Thoughts on the Radio Royalties Ruling

It's been busy times in the music industry recently. I have unfortunately been a little busier still, and busier than I would have liked. Isn't it annoying when your day job gets in the way of what's really important? Like going to concerts, finding new bands or spending entire an day listening to free form jazz fusion and the progressive styling of Frank Zappa...

Still, one thing I did manage to catch amongst all the turmoil was a bit of music industry news. The House Judiciary Committee recently approved a bill with a vote of 21-9 that would mean radio stations will have to pay royalties on the music they play day to day.

In the past I've tried to support the radio format, even if I rarely listen to it anymore. I've also supported projects like the "Save Internet Radio" campaign, in an effort to encourage diversity in what music is presented to the mainstream, and try my best to promote artist compensation, recognition and rights whenever possible. Maybe I was occasionally a little misguided, even a little paranoid, but my motivation was always to try to help the artists and get the music into the hands of those who want it. What's the best way to help the artist promote their work/receive recognition and help the fans enjoy their music... those were my motivating ideas.

Then there is this debate... which seems to pit those two ideas against one another a little.

On one side you have the artists. As an artist, or at least someone who likes to think they're an artist from time to time, I like to be recognized for my work and compensation is appreciated... especially if someone else is making money from it. Radio stations do just that. They present "content" (read: music) and in turn sell advertising and make buckets of money in the process. For years and years radio stations used the music for free... essentially making money off of the artists work without paying.

On the other side though, in turn for letting the radio stations play their music for free, bands received a ton of publicity and press essentially exploding their audience overnight. They then in turn make their own buckets of money off of touring, album sales, merchandise etc.

Seems like a small price to pay in order to have that much publicity even if technically the radio stations are skirting normal practice. Some small radio stations even argued that paying royalties on material etc might potentially put them out of business, essentially closing off some of the promotional venues that up and coming artists can use. That's a concern as well as I like to see the most diversity in music out there as possible and if all the small stations go under, well that means a lot less diversity in music out there as it's the small stations that are most likely to play the obscure and unknown bands.

In my mind, each side does seem to have a valid point... but, even if I'm concerned about what it might do to the radio stations, I have to side with the artists on this one. All other forms of media pay royalties... even the Internet... so why not radio? (Something to remember, the past Internet Radio debate was about how much the royalties were, not whether or not they were paying them)

The House came to a decision that I think it's a pretty good one actually, although time will tell how "good" it actually turns out to be. They basically took the side of artist rights and compensation.

What about that issue with radio stations going bankrupt and closing off those promotional venues to up and coming artists?

Well, it sounds like they have taken that into account too offering exemptions for certain periods of time based upon the radio station's income. That should keep a lot of the smaller stations afloat.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more I think this is actually a great decision and that as the music industry changes to a more "independent" focus, this will prove to be quite beneficial to the artists. I mean, in the past that royalty money would be going to the record labels, and a lot of it probably still will, but as more and more artists go "indie"... well that money goes to them. This essentially gives them more income to make more music or even put towards promoting... so now they get radio promotion, AND money to put towards more promotion (or anything else)... Sounds pretty good...

This might even encourage more bands to go independent... like I said, that money would go to them, not to the record labels. A little more money in the band's pocket might be just enough to allow them to operate "sans label".... interesting... interesting indeed.

I still have concerns of course... mainly that if a lot of the small radio stations go under there will ends up actually being a lot less diversity and variety in the music readily available to listeners. These are actually the same concerns that I had when discussing Internet Radio. To an extent my concerns are tempered slightly by the fact that the House has included that part about "basing it on how much the station, but they're still there and I have no idea if they will prove to be valid or not.

For now, it seems like radio stations will have to pay up. There's still a lot of problems in the music industry, but this seems like a good thing... in theory at least. Only time will tell what effect this really has, especially combined with the way the industry is already changing, what with pirating, the Internet as a promotional device, the declining mainstream and declining album sales... all that stuff.

I don't know what tomorrow will bring for the music industry, but this is an exciting step to say the least.


- The Soul of Rock 'n' Roll is a division of Fifth Column Media - -