(L to R): Kevin Kadish, Harvey Mason jr., Robert Bell, Daryl Friedman, Kendra Foster, Evan Bogart, Jonathan Azu, Jim Lauderdale, and Anna Nalick.
Photo: Paul Morigi/WireImages
The Recording Academy’s Songwriters & Composers Wing Town Hall: Here Were The Insights About Songwriter Royalties & Justice For Music Makers
On Mar. 17, the Recording Academy’s Songwriters & Composer Wing held a town-hall meeting for its members to learn more about songwriter royalties and pending changes that will impact how much songwriters earn for their work.
This town hall comes at a crucial time as decisions are being made in Washington this year that will impact all songwriters for years to come. Not only are the Copyright Royalty Board Rate (CRB) Proceedings to decide royalty rates for the next five years occurring this spring, but there is also an ongoing appeal of the 2018 royalty rate decision.
The panelists included Todd Dupler, Acting Chief Advocacy & Public Policy Officer; Evan Bogart, Chair of the Songwriters & Composers Wing and Los Angeles Chapter Trustee; Colin Rushing, President of Duck Road Advisory and former Chief Legal Officer for SoundExchange, and Danielle Aguirre, Executive Vice President & General Counsel of the National Music Publishers’ Association. Together, they discussed the nuances of these court proceedings, how they affect songwriters, and what to expect moving forward.
Per the Copyright Act of 1909, individuals and companies that use music legally have the right to purchase the license to a song as long as they follow the terms of copyright law. This includes purchasing so-called "mechanical rights," or the right to make a copy and distribute somebody’s musical work or song. This is one of the licenses that companies such as Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music use when they stream a songwriter's music on their platforms.
That’s where the CRB comes in. As the panel explained, the board is made up of three judges who decide what that royalty rate is for companies to purchase these rights via a proceeding that takes place every five years. This year, the CRB will meet to decide the rates for the next five years —essentially deciding how much songwriters will get paid when their work is used.
In the last proceedings, which concluded in early 2018, the CRB decided that the royalty rate would increase from 10% to 15.1%-- a 44% increase covering 2018-2022. This time around, the songwriting and publisher community are requesting that the CRB raise the rate to 20% during the 2023 – 2027 period.
However, it is not that clean-cut. As Aguirre laid out, the last rate increase has yet to go into effect. Streaming services — all but Apple Music — have been in the process of appealing the last decision since 2019. As a result, songwriters have been stuck with the 10% royalty rate established nearly a decade ago, which has had an unfair and harmful impact on songwriters whose source of income heavily relies on these royalties.
Bogart, himself an acclaimed songwriter, detailed how tough this appeal has been on songwriters around the country who thought they had secured a pay increase, only to be stuck with an outdated rate for their work. "It feels like — and I think a lot of songwriters feel this way — it feels like we’re pushing a boulder up the hill and then the boulder comes back down again," Bogart said.
As the town hall wrapped up, there was some hope for optimism in the immediate future. The appeal brought on by streaming services is set to come to a decision in the coming months. If a favorable decision is reached, songwriters will get the compensation they missed out on over the last five years.
This would be a silver lining to the fact that they missed out on this pay increase during critical times in our country. Additionally, the CRB is set to hold hearings this summer and could decide on higher royalty rates by the end of this year with those taking effect in 2023.
Once the dates for the CRB proceedings are set, you can find them here. The Academy and its Songwriters & Composers Wing will always fight for fair compensation for all songwriters. Visit the S&C Wing page to learn more about the Wing, and the Advocacy page to learn how to support all music people.