As an artist, I wear many hats: musician, songwriter, producer, band member of Blues Traveler and solo artist. But lately, music creators like me are adding a new label: advocate. For those of us who have had the good fortune of a career in music, we feel an obligation to speak out for the next generation of music makers. That’s why I came to Washington this year to lobby for music, and why hundreds of music creators across the country met with their Congressional representatives as part of the Recording Academy’s recent District Advocate day.
A lot has changed in music since I began playing in 1987. Over the past 15 years, as physical sales of music have declined and streaming emerged, creators and fans have enjoyed using new technologies. But even with all the benefits that streaming brings, there are challenges with the way these platforms compensate those who make the music. With the massive changes in music consumption, the laws governing music have not kept up. In fact, some of the laws governing today’s music date back to the player piano era!
Songwriters, who create the very DNA of music, are receiving below-market pay due to outdated rate standards and regulations that are decades old.
Producers, who create the sounds of every recording, have no recognition in U.S. law at all.
And performers, the singers and musicians that help define our culture, have never been compensated when their work is played on AM and FM radio. This is a $17 billion industry that gets to use other people’s intellectual property for free thanks to a loophole in the law. Even more, $200 million in royalties that is due to American artists is left overseas each year, because the U.S. doesn’t honor performance rights.
Even the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), adopted in 1998 to help creators control the use of their work in the digital music age, is already woefully outdated, having been implemented before streaming became the popular choice. Furthermore, the act places even more responsibility on the artist to police the internet, rather than doing the job fans want us to do, which is to keep making music.
We need change. We need to update laws to ensure that songwriters and artists can practice their art and maintain a career from their renowned works. We need to make sure those creators get paid fairly when others use their work.
So we’re putting down our instruments, headphones and sheet music and speaking to our legislators. There’s a movement growing: District Advocate Day started with just 100 people a few years ago. This year, more than 1,600 constituents — voters — across all 50 states met with their congressional representatives to advocate for music.
Congress, we know you love and value American music. Now is the time to show music’s worth by supporting the effort to reform outdated copyright laws, make sure creators are paid fairly when other businesses use our work, and maintain support and funding for the arts. Our nation’s future and our culture depend on it.
John Popper is an American musician and songwriter, most known for his role as the frontman of rock band Blues Traveler, performing harmonica, guitar and vocals. For more information on the issues and how to get involved, visit grammy.com/action.