Performance Royalties on Commercial Radio

Performance Royalties on Commercial Radio

by David Byrne


Aretha Franklin


I’ve been getting together in the last few months with a small group of musicians and writers who are concerned that there is no organization to represent us on many of the issues that affect us. More on that later. One issue that has been discussed recently is the payment of performance royalties on commercial radio broadcasts in the U.S.

When many of us think of the song “Respect,” we think of Aretha Franklin. Many people are shocked to learn that Aretha never made a penny from all the radio broadcasts of her performance of R-E-S-P-E-C-T (this is because she wasn’t the composer.) It’s true—many musicians receive little compensation or struggle to pay bills despite having widely-aired recordings. Executive Director of The Jazz Foundation, Wendy Oxenhorn, recently released an eye-opening statement explaining why performance royalties on radio broadcasts are so vital:

For nearly 14 years, I've been working to save jazz and blues musicians from eviction, homelessness and hunger. On a daily basis, legends who recorded with Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Chet Baker, Miles Davis are having to be saved. Even the legends themselves; including Odetta, Abbey Lincoln, Hank Jones, Elvin Jones, Ruth Brown, Etta James and so many others have been touched by the Jazz Foundation of America. Had there been radio royalties all these years, I can guarantee that many of the crises these great talents have had to face in their old age would never have had to exist.

With its denial of a Performance Royalty to artists, the U.S. stands with a short list of countries that includes: Iran, North Korea, China, Vietnam, and Rwanda. Most other countries in the world pay out at least small amounts to performers for the use of their performances of songs on radio—a use that makes up the content of their broadcasts. To clarify, songwriters and publishers of songs do get paid a little bit, but there is nothing allotted for the folks who record and sing the versions of songs that we hear all the time and whose recordings are used to sell advertising on commercial radio.

The failure to pay artists’ performance royalties in the U.S. means more than just the loss of U.S. radio royalty income for performers—there is also the lack of reciprocity to factor in. The U.S. doesn’t pay performance royalties to foreign artists either. These royalties are often collected by foreign organizations based on the airplay we get in much of the rest of the world, but that money never makes it back to us because foreign artists aren't getting paid for their U.S. airplay. Tit for tat. There’s a LOT of money sitting out there that could help the US economy, not just musicians. So, maybe it’s time for the U.S. to join most of the rest of the world. Some musicians who live here have their songs played on the radio in Europe and some are even big in Japan, but we don’t see anything from that. It’s a pretty silly situation that has existed for decades, and it’s time to correct it.


The momentum behind addressing this issue is approaching critical mass: there is currently a bill supporting artists’ radio royalty sponsored by former Congressman and newly appointed Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency Mel Watt; Jerry Nadler is sponsoring it here in N.Y. If we act now, we can fix this (see petition below.)

How would this affect music fans? How would it affect broadcast radio?

Music fans wouldn’t be directly affected—it wouldn’t cost them anything. If anything they’d benefit, as some of the artists they like would stand a better chance of having a continuing life in music. How about radio? Public radio and college radio, which run on tight budgets, would not be affected. This is only about commercial broadcast radio—the folks who make money by playing music. Many of those stations are owned by large conglomerates, and we musicians can expect them to hire lobbyists and propagandists to convince the public and congress that somehow, unlike most of thecountries in the world that A) musicians can live on the “exposure” their radio play provides and B) these companies won’t be able to make a profit if they are expected to pay a little bit to performers who provide the content that draws listeners.

But, if most of the world can do it, why can’t we?

Will this affect digital and streaming radio? No. Digital and streaming radio stations already pay royalties to artists. Pandora, the streaming radio service, was lobbying Congress in the hopes that they might be allowed to pay less, but that effort has been abandoned, for now.

So our little group thinks this is a clear and simple issue—and definitely winnable. It’s not an issue that is likely to encounter partisan resistance: all political sides pretty much agree on this, and everyone benefits. Even the radio station owners will benefit indirectly, as they rely on the constant and continued creation of recordings to fill their airtime.

If you respect music too, take action with me today. http://ccc-nyc.org/takeaction/

© David Byrne

Views: 1973

Comment by skibby on January 28, 2014 at 10:33pm

One creates a song that pleases another, who in turn realizes that that experience of coming in contact with that song is worth something.

One performs a song, the performance itself pleasing another, who in turn realizes that that experience of listening to that performance of that song is worth something.

Pay the Performance Royalty.

No Brainer.

Comment by Victoria on January 28, 2014 at 11:27pm

thanks for the post.   I'm confused on the roles of ASCAP and BMI.  (need to do some research.)

I do know that commercial radio is struggling as a media, low media on totem pole with fewer ad revenues as compared to cable, broadcast TV, internet and probably outdoor.  I'm wondering how long there will even be "over the air" broadcast stations.  I see it disappearing in the not so distant future (at least its present delivery)

Comment by skibby on January 28, 2014 at 11:33pm


good point, V.

Comment by Victoria on January 28, 2014 at 11:39pm

I think it's a matter of time before radio converts to a split between satellite and internet.  as new cars replace older cars, consumers will have more choices which will include both mentioned mediums further squeezing "broadcast radio".

"broadcast radio" has a unique role in providing a local news, information and entertainment so I don't see it going away but the delivery of a tower antennae is no match for digital delivery.  so local may just convert to internet much like the print medium.

Comment by bonnie on January 29, 2014 at 7:42pm

@Victoria, just a furthering of the division between the haves and the have-nots.  People who do not have satellite or internet will be left behind.  Kind of like when tv went digital.  I know some elderly folks who lost reception for want of a digital antenna and converter.


You need to be a member of VloggerHeads to add comments!

Join VloggerHeads

Latest Activity

Ken - rivrvlogr commented on Diesel Bodine's video
4 minutes ago
Ken - rivrvlogr commented on Nordic [DMG]'s video
17 minutes ago
Ken - rivrvlogr commented on Nordic [DMG]'s video
18 minutes ago
Drone posted a status
"4 out of 5 people, want 1 in 5 to finally get their stuff together."
1 hour ago
ThaPolarBear [Mod] liked William.T's blog post Loved this
1 hour ago
ThaPolarBear [Mod] left a comment for shawny L FRB
1 hour ago
ThaPolarBear [Mod] commented on Victoria's blog post Nietzsche . . .
1 hour ago
ThaPolarBear [Mod] commented on William.T's video
1 hour ago
Drone liked S.A. Murray (Scott)'s video
1 hour ago
Drone commented on S.A. Murray (Scott)'s video
1 hour ago
Ken - rivrvlogr commented on S.A. Murray (Scott)'s video
1 hour ago
Drone liked Diesel Bodine's video
1 hour ago
ThaPolarBear [Mod] commented on G'ma Lorrie's photo
1 hour ago
Ken - rivrvlogr's photo was featured
1 hour ago
ThaPolarBear [Mod] liked Ken - rivrvlogr's photo
1 hour ago
Drone commented on William.T's video
1 hour ago
ThaPolarBear [Mod] commented on Ken - rivrvlogr's blog post Past Week, Outdoors
1 hour ago
S.A. Murray (Scott) posted a video

Halloween Part 1

Let the fun begin.
1 hour ago
Ken - rivrvlogr posted a video

Autumn Movement

Photos taken in Missouri, October 24 & 30, 2014
1 hour ago
ThaPolarBear [Mod] commented on Diesel Bodine's video
1 hour ago

© 2014   Created by Marcel.

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service