Arts, Music, Column

Himes: Spotify’s Reign is Over—In 2018, Royalties are King

The Music Modernization Act (MMA), after years in the making, has finally passed through both the House and the Senate unanimously. One thing’s missing, though: President Donald Trump’s signature.

The MMA is set to drastically change the lives of songwriters and musicians for the better. It will enforce fair pay for songwriters who are not currently receiving royalties for the music they’ve helped create, allowing them to finally receive fair market value for their art.

Although the bill has been heavily supported by musicians of all kinds, and even lawmakers themselves, the Blackstone Group (which owns Harry Fox Agency, a musical licensing agency) joined industry giants SiriusXM and People’s Choice in vehemently opposing the MMA over the summer. SiriusXM’s resistance was pretty controversial. The increasingly widespread satellite radio company opposed the CLASSICS (Compensating Legacy Artists for their Songs, Service, and Important Contributions to Society) Act, which would compel it to pay artists royalties for songs recorded before 1972. This would heavily impact SiriusXM, as it has a variety of stations devoted to pre-72 music (think ’60s on 6 or ’40s Junction).

Earlier this month, 150 artists (including Carole King, Stevie Nicks, and Paul McCartney) came together to sign a letter urging SiriusXM to consider the bill. And if it didn’t? The group of artists threatened to boycott. “Stand with us!” the letter says. “Be brave and take credit for being the heroes who helped the MMA become historic law!”

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) also assisted in finally pushing SiriusXM and other uncooperative companies and organizations to collaborate. RIAA president Mitch Glazier described SiriusXM as a “profitable machine” that was “singlehandedly standing in the way of historic music licensing reforms.” Songwriters and large record labels mobilized in unprecedented numbers alongside RIAA to push SiriusXM to join the movement.

The Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) and Songwriters of North America worked hard to bring the Blackstone Group and Harry Fox down. NSAI gave a huge push throughout the month of August to get the MMA passed, urging musicians and fans to reach out to Senators who hadn’t yet backed the bill.

Aside from the MMA and the CLASSICS Act, the overarching bill has a third piece of legislation: the AMP (Allocation for Music Producers) Act. It allows producers and engineers (this is the first time producers have ever been mentioned in legislation) to get paid directly from SoundExchange when their songs are played over satellite or online radio. Before the AMP Act, a producers had a contract with the recording artist to determine their royalties. The artist has the rights to 45 percent of the performance royalties, and producers are often paid directly from the artist coming from that small percentage. Not much is changing, but the Act will legalize the process, allowing producers who worked on music released prior to 1995 to be compensated directly.

After the yearslong turmoil within the industry that caused the future of the MMA to appear uncertain, record labels, musicians, songwriters, streaming companies, and legislators were finally able to cooperate for the best. It’s about time that musicians receive fair pay for their work. We are all heavy consumers of their music—especially in the age of digital streaming—and they deserve to be compensated. It’s unjust that we have been using extremely outdated laws in an industry that has rapidly, and drastically, changed within the last decade alone. Finally, streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music, as well as alternative radio companies like SiriusXM, will be legally compelled to pay artists and songwriters fair market value for their work.

The Act is so close to being passed, and the music industry is already rejoicing. Fingers crossed Trump actually cares about the artists who are writing whatever kind of music he likes, because he’s up next.

Featured Graphic by Nicole Chan / Heights Editor

September 30, 2018