Critical Backlash: Will Songwriters Strike Next?

With the Hollywood writers’ strike over, it’s writers of a different sort who could replace them on the picket lines: according to the Hollywood Reporter, labels and new media giants including Apple (!) and Yahoo want to lower songwriting royalties – and in some cases, erase them. The labels are claiming that the songwriters are getting “fat” thanks to “mechanical” royalties – which, like screenwriting residuals, are paid according to airplay, sales, etc. The article notes that the new-media companies want to axe the royalty on streams entirely. Is this a good idea?

Yahoo just chopped jobs; they’re not going to pass these savings onto the long-suffering consumer. Ironically, this is in seeming opposition to the enormous push to raise the rates for Internet radio proffered by the Copyright Royalty Board recently. Changing these numbers is a mixed bag: it’s a valuable, reliable source of income for songwriters, especially performing ones who don’t have to count these numbers toward their mountains of accrued major label debt. But if this affects Internet radio — not to mention us legal grey-area blogs, who aren’t paying a dime to the musicians we’re ostensibly “supporting” — it makes it easier for low-budget operations to spread music as well as easing the *ahem* burden on the big companies. This is an era where paradigms are begging for restructuring, though somehow I doubt paying the artists less for their services is one that will help save the crumbling music industry.

Meanwhile, the artists continue to flee the labels like rats from a sinking ship: Aretha Franklin is the latest industry vet to leave her label and release her forthcoming albums via less traditional means — she hasn’t revealed how yet, but it might be the AARP. Bet that makes Clive Davis feel young again, huh?


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