The United States is the only democracy in the world that does not pay recording artists for radio airplay. Artists and record labels have been fighting a legislative battle for decades to bring the U.S. in line with the rest of the world, but the powerful broadcasters lobby has always beaten them back.
U.S. Representatives Jerry Nadler and Marsha Blackburn recently introduced legislation titled the "Fair Play Fair Pay Act" as another effort to fix this problem. This time the National Association of Broadcasters ("NAB") has joined forces with Google, Pandora and many other companies to fight the bill.
I'm pleased to have a chance to interview Karoline Kramer-Gould, the courageous Music Director of Cleveland's tastemaker college AAA station WJCU about her views on the issue and the NAB's tactics. Ms. Kramer-Gould has broken ranks with the NAB and co-authored a letter with recording artist Blake Morgan (of the #irespectmusic campaign) to House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte expressing her support for Fair Play Fair Pay. The letter to Chairman Goodlatte is reproduced below after the interview with Ms. Gould.
How long have you worked in radio? Have you always worked at NPR/CPB stations or have you also worked at commercial broadcasters?
I've worked in radio for 14 years. I started out as a DJ for a AAA Internet radio station and later I took over as MD/APD. Meanwhile, I was hired by WNCX in Cleveland to start up a 30 minute public affairs show called Greater Cleveland Forum, which ran for almost 4 years on WNCX, WAPS, and WJCU. That led to joining WJCU in 2006 as the Music Director for the AAA format "The Heights". So, I've worked in Internet radio, at non-commercial radio, and in a more limited capacity, at a commercial station as well.
What's your role at WJCU?
I am the Music Director for The Heights, the AAA format on the station, WJCU. I am, as I always have been, a contract employee (1099 and all).
We've always viewed college radio and AAA as outlets for new music and helping artists find an audience in comparison to commercial broadcasters who typically are largely interested in artists who already have an audience. Not to put too fine an edge on that because there are many examples of commercial radio getting behind a new artist who is getting traction, but as a general rule I think it's fair to say that they rarely get behind a new artist early. Do you agree with that assessment?
I absolutely agree with that assessment. One of the great things about the AAA format and Non-Commercial radio is the relationship we have with artists and musicians. It's this format and these stations where new, up and coming, or less mainstream artists can get played and get a much needed chance to be heard.
It seems to me that YouTube, Spotify and Pandora cater to what I'd call the "lottery" method rather than the career building method of artist development. I don't know as you could even call "YouTube stars" artist development at all because it ties the artist to a particular distribution platform--can you imagine "Walmart stars" or "WJCU stars"? What's your view on the benefits of humans versus algorithms for music discovery and artist development?
A computer can never replace the power of the human touch. When I listen to music for The Heights I have only one focus: what will make my listeners sit up in their chair and reach for their phone to Shazam what they're hearing? I play music that I think represents Cleveland. I measure my success in my job by the phone calls and emails I get from our listeners. Nothing else.
The NAB traditionally claims that the promotional value of radio compensates artists and record companies for any airplay royalty. It seems to me that commercial radio with its restrictive playlists spends more time keeping records off of their air than they do promoting music. In fact, we look to stations like yours to introduce new artists to your listening audience and not the commercial broadcasters. What do you make of this "promotion" argument?
I never hear the word "promotion". I hear the word "exposure." And I hate that word with the passion of a billion burning suns. When I hear it I think of some nasty greasy old man in a trench coat "exposing" himself to innocent young women. In this particular case though, that nasty greasy old man is the NAB. To imply that artists should be willing to work for free invalidates everything about them and what they have spent years working on. I would never ask any other skilled professional to work for free and it disgusts me that the radio industry finds it acceptable. Not only that, but the fact that some musicians find it okay makes me think of Stockholm Syndrome. It horrifies me that so many people have been brainwashed to believe it's acceptable--it not only lessens their hard work but also lessens them as human beings.
