Songwriters get some love, Money not likely to follow

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.)Tennessee’s two U.S. senators and a third who has cashed some songwriting royalty checks said Monday that songwriters deserve a raise. But they’re not likely to get one any time soon.

Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) made the pitch for higher songwriting royalties during a news conference Monday at the famed Bluebird Café in Nashville. They plan to introduce legislation that would change the standard royalty of 9.1 cents per CD sale or digital download to a figure that represents “fair market value.”

“Songwriters are the lifeblood of Music City, and their paychecks ought to be based on the fair market value of their songs, so that when they write a hit heard around the world, you can see it in their billfolds,” Alexander said.

Added Hatch, “The music business is one of the toughest industries out there, and our songwriters and composers shouldn’t have to accept artificially low royalty rates for their works. Allowing them to receive the fair market value for their songs is the right thing to do.”

Their legislation directs the Copyright Royalty Board to set a new compensation rate to replace what they called the “below-market standard” of 9.1 cents. But the lawmakers didn’t say how the rate should be determined and the language of the bill is not yet available.

A similar measure was introduced in the House earlier this year. Both bills are expected to move slowly, if at all, over the next few years. The same goes for House legislation that would, for the first time, allow artists or their labels to be paid when songs they’ve recorded are played on terrestrial radio.

The legislation would not address the ongoing battle between digital music services and record labels, artists and songwriters. Those services, such as Pandora and Spotify, pay a fraction of a cent each time a song is streamed. So thousands of streams may net the writer less than it costs to buy a cup of coffee.

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About the Author

David Morris

David Morris, an award-winning songwriter and journalist, has written for Bluegrass Today since its inception. He joined its predecessor, The Bluegrass Blog, in 2010. His 40-year career in journalism included more than 13 years with The Associated Press, a stint as chief White House correspondent for Bloomberg News, and several top editing jobs in Washington, D.C. He is a life member of IBMA and the DC Bluegrass Union. He and co-writers won the bluegrass category in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at MerleFest in 2015.