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March 1, 2022Dave Pomeroy - International Executive Board Member and President of Local 257 (Nashville, TN)
Mr. Chairman, Congressman Chabot, and members of the Committee:
I am honored to speak to you today in support of the American Music Fairness Act. I am a bassist, songwriter, and producer, and a longtime resident of Nashville, Tennessee, Music City. As President of the Nashville Musicians Association and an International Officer of the AFM, I have been advocating on this issue for more than a decade. This long-overdue legislation is critically important for backup musicians and vocalists, the unsung heroes of the music industry, and will end decades of unfair exploitation of their intellectual property.
I fell in love with music at an early age, and I moved to Nashville at the age of 21 to follow my dream. I have played bass on hundreds of albums and dozens of hit singles with artists like Don Williams, Emmylou Harris, Elton John, Willie Nelson, and Trisha Yearwood, including her biggest hit, “She’s in Love with the Boy.” Billboard magazine recently gave Trisha an award for that record being the most played song on radio by a female country artist over the past 30 years. Trisha has never been paid a penny for those millions of radio plays, and neither have I, or any of the other musicians and singers who made that song into a hit record. How is that fair?
Backup musicians and singers play a critical role in the creation of the final product you hear on the radio. Every situation is unique. Orchestral recording musicians are under extreme pressure to perfectly execute a written part in one or two takes, and rock bands may camp out in a studio for months at a time, looking for that one moment of magic.
Some records are put together by one or two musicians, one part at a time, using constantly evolving recording technology. In many cases, like “She’s in Love with the Boy,” musicians are presented with a song in its raw form, and work with the producer and artist to create a collective musical arrangement on the spot. There are countless examples of an improvised musical figure or backup vocal part that adds that special something to a song that makes it a hit. That’s what we do.
After all the work that goes into making a hit record, when it is played on AM/FM radio, it generates revenue for the broadcasters, but they only pay the songwriter and publisher. For perspective, the only other countries on the planet that do not pay artists, singers, and musicians for the use of their work on terrestrial radio are Iran and North Korea. Do we really want to be on that list?
This is a balance of trade issue, or more correctly, an imbalance of trade issue. We create the vast majority of the world’s music, but it’s almost impossible for American musicians to get the money they are rightfully owed from overseas radio play. Every year, $200-300 million dollars of our money is being held by foreign collectives who use the poor excuse that the US doesn’t pay foreign musicians for their small share of our AM/FM airplay. The money we have earned is trapped overseas until Congress passes legislation that will unlock that ongoing taxable revenue stream for American musicians. This will make a huge difference in the lives of creators who are struggling to feed their families.
Music is one of the United States’ greatest exports, and its positive impact on our economy and the everyday lives of Americans is immeasurable. But what is measurable is the billions of dollars that US terrestrial radio makes on the backs of those who create the content that drives their advertising revenue. In just three months in the third quarter of 2021, five of the biggest broadcasters made $1.6 Billion in revenue, an average increase of 20% from the previous year. Yet they claim they can’t afford to pay anyone.
The changes the bipartisan AMFA proposes should have been part of the Music Modernization Act of 2018. The broadcasters were the only major part of our industry to refuse to participate in this collective effort. Satellite and digital radio, TV, commercials, and film all pay musicians when their work is used to create revenue, and it is time for terrestrial radio to do the same. The AMFA will not put small stations out of business, or hurt songwriters as the NAB claims. The bill has several provisions to ensure that small independent and community radio stations will not be unduly burdened and will pay as little as $10 a year, and stations that make less than $1.5 million a year will only pay $500. We appreciate the services that local radio provides, but this bill will NOT put them out of business.
Technology has changed the music industry in ways that are making it very difficult for musicians to earn a living wage. The pandemic has only made this worse. This is not about superstars and labels making a money grab. It’s about helping working class American musicians who deserve “Respect,” just as Aretha Franklin, Spooner Oldham, and all the musicians and singers who worked on that iconic record deserve. We urge you to pass the American Music Fairness Act. Thank you very much.