I'd be interested in knowing how you perceive the #IRespectMusic movement and the effort to bring US broadcasters into line with the rest of the world. What's your view on these developments?
I heard about the movement as soon as Blake Morgan started posting on social media. I embrace it and support it completely.
You've given me a copy of an email from an organization called the "Free Radio Alliance." We did an extensive dive on the stations supporting the Free Radio Alliance and a majority were Clear Channel stations (#irespectmusic Looks Deeper: The Free Radio Astroturf Alliance Fights Artist Pay for Radio Play) This makes it look a lot like the National Association of Broadcasters. Have you ever heard from this organization before and how is it that they are reaching out to your station for membership?
I have never heard of this organization before, and the only reason I saw it was because it was sent to my boss at WJCU, who then forwarded it on to me.
Do you feel that there's pressure from the NAB to get stations like WJCU in line to oppose Fair Play Fair Pay for some reason? (Like blocking a potential alliance with artists?)
Of course there's pressure, simply by the fact that this letter exists and was sent to Non-Commercial stations around the country. I don't think they have any ulterior motive beyond the given, which is to rally every station in the United States to their cause and against artists getting paid. Which is sad and pathetic, because I don't know any GM in AAA who wouldn't do research on their own on this matter. This is a bill that benefits local radio, college radio, Non-Commercial radio.
The Free Radio Alliance recruiting email that you've disclosed [reproduced below] seems to try to invoke an "us against them" message by aligning broadcasters against record companies without really mentioning the artists. The letter to Chairman Goodlatte that you wrote with Blake Morgan resonated with me because it seemed like a natural agreement between two members of the creative community about an issue that is important to the entire ecosystem. What message are you sending to your colleagues in broadcasting by sending this letter to Chairman Goodlatte?
I want my colleagues to know that it's ok to shout from the rooftops about our acceptance and support of musicians in the United States. I know that my speaking out may make continuing to work in radio an impossibility. But I don't care. To know the NAB is trying to make the artists the bad guys in this scenario is ludicrous. Radio wouldn't exist without music. We need the musicians to survive. Opposing this bill goes against all reasoning to me and seeing that lobbying letter bothered me so much I knew I had to do more than be a silent supporter of the cause.
What do you think is the fair resolution of the issue of artist pay for radio play?
A fair resolution is that artists should be paid for their work. I hope beyond hope that this bill passes.
Ms. Kramer-Gould's letter with Blake Morgan to Chairman Goodlatte:
October 26, 2015
The Honorable Bob Goodlatte
ChairmanCommittee on the Judiciary
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Chairman Goodlatte,
We're writing to you out of respect for our individual professions, out of love for our families, and out of love for our country.
My name is Karoline Kramer-Gould and I'm the Music Director for WJCU, a non-commercial Triple-A radio station in Ohio that serves the greater Cleveland area.
My name is Blake Morgan and I'm a recording artist and songwriter living and working in New York City.
We're writing to thank you for your leadership and to implore you to support H.R. 1733, the Fair Pay Fair Play Act of 2015. This bi-partisan bill would--for the first time in American history--ensure artists the rights to fair and reasonable royalties when their work is performed on AM/FM radio.
As you know, the United States is the only democratic country in the world where artists don't get paid for radio airplay. Furthermore, the short list of countries that currently share the United States' position on this issue includes Iran, North Korea, and Rwanda.
We're writing to you together--and doing so now--with the urgent hope of dispelling the mythology that people in radio and people whose work is played on the radio are on opposite "sides" of this issue. The truth is, each of our livelihoods depend on middle-class artists and music makers being able to make a fair living from their work.
We're writing to you to refute the factually inaccurate lobbying letters now circulating at radio stations like WJCU from the (so-called) Free Radio Alliance and the National Association of Broadcasters. Letters that aim to dissuade anyone in radio from supporting this much-needed reform. Letters that erroneously characterize this bill and assault common sense and reason.
The Fair Pay Fair Play Act rights an almost century-old wrong--one that now has our nation standing on the wrong side of history.
