David Byrne Explains Why US Radio Should Pay Performers

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I imagine David Byrne has accumulated quite a few healthy paychecks in his career, but he’s also spent a lot of time advocating for his fellow musicians. Back in 2015, he wrote an op-ed for the New York Times about pay transparency in the streaming era. This week, he’s published another op-ed, this time for USA Today about fairly paying musicians for radio airplay.

As the Talking Heads leader points out, artists don’t necessarily get paid when their songs are played on the radio. Music publishers and songwriters do — so, of course, there might be some overlap if the artist also has a writing credit, but that isn’t always the case with songs that get the most radio spins. Here are some examples Byrne provided: “Sinead O’Connor’s ‘Nothing Compares 2 U?’ Nothing to her. Karen O ‘Under Pressure?’ Nope. Willie Nelson ‘Always on My Mind?’ Nada. Cat Power on ‘Ballad of a Thin Man?’ Nix. ‘Umbrella’ and Rihanna? Uh-uh. ‘Irreplaceable’ Beyoncé? Never. ‘Get the Party Started’ Pink? Nope.” My god, what have we done? A bill called the American Music Fairness Act is trying to change that. It reads in part:

This bill establishes that the copyright holder of a sound recording shall have the exclusive right to perform the sound recording through an audio transmission… Under the bill, a nonsubscription broadcast transmission must have a license to publicly perform such sound recordings. The Copyright Royalty Board must periodically determine the royalty rates for such a license. When determining the rates, the board must base its decision on certain information presented by the parties, including the radio stations’ effect on other streams of revenue related to the sound recordings.

I highly recommend reading the entire op-ed. Byrne makes a lot of really good arguments in favor of the bill — which, he acknowledges, would benefit him financially as well. He walks the walk, too, even making a recent trip to Washington, D.C. to lobby for it. Besides the US, the only other countries that don’t pay performers for radio play are Cuba, Iran, and North Korea. Makes you think.

Lest we forget it’s a bipartisan bill.