That’s what friends are for: Warwick, musicians enlist Congress to get radio royalties
‘I’m a punk rocker! We don’t even want to be played on the radio,’ says Ken Casey of the Dropkick Murphys
Corrected 7:38 p.m. | The lawmakers were the opening act, but the performers brought the House down.
“This is the first time that I’m headlining and Ms. Dionne Warwick is my warmup. Thank you, Ms. Warwick,” said Sam Moore, who sang the hit “Soul Man” as part of the R&B duo Sam & Dave.
“It was a pleasure, Sam. Anytime,” Warwick replied.
They were part of a group of performers, which also included punk rocker Ken Casey of the Dropkick Murphys, who spoke at a steamy news conference in front of the Capitol on Thursday. They were there to promote a new bill that would make sure performing artists get compensated when their songs are played on FM and AM radio.
As far as news conferences for newly introduced legislation go, this was a packed house. There was a media scrum but no mosh pit. The crowd applauded each act, but there were no curtain calls. Local members of the American Federation of Musicians brought their instruments, but despite sharing the stage with three Gold Record-earning singers, not a single song broke out.
The event was set up to tout new legislation from the bipartisan duo of Reps. Ted Deutch and Darrell Issa dubbed the “American Music Fairness Act.” The bill would give musicians compensation on terrestrial radio similar to what they already receive from streaming platforms.
“I’m a punk rocker! We don’t even want to be played on the radio, but I’m here in support of my fellow musicians,” said Casey. “When other people are making millions and billions, well, I think the trickle down should be a little more equitable.”
Moore said it wasn’t until about five years ago that he was approached by advocates who told him he was losing out on compensation for radio spins.
“They said, ‘Sam, you’re not getting paid. Sam, check it.’ And I checked — I’m not getting paid. So I say, ‘Yeah, I’m in,’” he said.
Unlike in some other nations, American radio stations usually don’t pay musicians to play their songs. Instead, for the past century, there has been an implicit deal: Record labels would give the songs to the stations for free, and the DJs would play them to their audiences, driving fans to record stores and concert venues.
That trade-off has broken down in recent years, said Deutch. Now, most corporate radio stations play just the established hits — you’d be mad if they played something new on a ’90s station — and there were no concert tours to promote during the pandemic.
“Young people especially, when they’re exploring new music, they’re doing it on TikTok, they’re doing it on YouTube. They’re not going to find a format on an FM station that they like,” Deutch said. “And then the whole idea of promoting concerts — well, there weren’t any for over a year.”
The bill would set up a tiered fee system that charges smaller and nonprofit radio stations less than the large conglomerates like iHeartMedia, which owns more than 800 stations across the nation. Smaller broadcast groups such as the National Federation of Community Broadcasters, REC Networks and the Prometheus Radio Project have endorsed the legislation.
It enters a long battle over who should get paid and how as the digital age transforms the music industry. Congress managed to find key points of compromise when it passed a broad package in 2018 called the Music Modernization Act. But several issues, like artist pay for radio play, remain unresolved and can spark strong opinions.
Deutch was pleasantly surprised to hear Casey would be joining the news conference. His chief of staff only knew that “some band from Boston” would join Warwick and Moore. “I hope it’s the Dropkick Murphys,” Deutch said.
When pressed to prove his fandom, he blanked on his favorite Dropkick Murphys song. But Deutch, who is bald, did confirm that he’s never been on the MBTA. “That song is not about me,” he said.
Although the two come from opposite ends of the spectrum, Issa and Deutch do spend a fair amount of time together, especially this week, when they went deep into the night as part of a marathon House Judiciary markup.
That time to jell hasn’t yielded a band name yet, but it definitely set a tone.
“If it were up to me, I think we’d probably be in a blues band,” he said. “I don’t know what we would be called, but I definitely know the vibe, given the 24-hour hearing that we just had.”
This report has been revised to correct the name of the group whose local members were present at Thursday’s news conference. It was the American Federation of Musicians.