Why Radio Should Put Artists First: Joe Crowley’s ‘AMFA’ Take

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Until his surprising defeat in the 2018 Democratic Primary Election to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Joe Crowley spent 20 years in Congress representing a working class section of Queens, New York. Today, he’s in the National Capital Region, settling into his first month as Chairman of musicFIRST — a lobbying group described by The Recording Academy as “a coalition that fights for fairness and equity for music creators.”


To say Crowley hit the ground running is perhaps an understatement. Just days after his appointment, he was Tweeting about how “it’s past time to pay artists for their work.” Now comes the introduction of the American Music Fairness Act — crafted in part with Crowley’s input.

In an exclusive interview, Crowley shares why this bill’s introduction is important, and how it differs from multiple failed attempts in recent years to get Congress to pass a radio royalty proposal.

The AMFA, as musicFIRST and the bill’s supporters see it, requires terrestrial radio stations to compensate all artists “for their property.” Translation: these recording artist advocates want performers to get dollars directly from AM and FM radio.

This isn’t new. Past legislation including the “PROMOTE Act” and the “Fair Play Fair Pay” bill attempted this. But, what is new is a scaled royalty plan based on a radio station’s annual revenue.

That’s part of what makes the American Music Fairness Act different. But, why introduce the legislation now?

“What I see now is that more and more stations are being bought out and controlled by conglomerates,” Crowley says. “You have six companies that control over 2,000 radio stations. The notion of local radio, which we all support … it’s being swallowed up, quite frankly, by much larger companies.”

PROMOTIONAL VALUE, NEEDED PAYMENTS

Crowley then turned his attention to those who argue that Radio provides unprecedented promotional value for a recording artist, with over-the-air exposure fueling an artist’s audio streams online, and perhaps triggering the purchase of concert tickets, merchandise and their recorded works.

He says the promotional value of Radio to an artist is included in the contents of the AMFA. “It is recognized, as it is in streaming.”

But, what is different now, Crowley says, is that — in his belief — “more people get their introduction to music and different genres through streaming more so now than through radio itself.”

So, why put Radio’s biggest companies on notice that it needs to fork over more dollars for the songs they play? “The makers and creators of the product are not being fairly compensated, if at all, for the art that they put into the creation of that product,” Crowley says. “We don’t ask that of any other entity that makes something, whether it is cars or anything that is sold via radio or anywhere else. They are fully compensated for what they make but musicians and artists are not.”

Crowley was then asked why Radio is the focal point of the AMFA, if his claim that music discovery is now driven by streaming audio platforms is true.

He replied, “There was an opportunity at one point for local radio — how the Beatles were discovered, or perhaps Elvis Presley — but iHeartRadio is not interested in the struggling musician, or the person who put that lick on a song that makes it famous. So much has changed with the delivery of music today and over these last eight decades there has been an inequity built into the system. When it comes to promotion, I see value in local radio. I don’t think a new artist is going to pop up necessarily on iHeart or on any of the other larger stations, certainly without a great deal of promotion. How many artists, by the way, have been lost over the past year? Talk about promotion … what promotional value is there on radio when you can’t even perform your artwork anywhere else. Promoted for what? For record sales? There’s no records anymore. There are no CDs; there are no tapes being sold in the same way.  The whole genre and change in music is really forcing this. This is what is driving this particular issue right now.”

According to MRC Data’s 2020 Year-End Music report, LPs accounted for 27% of album sales in the United States. In 2020, 27.5 million LPs were sold in the United States, up 46% compared to 2019.

While that’s impressive growth in 15 years, when streaming and downloads of single tracks are factored in, that number declines to 3.6% of album equivalent music consumption, Statistica data show.

While the AMFA, like previous legislation, takes aim at the largest radio broadcasting companies, Crowley was asked why the mammoth multinational companies that control the vast majority of record labels and imprints weren’t being targeted. After all, aren’t bad contracts embedded into the history of popular recorded music? Should greater compensation come from “the labels”?

Crowley deferred to comment, turning the conversation back to the legislation formally unveiled Thursday afternoon (6/24) on the House Triangle facing the U.S. Capitol. Joining Reps. Issa and Deutch: legendary recording artist Dionne Warwick; Sam Moore, the 86-year-old R&B star who was one-half of Sam & Dave from 1961 to 1981; and Ken Casey of the band Dropkick Murphys.

COMMERCIAL RADIO FOES UNITE

Voicing their support for the AMFA are groups familiar to the radio industry as foes, such as the Prometheus Radio Project — the entity that unsuccessfully fought the FCC‘s cross-ownership rule rewrite and “modernization” efforts designed to help radio better compete with digital audio.

The AMFA is also getting the support from the Alliance for Community Media, the National Federation of Community Broadcasters and a group seeking once again to get the Commission to create a 250-watt low-powered FM signal: REC Networks.

“The idea that people need to choose between supporting community radio stations and supporting fair pay for artists is a false choice,” said Ernesto Aguilar, Executive Director of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. “The American Music Fairness Act is proof that we can do both. This legislation ensures that small and local stations pay an affordable and predictable fee — some as little as $10 per year — to broadcast all the music they need, while also ensuring that artists and music creators get compensated fairly for their hard work. It’s a win-win solution, and we’re proud to support it.”

One factor that’s also fueling the AMFA is the concept of “equitable remuneration,” seen with radio stations across Europe, Crowley says. There, the broadcast industry directly pays recording artists for airplay. “They’ve moved on. It’s time for us to move on.”

And, that would add up to another expense for Radio, which is already paying rights’ groups such as SESAC, Global Music Rights (GMR), Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI) and ASCAP each year for the right to play music across their stations. What differs about this payment? Crowley again stresses that it benefits the recording artists and musicians themselves, and not just the songwriters and publishers.

THE DOLLAR STORY

The key difference to past legislation, which failed, is the introduction of a scaled royalty plan based on a radio station’s annual revenue.

How did Issa and Deutch arrive at this formula, rather than one that involved audience and perhaps Nielsen Audio and/or Eastlan Ratings?

Crowley again stressed that the Members of Congress and groups such as musicFIRST see value in local radio, and don’t want it to go away. “We don’t want to contribute towards that,” he says. “We think if you’re a struggling local radio station, that you should pay near nothing, $10 a year if you make less than $100,000 in revenue. When it comes to those big conglomerates … they need to pay their fair share.”

While Crowley singles out iHeartMedia as one of these “big conglomerates,” could they be exempt in one market, or at one station in a market where revenues are under $100,000? No — it comes down to the company’s total annual revenue.

But, how will Congress determine what that revenue is, as BIA Advisory Services and Miller Kaplan have been the traditional sources of this data, with Kagan also a potential data source?

Crowley didn’t directly answer the question. “How it will work out will be worked out through this process,” he replied. “What we are stating here is the intent, and that is not to hurt those local radio stations or radio, period. We are talking about the billions of dollars made annually every year by these mega-companies, using a product they don’t create and do not make that they sell advertising and don’t compensate all of the makers of that product … and that’s wrong.”