Music is one of the things America still makes that the world still wants. We believe the people who make that music should be paid fairly for their work.
Thank you for your courage in addressing these critical issues with such consideration as Chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary.
Together and in music,
Music Director, WJCU
Artist and Songwriter
New York City, NY
The "Free Radio Alliance" letter:
Dear College Broadcasters, Inc. Member Media Outlet,
Please take a moment to read this letter, because proposed legislation in Congress could cost your student media outlet financially. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help stop new fees from being imposed on college broadcasters.
Right now, there is a bill (H.R. 1733) moving through Congress that would impose a performance royalty for every song radio stations play. This legislation applies to all broadcasters, both commercial and noncommercial, and the fees are in addition to what stations already pay in streaming royalties to the SoundExchange and copyright dues to BMI, ASCAP and SESAC. Not only does this proposed law mean having to pay more in order to play music, H.R. 1733 has the potential to create significant new paperwork requirements for student media outlets.
If enacted, H.R. 1733, also known as the Fair Pay, Fair Play Act, would:
Add a new a performance royalty for sound recordings played on AM/FM radio on top of existing copyright and streaming royalty payments already in place
Put terrestrial, streaming and satellite radio all under a rate-setting standard that is most favorable to record labels and thus least favorable to radio stations and others who play record music
Set an initial royalty payment for college radio, public broadcasting stations, and other noncommercial broadcasters that will increase over time Establish a new public performance right for all recordings made before 1972 to significantly expand the number of songs subject to a performance fee
Supporters of the performance royalty recently told college radio stations that they will only have to pay $100 per year under H.R. 1733. However, H.R. 1733 contains language that is contradictory and open to interpretation, and the final royalty paid by student stations could be much higher. Equally important is the bill's complex and burdensome record-keeping requirements that may force college radio stations to keep track of which songs and artists are played and how often, and report the size of the audience each song is reaching. Such census reporting for audio streaming has already proven difficult for student stations and without a reporting waiver, many college stations will not be able to comply with these new regulations.
In short, this proposed bill adds financial, administrative, and programmatic burdens to stations without addressing any of the challenges college stations face with current royalty statutes. If H.R. 1733 were to become law as is, your station will face new fees, more paperwork, and potential programming limitations that are likely to be harmful to your educational and public service missions.
When a performance royalty was imposed on the satellite and streaming industries twenty years ago, Congress, as well as the record labels, made clear that the new performance fee would NOT apply to terrestrial radio broadcasts. We at the Free Radio Alliance believe that this commitment must still be honored. That is why the Free Radio Alliance is working to prevent a performance royalty fee from being imposed on noncommercial and commercial stations alike.
The good news is that over 206 members of Congress have co-sponsored H.Con.Res. 17, the Local Radio Freedom Act. This resolution opposes a performance royalty. We have made great progress because radio stations have been active on Capitol Hill. But the threat is not going away any time soon.
Currently, the House Judiciary Committee is actively preparing for copyright reform legislation, which could provide an opening for the record labels to continue to move forward on a performance fee. To help combat these efforts, we hope your station will consider joining the Free Radio Alliance. There is no fee required and our only mission is to oppose a performance royalty. If you are not a member of the Free Radio Alliance and would like to be, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us directly at [_______].
In addition, we urge your support of our social media campaign. The Free Radio Alliance recently launched Listeners Not Labels to engage radio listeners in our fight. More than 240 million Americans listen to radio each week and we need your help engaging them. Please help us by:
Clicking here to send a tweet from your station's Twitter account.
Clicking here to post a message on Facebook from your station's account.
Following our account on Twitter and liking us on Facebook.
Signing the petition asking federal lawmakers to oppose a performance tax and encouraging your radio and social media followings to do the same.
To learn more about this issue, please visit www.fradioalliance.org/the-issue/ or www.noperformancetax.org.
Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions you may have. Thank you for taking the taking the time to read this letter and consider joining the Free Radio Alliance!
Free Radio Alliance