Almost from the beginning of the industry, recording artists have complained about not being compensated for radio airplay. Sure, songwriters get paid, but artists and labels never receive a dime. This is a phenomena unique to the United States, since in most other countries artist compensation has long been settled. While legislation to pay artists has been put forward from time to time over the years, the powerful NAB has managed to squash it every time. However, a new bill that thinks outside the box on the subject may finally bring the broadcasters to the table.
Last week a bipartisan bill called the PROMOTE Act (Performance Royalty Owners of Music Opportunity To Earn Act) was reintroduced to Congress with an interesting twist that could make radio broadcast very interesting for a while. The bill gives a label the right to pull its music a radio station if it chose to do so. Of course, the reason that it would do that is so that the broadcaster would ultimately pay for the privilege of airing it.
This could be interesting if a label pulled its big hits off a station, but imagine if it pulled its entire catalog? On the other hand, do artists feel secure enough knowing that a large group of potential fans might never be exposed to their music?
Broadcasters have always maintained that although artists and labels don’t get paid from radio airplay, what they do receive is substantial promotion in return which could make or break a career. This has been true through the decades, and is even true today as radio is still the number one place that people discover new music. That said, with streaming music having more and more influence on the typical listener, that perspective might be changing (Ed Sheeran and Drake haven’t seemed to need it lately).
If a major radio station suddenly wouldn’t have the latest Maroon 5, Taylor Swift or Katy Perry single, would that force listeners away and into streaming’s waiting arms? If it were your career, would you be willing to risk eliminating a huge potential audience as part of the battle to force broadcasters to pay?
These are some of the deep questions for all involved, but should the bill pass (and there’s no guarantee that it will), it will make radio a lot more interesting than it is today.