Making the case for performance royalties


Broadcasters feel they hold up their fair share of the bargain when it comes to their relationship with musicians. Yes, musicians/labels provide the programming material for radio stations, but at the same time, radio stations drive sales of recordings, concert tickets and other paraphernalia. Still, the battle over performance royalties rages. Here is a letter sent to members of Congress by Motown stars Martha Reeves of Martha and the Vandellas, Mary Wilson of the Supremes and Duke Fakir of the Four Tops making their case.

Here is the text of the letter:

We are writing to lend our voice to the chorus of American recording artists, musicians and performers urging you to support H.R. 848, the “Performance Rights Act,” introduced by Chairman John Conyers, Jr.  This bill will have a real and positive economic impact in the lives of working musicians and recording artists and help ensure the continued vitality of American music and culture.

If you ask most Americans, “how much do you think the Supremes or the 4 Tops, Frank Sinatra or Martha and the Vandellas get paid when you hear their recordings on the radio?” most would say, “a few pennies.” But the truth is we receive zero, nothing, unless we wrote the song. H.R. 848 would provide long-overdue compensation for artists when our music is used by AM/FM radio stations to attract advertising revenue.

Corporate radio has for too long been able to profit (in some cases with up to 40% profit margins) by using property created by performers and musicians and has not paid a single penny for that use.

While the promotion radio provides is important, as artists we should have a seat at the table to negotiate what our music is worth.  It shouldn’t be the corporate broadcaster who gets to solely determine how and when to use our music and to determine its value.  H.R. 848 simply provides us that seat at the table.

It’s hard to turn on an oldies or rhythm and blues station without hearing “Reach Out, I’ll Be There,” “Stop In The Name of Love,” or “Dancing in the Streets.” While we are glad our music has endured and continues to bring joy to the lives of fans and listeners, it is simply not fair that radio does not compensate the artist while it continues to profit from the use of our music.  Certainly, these recordings are no longer selling and radio really doesn’t care whether they are selling or not. Radio is selling memories, and their claim that this helps us sell concert tickets is self-serving, expecting older artists to tour should not be part of the equation.  In our cases, the excuse of promotional value is hollow at best.

We also could not help but notice the March 6, 2009, National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters’ (NABOB) letter to Chairwoman Barbara Lee on this matter. Like many other corporate media companies, NABOB stations, owners, and disc jockeys have made millions of dollars from the uncompensated use of artists’ creative talent. To assert that now such a requirement would hinder minority entrepreneurship and programming ignores the minority artists that have been played on NABOB stations for decades.

We understand that minority broadcasters play a necessary role in our communities and we are all committed to their viability.  We are certainly willing to provide for accommodations that protect small minority businesses while providing fair compensation for the work of creators.  Every other music platform, satellite radio, internet radio and cable radio – recognizes the value the performer brings to the music they broadcast and compensates artists accordingly.  But terrestrial radio does not and will not until a right is granted. 

Please consider co-sponsoring this important bill.

Martha Reeves

Mary Wilson

Duke Fakir