Smashing Pumpkin Testifies for Pay-for-Play Radio

Last week, it was Eminem trying – and failing – to get artists a bigger piece of the downloading pie. Now it’s Smashing Pumpkins, up against radio. Billy Corgan, the group’s founder and lead singer, has joined the roster of top-name artists who have appeared on Capitol Hill in the last few weeks seeking compensation […]

Last Updated: March 11, 2009 @ 6:59 AM

Last week, it was Eminem trying – and failing – to get artists a bigger piece of the downloading pie.

Now it’s Smashing Pumpkins, up against radio.

Billy Corgan, the group’s founder and lead singer, has joined the roster of top-name artists who have appeared on Capitol Hill in the last few weeks seeking compensation for artists whose music is broadcast on FM/AM.

As it now stands, on traditional radio, songwriters get paid but singers do not. “The decision behind this long-held inequity stems back to 1909 when radio was in its infancy,” Corgan told a House Judiciary Committee. “The old-fashioned radio business has held onto this exemption for over 80 years — a law made in a bygone era for a set of reasons long past.”

For their part, broadcasters invoked the global economic meltdown to warn Congress against enacting such a performance fee. Larry Patrick, managing director of Patrick Communications and a 40-year veteran of the business, said he’d never seen anything like it. “Radio stations are laying off employees, reducing wages by 5-10 percent, and a number of radio companies are literally teetering on the verge of bankruptcy,” he said. “If this bill is enacted, it will put at risk an industry that employs nearly 106,000 people across America.”

The fight over legislation this year is likely to be intense — and political. And whatever Congress does could have impact globally. Because U.S. radio stations do not pay a performance royalty for foreign artists, American artists are not compensated when their music is played on stations around the world — an imbalance that if corrected, said Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), would mean hundreds of millions of dollars pumped "back into the U.S. economy."

Some of the top names in music, rallying under the banner of a new advocacy group, the MusicFirst coalition, have been rallying for radio-performance fees.

At a press conference at the Rayburn House Office Building, Herbie Hancock made an impassioned plea, arguing that musicians are “just like other working-class people trying to make a living.” Sheryl Crow acknowledged that radio has been a great tool in promoting music in the past, but argued that recently, marketers dictate what gets played on the air. Dionne Warwick said that after listening to her music play around the world for 48 years without compensation, "I think now is about time that I do get paid."

And will.i.am gave a rendition of music’s journey over the last 50 years — arguing that “artists are still pulling out their hearts out” for their music but that “success today is in iTunes.

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