Grammys on the Hill: The 4 Policy Priorities Being Pushed at This Year’s Advocacy Event
Radio royalties, streaming payouts, cultural exchange and tax deductions for recording costs are all being stressed at this year's D.C. gathering.
I’ve heard it described as the most interesting mix of music and politics,” says Todd Dupler — the Recording Academy’s acting chief of advocacy and public policy officer — of the academy’s annual Grammys on the Hill event, which brings musicians together with legislators at a Washington, D.C., dinner, followed by a day of meetings on Capitol Hill. This year, on April 27, the dinner will honor Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, along with Reps. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., and Michael McCaul, R-Texas.
“We can connect artists with lawmakers who make decisions that affect their livelihood,” Dupler says. The night includes performances — usually by the creators being honored and others — plus members of Congress getting onstage to join the musical guests. “The members feel relaxed,” Dupler says, “and a lot of the walls come down.” Where else can former Utah senator Orrin Hatch talk with Missy Elliott (as they did at the first event, in 2001)?
This will be the 20th Grammys on the Hill — as well as the third attempt at doing one — after the 2020 and 2021 events were canceled due to the pandemic. And although the traditional 20th-anniversary gift is china, “I don’t know if I need a set of dishes,” Dupler says. Instead, the academy plans to focus on four policy priorities.
Radio Royalties For Recorded Music
The American Music Fairness Act (H.R. 4130), introduced in June by Reps. Deutch and Darrell Issa, R-Calif., would require terrestrial radio stations to pay royalties to labels and performers for their use of recordings — as they do in almost every other country in the world. “Radio is still the only industry in America that can use someone else’s intellectual property without permission or compensation,” Dupler says. Changing this has been a goal of labels and performers for decades — Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley favored it — but broadcasters have always blocked the move. (The Local Radio Freedom Act, introduced last year, would stop this with legislation.)
“I think in this Congress we have a great opportunity to advance the bill,” Dupler says. The House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., who is interested in music industry issues, held a hearing on the legislation in February, and Dupler says “we’ve seen more artists get engaged and more traction on the Hill than in previous years.” Importantly, the act would allow American companies and performers to collect foreign radio royalties that aren’t currently remitted to the United States because of its policy.
A Studio Tax Deduction
The Helping Independent Tracks Succeed (HITS) Act (H.R. 1945/S. 752), which would change a tax deduction for artists, “basically came out of COVID-19 recovery,” Dupler says. It would allow artists to deduct recording costs during the year they’re incurred, up to $150,000, as opposed to amortizing them over time. “The aim is simple: We want to get independent artists back in the studio,” Dupler says.
Although the bill would apply more broadly, it’s aimed at indie artists who finance their own recordings. It was included in the House and some Senate versions of the Build Back Better Act, which isn’t currently moving, “but we’re looking to move it,” Dupler says. “We view it as part of pandemic recovery.”
Cultural Exchange To Increase The Peace
The Promoting Peace, Education and Cultural Exchange (PEACE) Through Music Diplomacy Act (H.R. 6498) “was recently introduced by Congressman McCaul and Congressman Deutch, who happen to be our honorees, to make music a more important part of diplomatic efforts,” Dupler says. (“We’re a creative industry, so we try to come up with creative names,” he says about the name of the legislation. “It makes these bills memorable.”)
The PEACE Act directs the U.S. Department of State to work with stakeholders to create the international music exchange programs run by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. It should be much easier to get through Congress than the kind of copyright policy legislation that often faces opposition from radio or technology companies.
Higher On-Demand Streaming Royalty Rates
The Recording Academy also wants to make its songwriter members’ feelings known about the upcoming Copyright Royalty Board proceedings to determine mechanical royalty rates for on-demand streaming services. Unlike the other issues, this doesn’t involve legislation — at least for now — since the CRB is a three-judge panel. (The upcoming proceeding will set the National Music Publishers’ Association on one side against Spotify, Amazon, Apple, Pandora and Google on the other.)
“I think members of Congress are more interested in this following the passage of the Music Modernization Act, which changed how these royalties get paid but not how they’re set,” Dupler says. “And songwriters feel a lot of frustration about what they’re getting paid.”
A version of this story originally appeared in the April 23, 2022, issue of Billboard.