Destroying Black Radio or Protecting Performer’s Rights? You Decide.

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festjournal2It’s funny how the things that you’re passionate about can be nonexistent one day, but the next consume your existence. Recently, I was introduced to an issue on performance artist’s rights. A bill entitled HR 848, sponsored by Rep. John Conyers passed through the Judiciary Committee last week to ensure that radio stations pay American artists performance royalties whenever their songs are played. Currently digital radio, television and film pay performer’s royalties to artists and the only countries that don’t include North Korea, China, Iran and the U.S. But all other foreign radio stations pay artist perfomer’s royalties. Seems fair right?  Well it is.

You’d be surprised how when the power structure rears it’s head to fight against fairness, how effective it can be at convincing people that the opposite is true. Cathy Hughes, owner of Radio One (which includes over 50 stations), Al Sharpton and Tom Joyner are using the radio as the pulpit to fight against paying artist performing royalties claiming that it will destroy black-owned and gospel radio stations. They are calling it a “tax” against black radio, when in actuality, it is a small annual royalty fee that all radio, regardless of race will be required to pay to compensate artists for their work that is being used by the stations to generate ad and sponsorship revenue that they make billions off of each year. There is no smaller business than an independent artist. Seeing as though most artists are not Mariah Carey, Kanye, or Jay-Z, these royalties will do great good in helping them provide for their families, pay for healthcare and other life necessities in order to continue to bring the world great music. Isn’t it a shame that although “Respect” by Aretha Franklin is played on the radio, only Otis Redding receives compensation because he is the writer and she receives nothing. It is true that currently, BMI & ASCAP provide the writer’s royalties every time their songs are played on the radio. The performers often die broke because they don’t receive anything. This is one of the reasons James Brown couldn’t rest in the last years of his life and ended up performing even through his illness just to pay his bills.

I recently traveled to Houston, TX and spoke with Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee another supporter of the bill whom I know personally would not do anything to hurt black businesses. Despite all of the positive work that she has done in the black community and for minority business owners such as Cathy Hughes, it baffles me how these same people roused emotions to the point where the Congresswoman received over 4,000 calls accusing her of “selling out.” I’m learning so much about how the politics of capitalism works. When you don’t want to be fair, you accuse the other person of unfairness.

True indeed, artists need radio to help promote their projects as well as open them up to new audiences but at the same time, radio would be nothing without music to play. As they do concerts where they charge the community for tickets, as well as collect ad and sponsorship revenue for their own private gain, so should the performing artist be compensated for their beautiful voices. For more information visit http://www.musicfirstcoalition.org and contact your local representatives and senators to tell them you support HR 848 The Performance Rights Act.

Filed in: Commentary • Tuesday, May 19th, 2009
 

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About

Che Smith is a revolutionary artist, writer, and activist. Popularly known as Rhymefest, the South Side Chicago native has been a trailblazer in music, television, and politics.