Friday, June 13, 2008

Nancy Sinatra Walks Those Boots Down to Capitol Hill

Remember the days when aspiring musicians and record studio bigwigs begged and bribed radio disc jockeys to promote certain songs on the airwaves?

Everyone fantasized about befriending Wolfman Jack, DJ extraordinaire, immortalized in Harrison Ford's film debut, American Graffiti. DJs like the Wolfman used to sit high and mighty, not because their bosses paid such exorbitant salaries (traditionally they did not), but because of extravagant entertainment perks associated with their positions of power.

As with most good things, those days have outlived their useful lifespan. The music industry as a whole has become more techno savvy in the way it reaches the public, using the Internet for its music promotion. Once online music sampling became a firmly entrenched public listening habit, the resulting backlash against DJs and radio stations became inevitable. Just as eBooks have to some degree sidestepped the publishing industry, today's musicians and record labels can now sidestep the DJs.

This week on Capitol Hill looked more like a golden oldies concert than private citizens convening before lawmakers. Hendogg from The Sugarhill Gang and Frank Sinatra's little 69-year old girl Nancy testified before a House Judiciary Subcommittee in support of The Performance Rights Act, a bill currently pending before both the House and Senate. Its counterpart, The Local Radio Freedom Act has its share of supporters on the other side.

I'll try to boil down the gist of the bill so that even a Yahweh doomsday cultist could understand. Radio stations have always paid a fee to songwriters and composers for the privilege to play their songs while musicians and record labels received bupkus. The privilege of having their music played was somehow deemed enough.

But the times, they are a'changin'. The Performance Rights Act would do away with this lingering inequity, leveling the playing field between radio, Internet download sites, satellite music stations, and cable music channels. Under the bill's provisions, radio stations would pay a flat yearly fee to compensate performers and record studios for their intellectual property. Some believe such compensation is way overdue.

Don't think broadcasters simply turned over and played dead. On the flip side, they lamented radio industry struggles, claiming financial burdens of the record industry aren't their problem. They also claimed performers are conferred benefits of air time in exchange for music play, and that Congress shouldn't rely on foreign law to decide the outcome because those laws are not analogous.

Sure hope Nancy got her collagen enhanced lips out of the way when those broadcasters came out swinging. Has anyone else noticed it's no longer her boots that do the walk'n?

Anyway, I'm with the performance artists on this one. If radio stations don't want to pay, they have no right to play. So what if changes in the law sink their business models? Create a new format, for crying out loud. The free market will eventually decide where people go to discover new music. Actors wouldn't dream of playing a part without entitlement to residuals. Why should performance artists suffer from an outdated form of corporate welfare?

FYI, in the interests of full disclosure, I'm still carrying stock in Sirius Radio. Never once did its piss poor performance influence my opinion for a fair outcome in this matter.