When it comes to looking out for its interests in Washington, D.C., the music business has been famously fractious — less like an empire than a loosely linked group of city-states, with record labels, music publishers and creators lobbying with, and then sometimes against, one another.
During the past decade, however, partly to counter the rising influence of Silicon Valley, the industry’s varied sectors have come together, along with The Recording Academy, which has helped mobilize its members: performers, songwriters, producers, engineers and others. Leading that charge is Daryl Friedman, the academy’s chief industry, government and member relations officer. In much simpler terms, he is music creators’ Man in Washington.
“We’re stronger on grass-roots [mobilization of our members],” says Friedman, talking over lunch in a private room at restaurant and concert venue The Hamilton. “And,” he adds, “we also have this little platform called the Grammys.”
On April 18, The Hamilton will be packed with legislators, lobbyists and creators for the Grammys on the Hill Awards, an evening celebrating 20 years of advocacy in Washington by The Recording Academy. The event will honor Little Big Town — Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Schlapman, Phillip Sweet and Jimi Westbrook — for their support of academy causes including music education and MusiCares, which helps musicians in need. The awards also will recognize Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., founder/co-chairman of the Congressional Creative Rights Caucus; and Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., the driving force behind the Music Modernization Act and vice chairman of the Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on courts, intellectual property and the internet. The evening often ends with members of Congress onstage, singing along with musicians.
The next day, the academy will bring its members together with senators and representatives. These personal meetings are the music industry’s best chance to convey to lawmakers the need for copyright legislation that will update music licensing and benefit creators.
This year is particularly important. Broad support has been building in the music industry for three pieces of legislation — the Music Modernization Act, the AMP (Allocation for Music Producers) Act and the CLASSICS (Compensating Legacy Artists for Their Songs, Service and Important Contributions to Society) Act — which each affect creators and how they’re paid. (A fourth bill, the Fair Pay Fair Play Act, which would have required terrestrial broadcasters to pay performance royalties to artists and labels, has not advanced as far in the legislative process.)
The week before Grammys on the Hill, the House Judiciary Committee chairman, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., introduced a single newly drafted piece of legislation combining elements of those three bills, the culmination of over five years of work.
If the new bill passes, it would be the most significant music legislation in decades. It would create a new organization to collect and distribute mechanical royalties, change how much some digital services pay to use recordings, require them to pay for those made before 1972 and codify the process by which SoundExchange pays producers and engineers directly.
“Since first proposed four years ago at Grammys on the Hill, it has been a goal of the academy and its members to pass a music omnibus, or ‘music bus,’ bill that helps our songwriter, performer, producer and engineer members,” says Recording Academy president/CEO Neil Portnow in a statement. With the introduction of the new bill, the statement continues, “this dream of bringing fairness to all creators is now close to reality.”
The legislation has the support of most of the music business, as well as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. But the stakes are high: Goodlatte isn’t running for re-election, so any bill not passed by this fall would lose important momentum.
While other industry organizations may have more lobbying muscle than The Recording Academy, Friedman plays a vital role in building support for these bills, which are intended to update copyright law for the streaming era. Even in an increasingly divided Washington, “our issues are bipartisan,” he says. “Politicians look for ways they can unite, and these issues do bring people together.” Upstairs from others enjoying their power lunches at The Hamilton, Friedman reflected on the academy’s history of advocacy in Washington.
How did your role come about?
Twenty years ago, I had an interview to run the local [Recording Academy] chapter here. And they said, “Hey, while you’re here, keep an eye on that white building with the dome down the street.” During the debate over [whether albums recorded under label contracts are considered] work for hire, it became clear that creators didn’t have their own representatives in Washington. Then, in 2002, when Neil Portnow became president of The Recording Academy, he saw that advocacy should be its own thing.
How did Grammys on the Hill begin?
It started as a dinner for 100 people in 2001, and our first honorees were Missy Elliott, [Sen.] Orrin Hatch [R-Utah] and [then-Rep.] John Conyers [D-Mich.]. Hatch loved meeting Missy Elliott because he’s also a songwriter. And we found that the combination of creators and politicians was a natural thing. They both want to change the world. In 2005, we added a lobbying day.
How do you top Missy Elliott meeting Orrin Hatch?
Quincy Jones and Sen. Ted Kennedy were at the same event, which closed with the artists singing “We Are the World.” One of our traditions is calling members of Congress up onstage, and Sen. Kennedy sang “We aaahhh the world” like a Kennedy impersonation.
How did that lead, in 2015, to Grammys in My District, where creators talk to legislators outside Washington?
There’s nothing like an artist knocking on your door. Members of Congress who didn’t think they had musicians in their district realized that they do.
Why is so much important legislation being introduced now?
The fact that Bob Goodlatte decided [in 2013] to deal with copyright was a clarion call to the industry. He gave himself six years to do it; we’re in the sixth year, and sometimes it takes that kind of deadline.
The new bill would create an organization to collect and distribute revenue for mechanical rights. But it would keep songwriters from filing new lawsuits against streaming services for statutory damages for copyright infringement.
In this town, you have trade-offs. The benefits have to be better than the costs, and the bill has to be better than the status quo. What I tell songwriters is, “I don’t want you to have to sue — I want you to get paid without suing.”
How do you address fears that publishers would have more influence over this new organization than songwriters?
Every issue that has been raised about this was raised about SoundExchange [which collects digital performance royalties]. People said the labels will control it [and] take all the money; if you substitute “label” for “publisher,” it was the same argument. But SoundExchange turned out to be fantastic. Here, too, there will be a lot of eyes on the agency, and the creator community will insist on fairness.
The new bill also would affect how digital services pay to use sound recordings: It would establish a “willing buyer/willing seller” standard, plus make all digital services pay to use pre-1972 sound recordings.
It would create one standard across the board. Some of the companies that pay below market rates [set under the Copyright Act] are now established and should pay a fair market value. The other part is also important to us; we have a lot of pre-’72 artists in our ranks.
Will combining all of these things into one bill make it easier to pass?
In 2014, Grammys on the Hill honored [Reps.] Nancy Pelosi [D-Calif.] and Kevin McCarthy [R-Calif.]. Neil [Portnow] made a speech about how we needed a music omnibus bill. Afterward, they both said, “Please do it.” The industry has coalesced around this idea. I think it will pass the House pretty quickly, and then the Senate will take more time.
Some are upset that this new bill doesn’t address the lack of payment to musicians and labels from terrestrial radio stations for their use of sound recordings.
The best bill is the one that will pass. As far as radio, there are discussions between the music business and the [National Association of Broadcasters], and once there’s a deal, it could be put into legislation. [Editor’s note: There has been speculation that a future deal could involve giving radio stations a different rate structure for online royalties in exchange for payment for terrestrial broadcasts.] The future of radio is digital, and if stations want to embrace that, they need to partner with us.
It’s interesting that a complicated piece of music legislation could end up being passed under an administration that doesn’t seem to care that much about music.
I’ll tell you another Orrin Hatch story to give you an idea of how music is -perceived in Washington. In 2001, when Eminem was on the Grammys — he did “Stan” with Elton John — Orrin Hatch bought a ticket and went to the show. I was sitting near him during the performance, and I remember [Hatch] watching [Eminem] closely to try to follow the words. A few weeks later, I asked him what he thought of the show and he said, “I wasn’t sure what to expect from Eminem, but I saw genius there.” I’ll never forget that. It wasn’t the music that he likes, or even approves of, but he recognized the art in it.