After months of partisan bickering over a follow-up to the CARES Act, U.S. lawmakers reached a deal on a $900 billion pandemic relief package (included as part of a $2.3 trillion catchall spending bill) on Dec. 22. Following a brief delay and threat of a veto by President Donald Trump, the bill was finally signed into law on Dec. 27, providing relief for millions of struggling Americans and, for the music industry, $15 billion in aid for music venues and other cultural institutions via the Save Our Stages Act.
Also embedded in the bill was the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act, which creates a small-claims tribunal at the U.S. Copyright Office to make it easier and less expensive to lodge copyright disputes; and the Protect Lawful Streaming Act, which makes illegal streaming for commercial gain a felony.
These legislative wins, as well as an extension of unemployment relief for freelancers, came in large part due to intense lobbying by a coalition of music organizations including The Recording Academy, the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the American Association of Independent Music (A2IM) and the National Independent Talent Organization (NITO), as well as music companies and other allies who fought for months to ensure additional aid for the industry and its millions of workers.
Below, we consider four strategic pillars employed by industry advocates to get these important bills included in the final package, based on conversations with The Recording Academy’s chief industry, government and member relations officer Daryl Friedman, Maroon 5 keyboardist and Recording Academy trustee PJ Morton and Copyright Alliance president and CEO Keith Kupferschmid.
Though the long delay in the relief bill’s passage was a result of partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill, Friedman points out that issues involving music and the arts tend to be less contentious, allowing them to slide in somewhat under the radar. A bigger issue he and the Recording Academy’s team of in-house lobbyists and consultants faced was the inability to meet with lawmakers in-person.
“[It’s] really kind of an unusual way to lobby,” says Friedman, “because we’re used to being in people’s offices and going to receptions with the members of Congress and holding fundraisers and doing all sorts of things that couldn’t be done in a pandemic.”
Still, Friedman adds, there are distinct advantages to virtual lobbying, which he calls a more “efficient” process despite the lack of in-person connection.
One of the tentpole efforts on the grassroots front was the Recording Academy’s first-ever virtual District Advocacy Day, which saw 2,000 Academy members participate in hundreds of Zoom meetings with members of Congress or Congressional staff. Among them was Morton, who met one-on-one with Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) via Zoom.
Morton tells Billboard he previously met with Scalise during an in-person meeting at a Grammys on the Hill advocacy day, during which Scalise brought out his washboard and jammed with Morton and other musicians in attendance. Morton says he used the Congressman’s clear love of music as fuel to argue his case.
“To hear personally from someone that, hey man, this thing you love so much is really suffering, and the people that make it that you love are suffering, and if we don’t get some help you may not have access to that stuff that you love so much…it’s hard to just overlook that,” says Morton.
“Much to the chagrin of our in-house lobbyists, I always say our best lobbyists are our members, because they really can tell the story in a compelling way,” Friedman adds.
Even on Capitol Hill, the allure of celebrity can be a useful tool in persuasion. “[Celebrities] can get attention in a way that sometimes even we can’t,” says Friedman. Luckily, the Recording Academy’s trustees include artists such as John Legend and Yolanda Adams, both of whom lent a hand in the lobbying effort. Also doing her part was Cyndi Lauper, who personally called “a very important member of Congress that we needed to get to,” says Friedman.
Having touring schedules wiped clean during the pandemic also gave celebrity artists more time and space to help out, something Friedman calls “a silver lining on a very dark cloud.”
Undoubtedly the most important element in the music industry’s legislative wins came down to group effort between music organizations fighting for a common cause.
“This crisis has brought us together in a way that I haven’t seen before,” adds Friedman. “One bright spot of this very terrible pandemic is that it’s brought all of us together because we know this is about survival, and we only survive if we can all band together.”
“This was a story that doesn’t happen very often on Capitol Hill… the little guy against the big guy, David against Goliath, and the little guy won here,” said Kupferschmid of the Copyright Alliance, which was instrumental in getting the CASE Act into the final spending package. “And it wouldn’t have been possible if not for the incredible team effort.”
There are still legislative priorities to be fought for. The most notable among them is the HITS Act, which would ease the tax burden on music creators by allowing them to deduct 100% of production expenses up front. The bill was cut from the final package despite advocates “working very frantically with [Congressional] leadership” to ensure its inclusion, says Friedman, though he expects “a separate path forward” for the legislation “early [this] year.”
“That is part of this game that we have to learn as musicians, that it is a small victory here and there,” adds Morton, who says the HITS Act was a core issue for him. “It’s a slow process to change. But I think once you see it work, once you see your voice can matter, you can be a little more invested in it.”
“There is always more to fight for, and we’ll continue to do that,” he adds.