'Big Music' wants to charge more for you to hear your favorite tunes

On Wednesday, members of Congress jammed out with some of the big hitters of music at the annual "Grammys on the Hill Awards and Advocacy Day," a highly political event sponsored by the major record labels that touts legislatures who carry the ball for Big Music's special interest priorities.

Yesterday, many of these musical figureheads took it a step farther by participating in a massive lobbying effort to convince Congress to help boost the bottom line for corporate music.

In January, the MusicFirst Coalition, a front group for the three largest record labels that control about 80 percent of the songs on our playlists, got the ball rolling on this lobbying campaign by penning an open letter to Congress, where the group asked for a new royalty tax to be imposed on local radio stations.

MusicFirst had the audacity to refer to its proposal as being founded on "market-based principles [that] drive compensation for all artists and creators."  This couldn't be farther from the truth.

Since the creation of the radio, the market has operated on a "you scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours" system.  The local community radio stations give Big Music free advertising time by playing the songs they represent on air – a highly valuable "give," given that local radio stations reach hundreds of millions of listeners each week.  In exchange, the local stations get to play their songs on air without being subjected to a per-play tax.

This setup was put in place nearly a century ago because it was the commonsense thing to do.  Since the promotional value of radio airplay is what makes our breaks the commercial success of an artist, nearly all labels would undoubtedly pay for the ability to receive airplay.

Doing so is prohibited by law, so, instead, the publishers and stations worked out a system where they exchange free publicity for free airplay.

MusicFirst disputes the promotional value, claiming that "long-gone are the days when radio helps 'discover' performers."  This incredible claim is debunked even by the group's own actions.  The sponsors of MusicFirst invest tens of millions of dollars annually to promote music from radio airplay.  In fact, even Keith Urban, this year's honoree at Grammys on the Hill, said recently that his fans hear most of his music on local radio.

MusicFirst claims that even with the promotional value of radio, "in any other market-based arrangement they [local radio stations] would have to compensate the owner of that music at market rate."  But the reality is that under any other market-based arrangement, corporate music would also have to pay billions upon billions for radio advertising to have its product promoted.

The so-called "market rate" MusicFirst is asking for is not actually a market rate, either; it's a fixed price set by a government rate-setting board.  Although claiming to seek compensation based on market-based principles, MusicFirst is in reality seeking a government-backed subsidy at the expense of local radio stations.

In recent years, the music industry has brought in record revenues from music royalties without the added fees they are requesting from Congress.  There is no excuse for them to even be suggesting that they should have their cake and eat it, too.

This lobbying campaign is not new.  Congress has already previously rejected MusicFirst's campaign efforts on the premise that radio promotion is a key driver of corporate music's revenue.  Yet the music publishers are still seeking to have Congress enact a bill called the Songwriter Equity Act, legislation that would greatly inflate fees on any business that plays popular music, including restaurants, bars, and mom-and-pop stores.

It's no coincidence that the largest music publishers and record labels are joining forces to have other industries bail out their businesses.  The three largest music publishers are also owned by the very same corporate parents as the three major record labels.

Congress has many priorities to tackle, including repealing and replacing Obamacare, reforming our overly complex and jobs-killing tax code, and enacting economic policies that will promote economic prosperity.  The body should have far higher priorities on which to spend its time than subsidizing corporate music.

Edward Woodson is a lawyer and host of the nationally syndicated Edward Woodson Show.

On Wednesday, members of Congress jammed out with some of the big hitters of music at the annual "Grammys on the Hill Awards and Advocacy Day," a highly political event sponsored by the major record labels that touts legislatures who carry the ball for Big Music's special interest priorities.

Yesterday, many of these musical figureheads took it a step farther by participating in a massive lobbying effort to convince Congress to help boost the bottom line for corporate music.

In January, the MusicFirst Coalition, a front group for the three largest record labels that control about 80 percent of the songs on our playlists, got the ball rolling on this lobbying campaign by penning an open letter to Congress, where the group asked for a new royalty tax to be imposed on local radio stations.

MusicFirst had the audacity to refer to its proposal as being founded on "market-based principles [that] drive compensation for all artists and creators."  This couldn't be farther from the truth.

Since the creation of the radio, the market has operated on a "you scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours" system.  The local community radio stations give Big Music free advertising time by playing the songs they represent on air – a highly valuable "give," given that local radio stations reach hundreds of millions of listeners each week.  In exchange, the local stations get to play their songs on air without being subjected to a per-play tax.

This setup was put in place nearly a century ago because it was the commonsense thing to do.  Since the promotional value of radio airplay is what makes our breaks the commercial success of an artist, nearly all labels would undoubtedly pay for the ability to receive airplay.

Doing so is prohibited by law, so, instead, the publishers and stations worked out a system where they exchange free publicity for free airplay.

MusicFirst disputes the promotional value, claiming that "long-gone are the days when radio helps 'discover' performers."  This incredible claim is debunked even by the group's own actions.  The sponsors of MusicFirst invest tens of millions of dollars annually to promote music from radio airplay.  In fact, even Keith Urban, this year's honoree at Grammys on the Hill, said recently that his fans hear most of his music on local radio.

MusicFirst claims that even with the promotional value of radio, "in any other market-based arrangement they [local radio stations] would have to compensate the owner of that music at market rate."  But the reality is that under any other market-based arrangement, corporate music would also have to pay billions upon billions for radio advertising to have its product promoted.

The so-called "market rate" MusicFirst is asking for is not actually a market rate, either; it's a fixed price set by a government rate-setting board.  Although claiming to seek compensation based on market-based principles, MusicFirst is in reality seeking a government-backed subsidy at the expense of local radio stations.

In recent years, the music industry has brought in record revenues from music royalties without the added fees they are requesting from Congress.  There is no excuse for them to even be suggesting that they should have their cake and eat it, too.

This lobbying campaign is not new.  Congress has already previously rejected MusicFirst's campaign efforts on the premise that radio promotion is a key driver of corporate music's revenue.  Yet the music publishers are still seeking to have Congress enact a bill called the Songwriter Equity Act, legislation that would greatly inflate fees on any business that plays popular music, including restaurants, bars, and mom-and-pop stores.

It's no coincidence that the largest music publishers and record labels are joining forces to have other industries bail out their businesses.  The three largest music publishers are also owned by the very same corporate parents as the three major record labels.

Congress has many priorities to tackle, including repealing and replacing Obamacare, reforming our overly complex and jobs-killing tax code, and enacting economic policies that will promote economic prosperity.  The body should have far higher priorities on which to spend its time than subsidizing corporate music.

Edward Woodson is a lawyer and host of the nationally syndicated Edward Woodson Show.

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