Booker T. Jones, Sue Ennis Join Recording Academy's Advocacy Committee: Exclusive Q&A

Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for NARAS
Booker T. Jones attends The 59th Grammy Awards at Staples Center on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.

As the push continues to ensure that all music creators are compensated fairly for their work, the Recording Academy announces today (Sept. 14) that it is adding two new members to its National Advocacy Committee: songwriter Sue Ennis (Heart) and R&B/soul legend and Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Booker T. Jones.

Ennis and Jones join the committee’s existing membership which includes producer Rodney Jerkins, singer/songwriter Kem, engineer/producer Ann Mincieli, songwriter/producer/engineer John Poppo and singer/songwriter/producer/musician Nile Rodgers. Ennis will co-chair the committee with Jerkins.

“These very accomplished and successful music creators aren’t doing this for themselves,” says Daryl P. Friedman, chief industry, government & member relations officer for the Recording Academy. “They want to make sure that the next generation has the same opportunities they have had to make a living -- and to also be fairly compensated as music creators.”

With that in mind, the Academy is preparing for its fourth annual District Advocate Day on Oct. 18. That’s when between 1,000-2,000 music creators will knock on their local congressmen’s doors in their hometowns during the congressional recess to discuss significant legislative matters concerning music creators. To help galvanize support in advance, committee members have been participating in a series of Academy town halls around the country. Discussions involving performance rights, copyright review and other topics are taking place in Los Angeles and Dallas today (Sept. 14) and Nashville on Sept. 25. Similar forums were held earlier this week in San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Seattle.

Friedman notes that the Academy’s district advocate program has grown from 100 participants in its first year to 2,000 last year. “That says it all,” Friedman tells Billboard during a phone interview with him and newly minted committee member Jones. “We’re seeing unprecedented involvement and awareness of the issues.”

Billboard: Booker T., what prompted you to join the Academy’s National Advocacy Committee?

Jones: I’m on both sides of the coin as a songwriter and as a musician and producer. We have a gargantuan task of informing and re-informing lawmakers about the inequities that exist in compensation for the creative arts, especially music. Authors Will and Ariel Durant wrote about the five necessities for a society to be happy and one is the cultural aspect. You can have food, water and other necessities, but if you don’t have culture, society is going to fall ill. The U.S. needs to be the leader in this area instead of falling behind.

What’s on the committee’s agenda over the next two years?

Friedman: As Booker mentioned, he’s a producer, songwriter and artist and literally all three of those categories in our membership are in need of just basic fairness. For the artist, it’s fighting for the Fair Play Fair Pay Act. Think about all the songs Booker has had on the radio, all the songs that Sue has written for Heart on the radio: Artists have never been paid a penny for over-the-air radio. For songwriters, the inequity of their compensation is really dealt with by these DOJ [Department of Justice] consent decrees that suppress the rates for songwriters. And producers have never been mentioned in law with any protection. So the AMP Act [Allocation for Music Producers Act] is something that we’ve worked with Congress on to introduce and hopefully have passed to get producers better payment on royalties.

How is the Trump administration affecting these efforts and what are the challenges moving forward?

Jones: That’s why I said it’s a gargantuan task. Because it doesn’t matter what administration comes into each state or federal government. It’s an ongoing re-education process as so many people are just completely unaware of how important music is to this society and how the people who make the music happen are not being paid. And once they find out what the situation is, then they become amenable to working with us.

Friedman: Obviously, the administration has had other priorities in these first few months but we are hopeful in trying to address the administration in the sense that they’ve said they’re supporting small business. And music creators are the smallest of small businesses. There’s also been a statement made [by the administration] about reducing regulation. The music industry is one of the most regulated industries in the country between consent decrees, compulsory licenses and so many things that prevent creators from getting the full value of their work. We’d love to see the administration engaged on some of these issues when they have the time to do that.

What other issues need to be addressed?

Jones: Our country is losing out on millions of dollars because we don’t have a reciprocal performance right on radio with other nations in the world. When you look back at the number of years that the world has enjoyed our music and you start doing the math... It’s a big deal.

Friedman: We’re the only developed country in the world that doesn’t have a radio royalty. And we’re in the company of North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, China and Iran. In terms of dollars, we estimate that more than $200 million is being left overseas every year since the U.S. doesn’t have a reciprocal performance right on radio. We really are lagging behind in this area.

How close are we to seeing passage of the Fair Play Fair Pay Act?

Friedman: We’re definitely closer than we’ve ever been, with more co-sponsors for the bill than we had in the last Congress. Of course, after District Advocate Day on Oct. 18, that will grow even further. The other factor that informs that question involves Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), chairman of the judiciary committee that oversees copyright. He is terming out at the end of this Congress as chairman of that committee. And he’s said from the beginning that he wants to do something on music licensing and copyright. So we hope that that’s sort of a deadline for him to really move this legislation and get something done by the end of his term.