The Recording Academy's 'Man In Washington' Talks Grammys On The Hill & What's Next In D.C.

ISSUE 9 2019 - DO NOT REUSE
Tasos Katopodis/WireImage
Recording Academy members at the annual Grammys on the Hill Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., in 2018.

In 2001, the Recording Academy organized the inaugural Grammys on the Hill Awards in Washington, D.C., a modest event for about 70 policymakers and music creators. On April 9, this year’s dinner -- held the night before the Grammys on the Hill lobbying day, which brings songwriters and performers to congressional offices -- was expected to draw about 300 guests, including members of Congress from both parties. (Billboard went to press before the gathering occurred.) It’s one of the few events where the politicians who debate policies that shape the music business can meet creators affected by their decisions.

Honorees announced March 26 were Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth and gospel singer Yolanda Adams, the respective recipients of the Philanthropist and Creators Leadership awards (both were slated to perform that night); Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., who championed the Music Modernization Act; and Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who moved the bill forward in the Senate. “It’s a celebration, and the next day we get down to business,” says Daryl Friedman, The Recording Academy’s chief industry, government and member relations officer. “We have 100 people in 25 groups on Capitol Hill making the case for creators’ rights.”

This year’s event holds particular weight since it comes six months after the passage of the Music Modernization Act. The landmark legislation, which became law in October 2018, will change the way mechanical royalties are collected and will require digital services to pay to use pre-1972 sound recordings, among other points.

At a time of unprecedented discord in Washington, the annual event once again demonstrated music’s power to inspire and unify: Politicians traditionally put aside their differences to close out the evening with a singalong. “It’s inspiring to see an artist like Little Big Town” -- in 2018 -- “bring onstage 60 members of Congress from both parties who spent all week fighting with one another,” says Friedman, who shared his thoughts on what’s ahead in Washington. “What they all have in common is that they all clap on one and three.”

There’s a new Congress that includes some very progressive Democrats. Where are they on music business issues?

We’ve yet to see some of them, but we have new members who grew up with the internet, and that’s new. We always try to identify some freshmen members who might be champions for music. Many years ago we identified Rep. Steny Hoyer [D-Md.] and Rep. Kevin McCarthy [R-Calif.] as members of Congress who love music. They ended up chairing our [Recording Arts and Sciences] caucus, and now they’re the majority and minority leaders of the House. This year, we met with a new member of Congress, Rep. Antonio Delgado [D-N.Y.]. He’s very interesting -- worked at a major law firm, started a record label, released his own rap album. We want to make sure people like him know about music issues so they can protect the next generation of creators.

Any sense of where Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez might stand on music issues?

She’s one of the freshmen who’s very familiar with technology, and she’s also very interested in corporations that are becoming too powerful. So when the time comes to look at how Google and other technology companies are exploiting music, we can talk to her.

The Music Modernization Act passed last fall, but the provisions on producers’ royalties and mechanical licensing need to be implemented. How’s that going?

The AMP [Allocation for Music Producers] Act [folded into the MMA] codifies what SoundExchange was doing [with directing royalties to producers that had points on albums], so that’s really about education and testing the new provision. With mechanical licensing, two entities are vying to form the mechanical licensing collective, and now it’s up to the Copyright Office to evaluate their submissions and select one.

The whole industry came together to push the Music Modernization Act, and artists and songwriters really spoke up. How has that changed things for you in D.C.?

When we started this, artists never saw themselves as a cause to fight for. That has been ramping up for more than a decade, and there was an explosion last year. Now, every time I talk to a songwriter or artist or producer, they ask, “What can we do?” because they know their power.

So what’s next?

There are still unresolved issues. The Music Modernization Act didn’t address performance rights on terrestrial radio [so recording rights holders would be paid for radio play]. We’ve been having a lot of conversations with broadcasters over the years, and we thought there was a chance, but it didn’t happen in time. And there’s the consent decrees [between the Department of Justice and ASCAP and BMI, over competition issues].

Why is the issue of terrestrial radio coming to a head again now?

A few reasons. One is that every other platform, and every other developed country, is paying -- so you have a spotlight on this one platform in the U.S. Another is that Rep. Jerry Nadler [D-N.Y.], the author of this bill [the Fair Play Fair Pay Act, introduced in previous sessions of Congress, which would require radio to pay to use recordings], now has the gavel on the House Judiciary Committee, where he could move it forward. Obviously, that’s hardly the Judiciary Committee’s sole concern at the moment. But his counterpart on the Republican side, Ranking Member Doug Collins [R-Ga.], has also been very strong on creators’ rights.

Where does the National Association of Broadcasters stand on this issue?

The NAB sees a need to resolve this. This was once seen as the music industry versus broadcasters -- the NAB would say to members, “This is going to cost you money, and we should fight it.” But now, small and medium broadcasters know they need to get online [which the current online-radio royalty structure arguably makes challenging], and we’re open to finding a deal that makes sense for them in exchange for establishing a terrestrial royalty, which would also be done in a way that makes sense for them. And I think many of them see that there could be a resolution that would benefit them. So today it’s more about the music industry and small and medium broadcasters on one side; on the other side, the large broadcasters already have online platforms and may not see an incentive to cut a deal. I was in the negotiations last year, and I saw a bunch of small and medium players very interested in exploring how we get to a deal, and a couple of big ones that weren’t interested.

What about the consent decrees that constrict ASCAP and BMI?

There are two venues where this is being talked about. The main one is the Department of Justice Antitrust Division. ASCAP and BMI have been very strategic in discussing the issues there. Congress is also interested in the subject, though. And anyone who works in politics knows that the most important law can be the law of unintended consequences -- and we don’t want to make matters worse.

What do you mean?

We have Makan Delrahim [assistant attorney general for the Antitrust Division], who seems to understand the shackles that the consent decrees put on songwriters and wants to look at them. Generally, I’m optimistic. But if that happens, it’s possible -- and I’m not sure this has even been contemplated -- that Congress could take action that would move us further away from a free market.

The Recording Academy will soon have a new leader. How did current president Neil Portnow establish the D.C. operation?

When Neil started [in 2002], I was doing advocacy part time. In our first conversation, he said, “Why isn’t this its own department?” Within months he asked me to establish one. We did some market research, and one of the questions was, “If the Academy could only do one thing, what should it be?” The No. 1 reply was “advocacy.” That’s an important part of his legacy.

This article originally appeared in the April 13 issue of Billboard.