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Monday, June 8, 2009

The Performance Rights Act Part One.

I can't say that the current state of terrestrial commercial radio leaves me with any level of enthusiasm. I often hear: "Girl I miss hearing your music? We miss good music. I stopped listening to radio", and so on. Of course there are countless artists who have been forced off the mainstream radar. It's a steep mountain.

It's not that the music variety is gone or that certain artists (especially those of us over 30 or 40's even) aren't making good music. We're here, it's radio which has abandoned us - quality music, balance and diversity in programming.

We've all seen the decline year by year. Hip-Hop and gangsta rap dominated and while delighting millions, also alienated millions - never to return. These days, it's common to hear the complaints of the 'adult' listener, who have been abandoned by the system. Apparently, they think the 'adult' listener should be relegated to either oldies or 'smooth' jazz. We can't handle anything progressive, diverse or appreciate quality lyrics judging by what's in heavy rotation.

Business reports constantly signal sagging ratings. People are continuing to tune out. We have options and iPods. We have the internet, online streaming, satellite radio, and so on. You can go directly to artist websites and social networks to hear music now.

With the deregulation of radio in the late 80's courtesy of the Reagan Administration, the downturn has been slow and steady. Privately owned stations were bought by corporations, who could now own unlimited stations and control the content. The Clear Channel Era was born. Local flavor began to disappear, as fast as the Mom and Pop family stations were bought out. In recent years syndicated radio has continued the dilution of local flavor. Advertising became the name of the game - generating millions of dollars. Pay For Play, legal payola, shrinking playlists, etc. Remember this when you ask an artist why their music is no longer on the radio, it's not up to us. If you are an independent the window shrinks a bit more.
Conglomorates like Clear Channel also own billboard, concert venues, etc. What we now have are a monopoly of radio, TV and "news" run by a few giant entities.

I can remember how special it was to travel from coast to coast, north and south - and hear something new and unique to the region. There was a time when there were truly black owned stations. Systems were manual, not automated. Disc jockeys could play what they wanted, even if that meant album cuts, double plays or as was the case when I first heard Stevie Wonders 'Songs In The Key of Life' - the entire album. I can remember being transfixed by the music I heard and couldn't wait to run and buy it.
The days when music represented value, and the though of trying to get something so special for 'free' didn't exist. I can remember when news was news and not gossip or entertainment being promoted as such.

Syndicated radio continues to put people out of work in local cities, just flip a nationwide switch and then voila - radio for the masses. There was a time when artists, if if they weren't in rotation on any given station, at least had a shot to go in to your local privately owned radio station to get some interview airtime to promote your music, concert, or charity event. Now they want to know how many ad dollars will you be generating to the station.
Local disc jockeys don't stand a chance. This syndicated practice would seem less healthy for the future growth of radio, but that's another subject.

Currently, the controversial Performance Rights Act is making it's rounds through Congress. The timing couldn't be worse for terrestrial radio and artists to a degree. Businesses are grasping at straws, and fighting the changing times. Old rules just can't apply now. Major corporations are closing down, filing for bankruptcy or tring to restructure franticly - because they waited too long to adapt to shifting paradigms.

This bill isn't about putting stations out of business, it's not a black issue, it's not a greed issue. The bill impacts all artists from popular, R&B, jazz artists, classical and so on. In Europe they have been paying artists for years through sources like PRS (Perfoming Rights Society).

Radio = advertising revenue. On air personalities promoting themselves and their events, books, causes, websites, replace music more and more it seems. As it is radio is becoming less a vehicle for promotion for the vast majority of artists using the old model.

New media has caused a call to action for revision and further compensation for those who work in the film industry, which has seen a similar fight. We aren't talking about the mega superstars here - we are talking the majority of people who are simply working in the arts to make a living, because it is their passion.

Some say if this bill is passed it will be the end of terrestrial/commercial radio as we know it. Is that good or bad? It hasn't been the radio I know in over a decade. Has it to you?

From my point of view fear based tactics always seem extreme. When a similar bill passed for web radio, it was said that it would force small online broadcasters off the air - it didn't happen. Some are saying that if this bill passes there will be more talk radio, less music because radio will just choose to stop playing music because of the cost. It even costs to get a pillow on an airline now - times change.

What is clear is that as the music and radio industry plods along, everyone will have to make new adjustments and settle for smaller pieces of a once rather large pie.


Anita C. McCants said...

Great Post Jody!
My son was telling me
about this as well.

I can barely take the
nonsense that's playing
on the radio. When I do
turn it on for music,
I'm constantly changing
the stations after just
about every song.

SerenityLife said...

Your views are highly appreciated. I am one of those who doesn't listen to AM/FM radio but I have and love radio which is based out of the UK. I have discovered so many musicians and been reconnected to music that I have adored over the years. It's been my savior.

I do pay for the service although it is optional to pay in the US. It is not the same outside of the USA where I believe you do have to pay a small fee ($3 US dollars a month for the service).

As an *adult* listener (I'm 35), I am open to listening to all kinds of music and not necessarily the smooth jazz that is always pushed to my age bracket. I've always adored classical music but punk, funk, rock and even anime music.

I even love using the *mash up* between and which is

You can tailor your own radio stations there.

I usually find out about new musicians from the young people who befriend me on who share a wealth of information with me.

I know there is great music out there. It's a matter of being innovative like you have been in distributing your music.

Fortunately you have had your name in the industry for a long time which commands respect. I know I respect your decisions and all you have done and continue to do in the industry.

Thank you.

(2Serenity from twitter here)