Tom Waits: Radio Owes Me Money

Pity the beleaguered radio broadcasters. They’re facing another down advertising year, as well as the prospect of competing with a merged Sirius and XM. Now Congress is threatening to make them pay more royalties on the music they play.

Radio already pays music publishers — the people who own the underlying compositions — when they play their songs. This is one of the reasons that music publishing hasn’t been beaten up as badly as the rest of the music business. But unlike Internet broadcasters, satellite broadcasters, and radio stations everywhere else in the world, U.S. terrestrial broadcasters don’t pay “performance royalties” — payments to the people who own the actual recordings of the songs.

The radio guys argue that they’re doing the music business a favour by promoting record sales, concert attendance, etc. That might have flown in the old days, when people still paid for music. But now the labels need whatever income they can get, so they’re hoping the RIAA, their lobbying group, can get Congress to help them out with new legislation.

And while they RIAA is much-despised, they’re no dummies — they know there’s no way this bill flies if they trot out Britney Spears to speak in favour of it. Better to get someone with crustily loveable authenticity. Some like… Tom Waits. “It’s just plain wrong for radio to be allowed to build profitable businesses with growing revenues on the backs of artists and musicians without paying them fairly for it,” Tom said Wednesday. He may even be right. But we prefer to hear Tom singing, not speechifying.

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