The Music Modernization Act (MMA) had been on a fast-track pace through Congress with the next stop set to be vote on the Senate floor. The legislation seeks to redefine copyright laws for songwriters, song publishers, and song producers in the age of digital music content.
However, the fate of the bill is now in doubt because of an amendment that an interest group from within the industry seeks to attach to the legislation. This amendment has the aim of creating a “collective” of songwriters who would negotiate their fees as a group. This development throws a wrench into the process for this bill and could send it back to “square one”.
The original intent of the MMA was to have Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon, and other streaming music services work with publishers to manage the licensing process of music in a collaborative way. The main issue being that in the age of streaming music, songwriters are leaving the industry in droves because they make literally no money.
The antiquated laws around the licensing of songs resulted in songwriters being paid pennies for material that they produced. It has resulted in a situation in the music industry that is in dire circumstances and in need of reform. It is estimated that 80% of songwriters have left the industry. The royalty rates for streaming are drastically lower than the royalties made back when an artist recorded the song for placement on their respective album. The archaic laws prohibit songwriters from reconfiguring contracts or entering new arrangements with streaming services to potentially earn a higher royalty.
My own experiences in writing music reflect that, I chose to not pursue the industry after copyrighting several songs because the return on the investment was just not viable. The current conditions in the industry make it very hard for a new songwriter to gain traction because the income scale is completely imbalanced. The writer also has to pay self-employment taxes on the little income earned in the process of publishing the song and marketing it to be recorded.
This scenario also has spawned a feature length movie titled “The Last Songwriter” which was featured at the Nashville Film Festival winning several awards in the festival circuit. The film was produced by Netflix and sheds light on the current state of dysfunction within the music industry as it relates to paying the songwriter.
The argument can be made that the “big time” established songwriters will make out very well if the MMA is passed into law because they will receive larger royalties for their hit songs. The less established, or new entrants into songwriting will still face difficulties staying in the industry with bills to pay and families to support.
The emergence of this amendment, which some claim will help “level the playing field” and others claim will make the situation more acrimonious; in the end analysis could cause the Senate to vote the bill down. A week ago the MMA looked like a “sure thing”, that it was going to sail through passage and change the way the music industry operates with respect to the pay scale for the songwriters, publishers, and producers.
It is a sad state of affairs because the songwriter is the backbone of the industry, without the songwriter the artist has no material with which to work. The songwriter generates the material which then becomes a finished product. It is similar to eliminating the source of a key ingredient like wheat and expect a baker to make bread.
The music industry is struggling to adapt to the changing ways that people are listening to content, and the lack of legislation like the MMA only exacerbates those problems. The listener wants “on demand” and customizable approaches to music, nobody listens to the traditional radio for the most part, and the rights to songs cannot be scaled the way they were twenty or thirty years ago.
Please learn more about this legislation and contact your local Congressional representatives, contact your Senators. The fate of the music we all enjoy hangs in the balance.
(Some background information courtesy of Billboard.com, Rolling Stone, Digital Music News, and www.congress.gov)