Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Kem: Congress must reaffirm our national commitment to music and music creators

Written by Kim Owens — Those who create music answer to a unique calling. It is not just a profession you choose; it’s one that chooses you.

The call to create music does not respect national, state or civic boundaries. Music inspires listeners of all ages, genders, ethnic backgrounds, and religious affiliations. Songwriters, performers, producers, and engineers live everywhere across the country, and form a vital part of the economic fabric of their communities.

From Berry Gordy’s Motown to Eminem, Detroit has long played a crucial role in the creation, production and performance of music that can be heard all over the world. In fact, in the Metropolitan Detroit area, there are over 125 music establishments that can be found all over the city with nearly 1,500 people working within the local music community, according to the Creative Many’s 2016 Michigan Creative Industries Report.

Music is a vital part of the Detroit community — it fuels the vibrant minds of creators that are full of ideas to take music and the way it makes us feel to a new level.

But we are not just creators. We are consumers, taxpayers, and voters. Our livelihoods are influenced by policies made, or not made, by Congress, the courts and administrative agencies. While music is one of our most valuable national cultural assets, it is being devalued daily by new business models that change how consumers listen to music and by old businesses that continue to profit at the expense of performers.

Streaming services that earn billions from advertising revenue and subscription fees, pay just fractions of a penny per stream to performers and songwriters. Many pay nothing at all to the performers of music released before 1972. AM/FM radio stations play whatever songs they choose on the radio and earn almost $17 billion in annual revenue, but pay no royalties to the performers of that music. And outdated copyright laws make it difficult for creators to put a stop to online infringement of their work.

The overall impact of these realities is devastating. Creators earn less and less while others prosper through the use of their work.

But lawmakers in Washington can change this tune if they take action now. We need Detroit’s congressional delegation to ensure their musician constituents are treated fairly. On Thursday, music professionals from Detroit and communities nationwide will participate in The Recording Academy’s annual GRAMMYs on the Hill Advocacy Day to engage these policymakers and thought leaders on key issues.

We’re asking members of Congress to support the The Fair Play Fair Pay Act of 2015. The bill ensures fair compensation for creators while others use their work and earn billions. The bill safeguards current songwriter royalties; it requires digital broadcasters to pay royalties to pre-1972 performers; it will create a standard royalty rate across all digital platforms; and it ensures that music producers receive royalties they are due.

Music is integral to who we are as Americans, but we must ensure that music remains a viable career that enriches our local communities and our national culture. Creators will call for change today and on every day after until Congress reaffirms our national commitment to music and music creators.

Kim Owens, also known as Kem, is an award-winning recording artist.

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