To Tell the Truth

July 8, 2014

Peter Smyth


Two weeks ago, my friends Charles Warfield and Ed Christian had the difficult task of testifying before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee that is looking into music licensing issues.  Charles, as Joint Chairman of the NAB, represented local broadcasters and Ed, as Chairman of the Radio Music Licensing Committee, spoke from his experience guiding that group.  Both of these gentlemen did a yeoman’s job of attempting to focus on the benefits that the present free airplay/free promotion system has generated for the American consumer, and to caution about the unintended consequences of upsetting the status quo.

But if you watched the video of the hearing, it was easy to see that the proverbial deck was stacked, with seven proponents of various music industry points of view outnumbering our two friends.  Now, no one expected this hearing to be impartial, but what struck me was the tongue-lashing that radio took.  We were repeatedly accused of unfairness of the highest order.  Why?  Because we continue to run our business as usual, which includes continuing our role as the most influential source of new music sales in the United States?  Whether country, pop, hip hop or rock, any musician knows that when they break on the radio, good things will happen to their career.

Now a brand new study, commissioned by the NAB and authored by Nielsen, demonstrates once again that there is a significant relationship between radio airplay and digital song sales and on-demand streaming.  Certainly this is not news for those of us who watch hits made every day, but the study was meant to counter spurious allegations with actual facts.  In this case, we were countering SoundExchange President Michael Huppe’s recent outrageous assertion that radio industry has contributed to the exponential declines in record sales.

I think Ed Christian summed it up best when he said, “With particular reference to the recurring demand for a sound recording performance [fee] to be imposed upon terrestrial radio, please understand that the radio industry is not some vast pot of riches that can be tapped as a bailout for a recording industry that has failed to execute a digital strategy that addresses a decline in its own brick and mortar income. Congress unambiguously intended that, in exchange for unique promotional support afforded record labels and artists, terrestrial radio should be treated differently from other transmission platforms.”

All of this grandstanding takes place in front of one of the most unproductive, do-nothing Congresses in the history of our country.  While members ignore and dodge real questions about how to move our country forward, they waste time and energy playing for the cameras about music licensing.  Do we need to keep pace with the digital revolution?  Of course.  But in the current atmosphere, self-interest and special interest have won out over common sense and the common good.

The only good thing about our current lawmakers is that it will take them a very long time to pass legislation to address the licensing patchwork.  In the meantime, we need to be vigilant and continue to stand by the truth of the matter – that radio in the U.S. has been, and continues to be, the most effective medium for a musician’s success – and not allow rhetoric, stardom and hyperbole to carry the day.