Industry Leaders Stress Importance of Political Advocacy at A2IM's Indie Week Conference

With very powerful forces trying to undermine the value of music, and large radio companies trying to convince the Federal Communications Commission to relax ownership rules in markets across the land, now is the time for independent labels and distributors to stand up and be advocates for the music industry with both their local legislators and their national counterparts in Washington. That was the message delivered to A2IM members on the last day of the organization’s annual Indie Week conference, held in New York City this week.

“You are here at this panel because you know that A2IM is here to advocate and protect the indie sector,” Secretly Group co-owner Darius Van Arman told attendees, adding that it does so by educating policy makers, which hopefully will influence how legislation is written down the road.

But Concord COO Glen Barros admitted that participating in lobbying efforts in Washington can be intimidating, particularly when they start talking about the “section 35” of an existing law or proposed legislation, or start using acronyms. “All of that can be confusing, but underneath those layers, they can be talking about practical issues” that could have an impact on the industry, Barros said, underlying the importance of engaging in the process.

Later in the panel, Van Arman pointed out that being an expert is not needed to be an advocate for the industry. “Nothing is more effective than having a constituent, showing up at the office of their representative,” Van Arman said.

“You have to look at it through the lens that the government works for you,” added Future of Music Coalition director Kevin Erickson. “You can just show up and it’s their job to listen to you.”

SoundExchange vp global policy Julia Massimino, who was also moderating the panel, chimed in saying, “You are the experts” on the music industry, with most government staffers not knowing anything about copyright law. Usually, meetings with government officials begin by explaining the different between composition and master rights ownership, she added.

As advocates for the industry, Barros urged labels and distributors to be the industry’s ears and eyes in their local markets, saying it’s important to pay attention to state and local legislatures, too, not just those in Washington. He said the state of California had decided to write legislation that would make it harder for companies to hire contract workers without the normal employee benefits with a bill known as AB5, which has been described as aimed at companies like Uber and Lyft.

“We thought it was a good law with unintended consequences that could hurt the music industry,” Barros continued. “Since record labels work with artists and sometimes hire musicians to record albums, as well as hire engineers... the way it was drafted -- they used a broad brush -- it would have impacted indies more than majors. Also, it might have impacted labels not in California if their artists lived in that state. So we got involved and asked them to consider the music industry” when drafting the bill. Barros said the music industry was looking for exceptions on the bill, which is still pending.

Another thing the industry is following closely is the FCC’s review, every four years, of the rules regarding radio ownership concentration, or how many stations per market a single owner is allowed to operate, Massimino said. Radio is such a powerful force in lobbying, it’s helpful that the music industry has sometimes worked with other industries in helping to shape legislation, Erickson pointed out. Future of Music had helped others in related legislation, and as an example, Erickson offered the low-power FM radio stations and what would become the Local Community Radio Act about 10 years ago.

With the bigger players in the radio industry wanting to allow for more concentration of ownership in each market and claiming that change won’t impact programming, the music industry is reaching out to others. “We are gathering all the voices from different places, like the Hispanic community is talking about all the hate speech in talk radio, and we are getting all these disparate voices together to build collective strength and have collective momentum to oppose the changes” being proposed by the big radio players, Erickson said.

One thing the industry and A2IM members have to be on guard against, said Barros, is that in all markets buyers want to lower their costs. “There are very powerful forces out there that would like to drive down the value of music and that’s why we engage in the Copyright Royalty Board proceedings and other places where the indie voice needs to be heard,” he said.

“One issue that should be on the table is healthcare,” Erickson said as a final thought. “As independent labels who want to take care of your artists and musicians, you should be [advocating] for Medicare For All to be passed.”