Dear Fellow SHOF Members,
Burt Bacharach was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1972 because of his accomplishments as one of the greatest composers of the modern era. In the ensuing forty years he’s continued to give music fans even more to enjoy. Today, I want to recognize him for a recent work – an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in which he spoke out on behalf of songwriters and composers everywhere.
Please take a minute to read the January 22, 2014 piece (see below)— and take an extra few seconds to forward it to others who appreciate what we do. Burt makes a powerful argument for updating the way music creators are paid in a world where online and mobile services are dramatically changing the way people listen to music. He points out that, “Today, many songwriters are being denied fair compensation as a result of antiquated regulations that were conceived over 70 years ago for a different world.”
Burt simply and concisely explains that the process is governed by outdated settlements between the Justice Department and ASCAP and BMI, called Consent Decrees, that haven’t kept pace with the changing music landscape. He backs up the point with a starting fact—
Although Internet radio didn’t exist when those decrees were crafted, the decrees apply to the online radio service Pandora, which has a market cap of over $7 billion. The result is that songwriters earn about 8 cents for every 1,000 times Pandora plays their song. If Pandora plays a song 10 million times, it gives the writers $800. Imagine, in one quarter in 2012, Pandora paid songwriter Linda Perry only $349.16—despite playing Christina Aguilera’s recording of her song “Beautiful” 12.7 million times.
In his op-ed, Burt makes a critical point—“As songwriters, we want these new digital services to succeed. But they exist because of our music—and those who create the music deserve to be fairly compensated.”
Thank you for your leadership, Burt. Let’s hope that the Justice Department and the affected parties heed your call to amend the consent decrees, “so aspiring creators can earn a livelihood while enriching music fans everywhere.”
Letter from SHOF Inductee Burt Bacharach:
You may have seen that earlier this year, an op-ed piece written by me (please see below) was published by the Wall Street Journal (“What the Songwriting World Needs Now: Something to Replace Federal Control Over How Much Composers Get Paid”, The Wall Street Journal, January 22, 2014). I wrote it to help bring attention to the way the antiquated consent decrees that govern ASCAP and BMI hold back songwriters pursuing a livelihood in the digital marketplace. I’m especially concerned about their impact on aspiring writers who will earn less and less from physical copies as the world turns to online and mobile services. I was pleased by the enthusiastic reaction to my op-ed by so many in the music community.
After The Journal ran my article, I learned that they graciously offered me an unexpected honorarium of $400. As I pondered the gesture, it dawned on me that the newspaper was willing to pay me more for one essay than Pandora paid songwriter Linda Perry for playing the song she wrote for Christina Aguilera, “Beautiful”, more than 12.5 million times (a statistic I used in my op-ed piece). I am pleased that the Journal values my work—but their check helped prove my point about the way the consent decrees devalue songwriters when the 70-year-old rules are applied to today’s online and mobile services.
I would like to share the honorarium with my fellow songwriters by donating it to the great work done by the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
The Wall Street Journal
Burt Bacharach: What the Songwriting World Needs Now
22 January 2014 | By Burt Bacharach
I am a songwriter—one of the fortunate ones who has earned a living creating melodies that have resonated with audiences for decades. A case in court this week spotlights the question of whether others can thrive writing music in the future.
Like almost every songwriter, I struggled for years, endured many rejections and had to borrow rent money from my dad. My first office at New York’s Brill Building, which was the hub of the songwriting world, was so small that I barely had room for an upright piano and an air conditioner that didn’t work in a window that couldn’t open.
In 1956, Syd Shaw and I wrote “Warm and Tender,” which Johnny Mathis recorded. It became the “B” side of Johnny’s first hit, “It’s Not For Me to Say.” Our “Warm and Tender” didn’t get much radio play—but because our song was on the flip side of all the 45-rpm records that had Johnny’s hit on the “A” side, we were paid whenever the single was sold in record stores. Today, there are few record stores. No 45s. No B sides. And far fewer people who want to own recordings in physical form. On the upside, there are millions of people experiencing music in more ways than ever before.
Online and mobile services offer great opportunities for the next generation of creators. But despite new technology, it will always be hard to write a hit and the majority of songwriters will struggle to make a living—especially because the law is not in tune with the digital revolution.
Today, many songwriters are being denied fair compensation as a result of antiquated regulations that were conceived over 70 years ago for a different world. Songwriters are especially disadvantaged because we are governed by outdated settlements between the Justice Department and the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, better known as ASCAP, and Broadcast Music Inc., or BMI.
These two organizations negotiate and collect fees for songwriters from businesses that play our music, like radio stations, concert venues and digital services. The settlements are consent decrees, legally binding contracts that are enforced in federal court.
The 1941 consent decree with ASCAP and the subsequent one with BMI were written when vinyl records were the hot new technology. They were deemed necessary to ensure that these leading licensers charged reasonable rates for the use of the music and lyrics played on AM radio, in restaurants and bars and other public places.
Under the consent decrees, ASCAPand BMI are required to grant licenses to anyone who asks, as soon as they ask. When the parties can’t agree upon a price, federal judges are the arbiters of the value of our work—instead of the marketplace—and judges set the rates without knowing what deals might be struck in a free market. These rules were last revised before the introduction of the iPod and a world of ubiquitous headphones where anyone can access 30 million tracks through any mobile device.
As music embraces the digital transition, it seems obvious that the anachronistic way songwriters and composers are remunerated should evolve, too. This is especially necessary in the wake of recent court interpretations of the consent decrees that perpetuate the devaluation of our work.
Although Internet radio didn’t exist when those decrees were crafted, the decrees apply to the online radio service Pandora, which has a market cap of over $6 billion. The result is that songwriters earn about 8 cents for every 1,000 times Pandora plays their song. If Pandora plays a song 10 million times, it gives the writers less than $300 total. Imagine, in one quarter in 2012, Pandora paid songwriter Linda Perry only $349.16—despite playing Christina Aguilera’s recording of her song “Beautiful” 12.7 million times.
The consent decrees are supposed to guarantee us “reasonable fees,” but these aren’t remotely reasonable. In fact, this week ASCAP is in a rate-court trial with Pandora governed by those decrees, where a judge, rather than the market, will have to determine whatsongwriters are paid for the use of their work.
As songwriters, we want these new digital services to succeed. But they exist because of our music—and those who create the music deserve to be fairly compensated. I am not sure a young writer can survive in the online and mobile world restrained by a compensation regime that couldn’t fathom “streams” that come from “clouds.” We live in a free-market economy and should be able to negotiate rates that sustain a marketplace where both services and creators can thrive.
Only the Justice Department and the affected parties can agree to amend the consent decrees. I hope they will do so, so aspiring creators can earn a livelihood while enriching music fans everywhere.
Mr. Bacharach, a songwriter and composer, has won six Grammys, three Academy Awards and an Emmy.