Newberry v. Fakir on C-SPAN


Commonwealth Broadcasting Steve Newberry, who is also the Joint Board Chairman for the NAB, made the case for defeating the Performers Royalty Act, while former Four Tops singer Duke Fakir defended the legislation.

Newberry said that PRA challenges the age old arrangement between radio, labels and artists. For starters, nobody objects to composers being compensated through the licensing agencies since they have no opportunity to otherwise monetize their contribution to a piece of music.

Performers and labels, however, have many ways to take advantage of the promotional value of free airplay – including sales and downloads of recordings, sale of concert tickets and sale of paraphernalia.

The bid to also take a performance royalty attempts to put a value on airplay and the use of music, and nobody has the vaguest idea what that value will turn out to be – composers already pull $500M annually. Newberry said that on top of the value of airplay basically being ignored by PRA, the bill doesn’t tell broadcasters where to get the money. He said the only possibilities include elimination of employees, reduction in service, less music playing and no risk taking on new, unproven acts and abandonment of music formats.

Newberry also pointed out that comparisons to subscription radio businesses like satellite and some internet models don’t work, because the other types of audio distributors have revenue streams which are not available to free, over-the-air radio; nor do any of them come close to matching radio’s reach of 220M people weekly, hence their promotional clout doesn’t match up.

Fakir said that the US is one of the few nations in the world that does not have a performance royalty for radio, and noted that he’s been trying to get a check out of radio ever since he saw his composers getting them in the mail.

He noted that steps were being taken to minimize the impact on small stations, and that the entire package, if enacted, would be deferred three years in hopes it will kick in during an economic resurgence.

When asked about the value of free airplay, he suggested that it was never free – the record companies always bought advertising, and came through with things for the radio station, and his band had to play concerts, and other things.

He said the people who really need the royalty are older musicians who can’t travel and perform live any longer; especially those who need and can’t afford medical care.

RBR-TVBR observation: As is so often the case when musicians discuss this topic, the recording companies come out looking more shameful than anybody else. Fakir ended his remarks talking about how common it is for a musician to get stiffed. “They don’t make a bad note and all they got was maybe $250 for the session.”

Interesting comment, and the guilt falls squarely on the label for offering such a terrible deal, and the shame is that musicians pretty much have to take it or leave it, with plenty of others in line to take the gig on the same shabby terms.

Basically, a record label gets a musician into the studio and makes no attempt to have that musician share in success, should it occur, and now the labels and musicians like Fakir want radio to compensate for it.

We would note that the lion’s share of royalties would be labels, which don’t perform anything, and the rich well-known headliners who are least likely to need the cash. The aged and ailing musician Fakir talks about who needs medical attention, that got a miniscule $250 share out of a multimillion dollar recording? Sorry, not a headliner. The pittance this musician will receive under PRA likely wouldn’t pay for a band-aid and a couple of aspirins.

By the way, notice too that Fakir talked about labels paying whatever it took however they could to get airplay. Kind of makes a strong case for the value of airplay, doesn’t it?