We are mobilizing here in Los Angeles. SONA, masterminded by Michelle Lewis, with Kay Hanley by her side, has gotten creators fired up and figuring out WTF exactly has happened to our royalties as a result of digital streaming and what it is we can do about it.
SONA meets every week or so in my living room or Michelle’s dining room. First we have bagels. Or Chicken Marbella. Yes, despite the daunting issues we’re facing, we eat, drink, and are quite the merry bunch. Then we get down to business. We strategize, discuss which petitions to sign, what meetings are coming up. Who will write a letter to the Department of Justice regarding the very bad idea of “fractional licensing”? Who will pay a visit to Representative Jerry Nadler? Things like that. Recently we had a guest speaker: NMPA President David Isrealite offered his perspective on which issues he believes are winnable. (He also said he enjoyed my Silver Palate chili very much.)
Not surprisingly there are other living rooms getting busy across this town (and in Nashville and New York). This is a good thing because I definitely can not fit everyone in mine. More seriously, it’s important because there’s strength in numbers.
We all pretty much agree on the issues: piracy sucks, streaming rates need to rise, antiquated consent decrees need reviewing and transparency is essential. But there’s one area in which many of us have a differing opinion: who should represent creators when it comes to taking the cause to Washington D.C. and looking lawmakers in the eye? In other words, what class of songwriter would be most effective and influential?
Some say it should be a posse of recognizable, media trained recording artists who also happen to be songwriters—exciting, sexy celebrities who can woo their way into the hearts and minds of legislators whose children are huge fans—who can make our case and then perhaps sing a song or two in a cameo appearance at a Sweet 16? If it works, why not? That said, will these superstars be able to elicit empathy? Are policy makers going to feel their pain when they notice they're returning to the airport in a stretch and flying back to LAX in a private jet?
Others believe we should deploy the non-celebrity pure breed songwriters—ones who have current hits on the airwaves—songs that are on the top of the charts now, and tip of everyone’s tongue. Surely, these writers will have influence. But, hmmm, they’re returning to the airport in a private car—flying home business.
How about the middle class—a shrinking faction who are hanging on by a thread? Their vulnerability should have some impact, no? (They’ll be driving a rental car—flying coach.)
Wait a minute. Maybe we’d have better luck sending a contingent of complete unknowns—aspirers who might never have even had a hit single but can’t wait any longer for one as they have to find a new way to support themselves. (Sadly, one of them could have been the a game changer who would pen a song that the daughter of a rate court judge dances to at her wedding. But that’s unlikely to happen if he or she can’t stay in the game. I would think there would be a lot of empathy for this group. Don’t you? (They Uber their way to their return flight—fly stand by—one connection.)
How about the rockstar from the '80s who's had tons of classics in steady rotation for decades? Trust me, there are a lot of middle-aged Congressmen and women who have more of an emotional connection to The Eagles and REO Speedwagon than to Ariana Grande or The Weeknd. #Respect. I love Ariana Grande and the Weeknd. Juss sayin.’
And let's do the math. My guess is the perpetual income from "Take It On The Run" will surpass the cumulative royalties from a 15% share of a few shorter-lived hits.
But here's the thing: I’ve heard murmurings that some feel the little guy and the 'older' schooler don’t have the same clout as the current hit-maker. I beg to differ. Each lawmaker is bound to be affected by a different story. It is my view no single group will be as influential or effective as we can be in a united front. Arms locked.
The rich, the poor, the pompous, the humbled. The 1%, the middle class, the hairbands, the famous, the nameless. It's not only today's Top 10 that are being disenfranchised. It's the back catalog. It's the potential future catalog. We need Max and Taylor and Ed as well as Susie and Joe and Steve. There is strength in diversity as well as numbers. We are a colorful and multi-shaped bunch. Let’s not underestimate the value of a colleague who is older, younger, a newcomer, a veteran. Those of us who are on top of the world could be nowhere tomorrow. And visa versa.
This is about our community. The dignity of our profession. Fairness.
I suggest to you, it’s going to (and it should) take a village.
Thanx for reading.