My Day Testifying Before Congress - Performer's Rights and the Future of Audio

Today, I testified in front of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce regarding performer’s rights.

You can read a transcript here: http://energycommerce.house.gov/hearing/future-audio

New York Times Coverage: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/11/business/media/radio-royalty-deal-offers-hope-for-industrywide-pact.html?_r=2&

It was exciting and gratifying to get the chance to make the case that performers, in addition to songwriters should receive fair compensation when they're music is played on terrestrial radio (a right they currently don’t have).

I’m not sure how many people are aware of the fact that, while songwriters get paid when their recordings are played on AM/FM radio, performers (the musicians who played on the recording) do not.

Most musicians know from first hand experience that it's really the folks in the band that bring a tune to life. I count on the musicians in my group to “put meat on the bones” - to take what I write and put their personal stamp on it. This is is a big part of what gives the music on my albums its character.

After my testimony, I was asked a question by Congresswoman Mary Bono-Mack who is the wife of the late Sonny Bono. Her question gave me the chance to bring up Carol Kaye, the great bassist from the LA recording scene, whose seminal playing can be heard on countless recordings and big pop hits. One such recording was Sonny’s “The Beat Goes On” which Sonny wrote originally as a swing tune. Arguably, it’s Carol’s funky bass line that helped make that a hit. And yet Carol gets no royalties when it’s played on the radio (as it still is). The US is the only developed country that doesn’t have such a royalty for performers. That’s beyond wrong.

Tim Westergren, the founder of Pandora, also testified. I am fan of Pandora. It’s a really great way to find new music. And it gives a voice to countless artists who play styles of music that might not otherwise make it to traditional radio. Pandora is internet radio, and like satellite and cable they pay a royalty to the performers on a recording. That’s fair. It makes sense.

Ben's testimony. Also pictured, David Israelite, CEO National Music Publishers Association. 

But for reasons that defy understanding (probably based on legislation that was passed before I was born) terrestrial radio is exempt from paying such a royalty.

This has to change.

Ultimately, what we’re talking about here is whether or not people believe that music has value - that after all the blood, sweat and tears that American musicians pour into their craft, they should be afforded the same rights enjoyed by musicians throughout the rest of the developed world.

As I said in my testimony, without the songwriter putting that first note on paper, without the musicians performing that song in ways that move us, without the engineers capturing that performance, there would be no iPods, no Pandoras, no labels, no publishers.

Thoughts?