on this issue, with an important decision rendered against SiriusXM, and a similar lawsuit pending against Pandorabut it remains to be seen as to what the final outcome will be.

While the Register of Copyright’s February 2015 report entitled Copyright and the Music Marketplace [PDF] suggested that the law be changed such that pre-1972 recordings receive protection under federal law, Nadler's and Blackburn's bill would at least insure that uses of those recordings will generate the same royalty payments, even if they don’t get full copyright protection.

A couple of other changes proposed include provisions protecting songwriters and publishers from companies trying to lower rates, as well as streamlining the process of paying producer royalties, and allowing artists to receive direct royalty payments despite how their labels may wish to handle them.

In all, this is a very important step in protecting the rights of performing artists. It will not face easy passage however, as the National Association of Broadcasters will undoubtedly fight it, expressing their resistance to it before the bill was even announced.