In recent months David Byrne has been using his status as a revered musical elder statesman to opine on subjects including the terrifying reach of the NSA, overpriced New York City rent, and Spotify’s paltry artist royalties. Royalties are at the heart of Byrne’s latest op-ed, too: This time he’s campaigning for musicians to be paid royalties from commercial radio broadcasts.
You might assume musicians are already paid royalties from radio airplay, but actually the songwriter and publisher are the ones who makes money when a record gets on the air. Byrne explains it like so in a piece from his latest newsletter, posted Tuesday to the blog network Vloggerheads:
When many of us think of the song “Respect,” we think of Aretha Franklin. Many people are shocked to learn that Aretha never made a penny from all the radio broadcasts of her performance of R-E-S-P-E-C-T (this is because she wasn’t the composer.) It’s true—many musicians receive little compensation or struggle to pay bills despite having widely-aired recordings.
Later in the essay, Byrne continues:
With its denial of a Performance Royalty to artists, the U.S. stands with a short list of countries that includes: Iran, North Korea, China, Vietnam, and Rwanda. Most other countries in the world pay out at least small amounts to performers for the use of their performances of songs on radio—a use that makes up the content of their broadcasts. To clarify, songwriters and publishers of songs do get paid a little bit, but there is nothing allotted for the folks who record and sing the versions of songs that we hear all the time and whose recordings are used to sell advertising on commercial radio.
Byrne points out a bill in the House Of Representatives, sponsored by Jerry Nadler of New York, that would bring artist royalties into federal law. He further clarifies that digital and streaming radio services such as Pandora already pay artist royalties. Independent and college radio stations would not be affected either — just the stations that make money playing music. He also links to a petition about the issue. And at the outset of his piece, Byrne says he’s been meeting with a small group of musicians and writers about forming a creatives union. Read the full essay here.