About three decades ago, Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider sparred with members of Congress during the Parents Music Resource Center hearings, held to address the labeling of sexually explicit and offense music. It was a sight to behold. Snider, with cut off sleeves and a mane of curly blonde hair nearly covering his face, “trying to get adults to see that heavy metal is not a totally bad thing,” as he told Senator John D. Rockefeller.
Although he couldn’t prevent the labeling of music, Snider’s appearance is the stuff of legend. Today, he returns to Washington D.C. for the first time since those hearings as an advocate for musicians on the annual Grammys on the Hill trip to Capitol Hill. Snider will walk the Capitol with Recording Academy president Neil Portnow, no doubt showing the same combination of intelligence, wit and quick delivery he displayed in 1985.
“I think the Grammys said, ‘Hey, why not bring this guy in?’ He did a lot of damage last time,’” he tells Billboard.
Snider won’t be alone. Grammys on the Hill is the Recording Academy’s annual two-day advocacy event in Washington. Among the nearly 400 people at last night’s (Apr. 13) awards show honoring the Zac Brown Band were a litany of musicians — Smokey Robinson, Wale, Eddie Money and Jon Secada, among others — and about 60 members of Congress, says Daryl Friedman, the Recording Academy’s Chief Advocacy & Industry Relations officer. “That’s certainly the largest congressional showing we’ve ever had, and much larger than you’ll see at most Washington events.”
With the music business in flux, the creative community has become increasingly involved in matters in Washington D.C. Not only are artists and songwriters concerned about the amounts and transparency of digital royalties, they are taking an interest in issues like online infringement to the lack of a performance right at broadcast radio.
“Thirty years ago, when I went to Washington to fight censorship, I thought that was the biggest problem I had to deal with,” says Snider. But by the early ‘90s, Snider discovered Twisted Sister owed its label so much money that the “millions and millions of albums” the band had sold did not guarantee financial security for his family. By 1992, Snider claims, he was “literally riding a bicycle to a desk job answering phones” and putting flyers on car windshields at night. “So it’s important to me to start seeing today’s artists and future artists getting paid for what they do.”
Snider says his focus is getting terrestrial radio to pay “some sort of royalty” for the performance of sound recordings. It’s the issue in the Fair Play, Fair Pay Act introduced in Congress last year. Radio broadcasters are predictably against the bill, often pointing to benefits to labels and artists such as the promotional value of airplay. Snider is dismissive. “Yeah. Yeah. They’ve been saying that for literally decades and it’s tired and the rest of the world recognizes the artist deserves to be paid when the music is played.”
But to Snider, any form of creativity is worth protecting. “There’s so much work to be done on the part of not just musicians and musical artists but creators in general,” he concludes. “And by creators I mean anybody. An inventor. A tech guy. Anybody’s who’s created, thought of, conjured, made something happen out of nothing, deserves to have their rights protected. It’s even tougher than winning the lottery these days to achieve something in these fields and to not get your just rewards is just an injustice.”