Blue Wave or Not, the Midterms Are Good for Music

Voters cast their ballots during the midterm election at the High School Art and Design polling station in Manhattan, New York, United States on Nov. 6, 2018.
Atilgan Ozdil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Voters cast their ballots during the midterm election at the High School Art and Design polling station in Manhattan, New York, United States on Nov. 6, 2018. 

The Democrats now control the House of Representatives, the GOP retains control of the Senate, and nearly everyone in the U.S. is upset about politics. But the outlook for the music business in Washington hasn't changed much.

Several lobbyists and executives said they could benefit from having two longtime allies in more important jobs: Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) will become chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which oversees copyright (he was previously the ranking member when the Republicans had a majority), and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn,) will take over one of the state's Senate seats. Rep. Nadler introduced the CLASSICS (Compensating Legacy Artists for their Songs, Service, and Important Contributions to Society) Act, which became the provision of the Music Modernization Act that created a digital public performance right for recordings made before 1972. Senator-elect Blackburn was one of the original sponsors of the Music Modernization Act.

Neither of these changes amounts to a revolution. Rep. Nadler was previously the Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee, and if the Republicans had retained control of the House, the Judiciary Committee chairman was expected to be Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), a strong ally of publishers and songwriters who introduced the Music Modernization Act. Senator-elect Blackburn was already a congresswoman. The music business also lost two allies with the retirement of Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), although no major supporters of the Music Modernization Act we're defeated on Tuesday.

Senator-elect Blackburn was famously criticized a month ago by Taylor Swift, who endorsed her opponent, Phil Bredesen. This morning, Rep. Blackburn appeared on Fox & Friends, where she said, "I hope Taylor will shake it off." (She also mentioned the support of singer Lee Greenwood.)

Both Rep. Nadler and Senator-elect Blackburn are among the strongest supporters of the music business in Washington. In a statement on the election, RIAA president Mitch Glazier singled out Rep. Blackburn for praise, calling her "a strong ally for music creators throughout her years in Congress." Rep. Nadler will now have the power to put copyright reform on the agenda, although he may have more urgent matters on his agenda: He would lead any possible impeachment process against President Donald Trump. Rep. Nadler and Senator-elect Blackburn probably don't agree on much -- Rep. Nadler is fairly liberal and Senator Blackburn is among the more conservative members of Congress -- but in 2015 they together introduced the Fair Play Fair Pay Act, which would have required terrestrial radio stations to pay artists and labels for their use of recordings.

That unlikely alliance says a lot about the state of the music business in Washington. Although the business has been associated with liberal politics, partly because so many artists and executives lean Democrat, it has always found supporters in both parties. In fact, copyright is one of the few remaining bipartisan issues.

Under President Barack Obama, many Democrats aligned themselves with Silicon Valley companies, which tend to favor lower levels of copyright protection. That's changed, however, as more progressive Democrats have started to question their power. In San Francisco, the ballot initiative Proposition C, which calls for a tax on large companies to benefit the homeless, passed 60 percent to 40 percent. Although the provision has nothing to do with music, it shows that technology companies can be beaten -- even on their home turf.