A Storm Is Brewing

A storm is brewing that could very well drastically change the way we do our jobs in radio, records, and as recording artists. For radio stations in small markets, it could prove to be the beginning of the end. Legislation is currently being considered in Washington for radio stations to pay artists for airplay. Currently all licensed radio stations pay royalties to songwriters, and with the current economic conditions, it has been tough to make a buck on the street lately. Groups of owners and independent station owners are vowing that if this legislation passes, radio stations could turn around and start charging labels for airplay. It could get ugly. And “charting” a song, as we’ve all become to know it throughout the years, won’t be predicated on the quality and texture of the song. It will be all about how much money is spent to play a particular song from an artist from radio groups, and small and medium market radio will suffer the most. Perhaps this analogy isn’t 100 percent correct, but, I cringe when a movie like “Jackass” beats out a movie that is a bona fide Academy Award winning movie at the box office for one week. Just like individual theaters pay distributors to show a particular movie, if this legislation passes, it should be the next step for the powers that be in our nation’s capital that theaters should start paying individual actors and actresses royalty fees, too. I know that seems unfair , because terrestrial radio doesn’t charge anything for anybody to tune in with the exception of the initial cost of buying a radio. Nearly every residence in our country has at least one radio in the household or in their mode of transportation. My point is, if I’ve got a song from an artist that I play 50 times a week for a month, on one of my stations, going directly off of the rate card, we give the artist $8,000 of air time. Good for us! I know. No label is going to pay us that amount of money, regardless of artist. If Fernberger’s Hardware is paying for a 60 second spot, why shouldn’t an artist, or label, if they’re going to charge us? Yes, what you’re reading is probably way too extreme, and I get it. I get that the artist, the performer of a particular song, may lose out in the long run if a songwriter hits a home run with a song that will be on a station’s playlist for 30 years. But, in turn, if that artist turns out to be somewhat successful, and goes on tour and grosses millions of dollars on the road for 6 months, in all fairness, shouldn’t radio stations get a cut of that? I mean, you can’t argue that FREE airplay is what possibly made that artist into a superstar and in demand to see their show live. It would be harder to prove that free airplay had nothing at all to do with their stardom. It’s a complicated issue, and one that could get very ugly. But it doesn’t need to be that way. There has to be a better way to compensate an artist if this indeed is an issue that needs addressing. Terrestrial radio is already at the bottom of the FCC’s list and has been for some time. Perhaps cracking down on illegal web sites that share free music that not only take royalties away from authors as well as artists, who in turn don’t sell units in music stores, and a more open approach by those music stores to carry artists that may be a little off the beaten path would be a much better way to level the playing field than to bite the hand of the one that’s fed you for the last 70 years. What do you think? Will radio turn around and charge labels for airplay if artist royalties become a reality? What is your take on this issue?