Rap Coalition

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Performance Royalties, By Bob Lefsetz

"The last time the artists united was when they all said they wanted their MTV."

Andy Gould

Last week, at the close of Musexpo, there was a dinner at the Gordon Ramsay restaurant in the London Hotel. I ended up sitting with Ron Spaulding, head of Fontana distribution, Jason Flom, A&R man for the ages, and Andy Gould, producer of Rob Zombie's movies as well as manager of so many musical acts.

Andy and Jason reminisced about the old days, women and cocaine in New York City hotels. And then Andy started speaking of how the industry had mishandled the future, because it believed it would be the same as the past, that no change would ever take place, that the end would never come.

Andy was of the belief that if the artists had just told their fans not to steal, the problem could have been thwarted. I thought this was hogwash, sometimes the inevitable march of history flattens you, as is happening with the newspaper industry today. What could publishers tell readers? Stop going to our Website, continue to subscribe to the physical paper?

But Andy was on to something. The inability of artists to unite on their own behalf. Like with this performance royalty, how come the artists weren't standing up.

I couldn't agree more!

We live in a land of perception. How come the artists and rights holders always come out on the wrong end of the stick?

Like with this Choruss thing. Sure, the devil is in the details, but I've broken bread with Jim Griffin over this topic, the intent of the rights holders isn't to fuck college students, but to create a legal avenue for music acquisition that generates revenue to purveyors. Suddenly this is a foul goal? Music should be free forever more? There should be no legal alternative to P2P theft?

But if you read the online prognosticators, this is an evil plot by the record companies, to collect names and add heinous college fees. How this story has gotten so twisted, I do not know. But I will say that Choruss has done a bad job of telling its story, of getting the facts of its mission across. Labels have been hated for so long, having sued their customers, consumers no longer give them a pass, they believe if the labels are behind it it's a rip-off, it's faulty, it must be stopped. So a few bloggers take down the entire mission.

Kind of like what's going on with the radio industry.

Those cats got so fat over the past few decades it's unreal. Clear Channel is bitching today because it took the company private and then got caught in a cash crunch. This is the record industry's fault? This is like Wall Street saying we've got to sympathize with bankers, because after enriching themselves with multi-million dollar bonuses their trading houses were bankrupt. Sure, we ended up giving them money, so they would lend, which they haven't done, but at least the public outcry is a roar.

I don't care what excuse radio uses, financials or breaking artists or what, they need to pay a performance royalty. It's a raw matter of fairness.

It's great that songwriters get paid. But last I checked, when a song is broadcast, there's someone SINGING IT! And it's not always the person who wrote it. There's a performance right for satellite radio, Internet radio too. But somehow, being an antiquated industry, terrestrial radio should be immune? Isn't this like letting old plants pollute based on their age? No, we RETROFIT THEM, so they don't foul our air any longer!

Andy now represents the Monkees. They didn't write those hits and record royalties were anemic or nonexistent back in the day. So, having sung "I'm A Believer", one of the great records of all time, Micky Dolenz should continue to go uncompensated? Believe me, it's his breathy delivery that makes the track, and revenue is generated when stations air this sixties classic and those of other uncompensated artists.

This is not breaking new ground. Around the world the performer is compensated for radio airplay. And, most countries have laws preventing performance monies from coming to the U.S. unless there are reciprocal rights! In other words, it's not only money for U.S. radio play, but WORLDWIDE radio play!

But somehow this has been portrayed as record label and artist greed online. While the rights holders hope and pray that elected representatives will save them.

Same deal with the Ticketmaster/Live Nation merger. No one's going on record, no one's selling the story to the public, they're just counting on the usual suspects, their lawyers and paid for people in D.C., to get approval.

Now the government has launched an investigation into the Google-Apple relationship, the cross-pollination of their boards. But somehow Ticketmaster/Live Nation is immune, based on some twisted notion of stare decisis? Obama takes on offshore tax havens and the credit card companies but somehow he's going to give Ticketmaster and Live Nation a pass? Irving Azoff and Michael Rapino might know a lot about concert promotion, but they don't know diddly-squat about public perception. Their deals are made behind closed doors, acts plotting to scalp their own tickets as the public nearly riots. Isn't this a recipe for disaster?

And these same wealthy artists are so afraid of pissing off radio that they won't take a stand. Andy Gould said the artists should unite, on their own behalf.

Enough bitching about Ticketmaster Springsteen, how about standing up for a radio performance royalty?

And Don Henley! You can only support Walden Woods?

And Jay-Z. Supposedly you're a great businessman, why are you leaving this money on the table?

Even Pete Wentz. You've got everything covered but this?

When are the artists going to stand up on their own behalf? When are they going to organize and change public perception. Where are the ads, where's the benefit concert, WHAT'S THE PROBLEM?

This is a no-brainer. The only people opposed are those who own the stations, fighting to keep more of the pie. The public would hew to the rights holders' side if the story was explained. But rather than take their case to the public, rights holders would rather put their faith in Mitch Bainwol and his team at the RIAA. Isn't that just like putting the war effort in the hands of Halliburton and Blackwater?

We're living in an age of clarity, and egalitarianism.

We need a performance royalty.

And our best chance of getting it is if those who are in line to reap the rewards stand up and say WE'RE MAD AS HELL AND WE'RE NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE!

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