There’s Nothing Fair About the American Music Fairness Act

June 24, 2021

This week, two members of Congress introduced the so-called “American Music Fairness Act” which would impose heavy royalty fees on local AM/FM radio stations to broadcast songs.

While supporters of this legislation say it would help artists, a huge amount of the money from a new performance tax would go directly to the big, foreign-owned record labels, and ironically, hurt artists’ greatest promotional tool. Radio is still one of the best ways to introduce artists’ music to their fans. A performance tax would upend a mutually beneficial relationship between radio and artists that has thrived for more than a century.

Radio Delivers Unique Value

Radio’s biggest differentiator is that it functions as a public service to local communities – that has never been more true than during the COVID-19 pandemic, when Americans turned to their local stations for critical information and a connection to the community. Radio stations deliver local news, traffic, weather reports and emergency broadcasts, as well as provide free airtime for local charities. This is in addition to being a free entertainment medium available to anyone, anywhere.

Songwriters, lyricists and composers earn royalties when their songs are played on the radio – to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars each year. And radio provides nearly $2.4 billion annually in free promotion for artists, reaching nearly 90% of Americans each week. As our country opens up and live events return, local radio stations also promote and sponsor concerts in cities all across America.

Artists often acknowledge the irreplaceable role radio plays in their success.

“Radio is the life blood of our industry,” Old Dominion’s Matthew Ramsey told The Tennessean. “It’s what keeps us alive as a band and as artists.”

If It’s Not Broken, Don’t Fix It

Supporters of a performance tax say that it won’t really affect radio stations. On the contrary, a performance tax could have a profound impact on the bottom lines of the local stations you value most. This could impact their ability to be active in the community, limiting the sponsorship of local events and charitable involvement.

A performance tax would burden local radio stations with crippling new fees, impacting jobs, hurting local organizations and channeling even more revenue out of your community to foreign-owned record labels.

Numerous legislators from both sides of the aisle oppose a performance tax. The support for protecting radio is so strong that a bipartisan resolution opposing any new performance tax, called the Local Radio Freedom Act, has already gained 150 cosponsors in Congress. However, the resolution needs more cosponsors to keep local radio strong and pumping out the tunes you love.

Immeasurable Cost to Taking Radio for Granted

The bottom line is that a performance tax could put a lot of broadcasters out of business.

“It’s sad the record industry, the same organizations that beg us to play their music every day, have lost sight of how much of their success is due to radio airplay,” veteran radio executive John Beck said.