Friday, April 7, 2017

Grammys bring artists' agenda to the Hill

By Emmanuel Legrand
Keith Urban
The best advocates for music rights are usually the creators themselves, and nowhere do they express themselves more eloquently than during the Grammys on The Hill initiative. This Advocacy Day, put together by the Recording Academy, home to the Grammys, has become over the years one of the most efficient ways to "educate" policy-makers about the situation faced by songwriters, composers and performers. 
And this year was no different. A squadron of artists ascended the Hill April 6, with good humour and a sense of duty, ready to discuss their issues on behalf of fellow creators with their elected representatives.

The day before, some 60 members of Congress were serenaded at the Hamilton by Keith Urban, Wynonna Judd and John Popper of Blues Traveler, while mingling with the likes of Four Tops' Duke Fakir, country star Martina McBride, British producer Peter Asher, R&B artist William Bell, blues legend Bobby Rush, or Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick.
Urban, who received the Recording Artists' Coalition Award for his musical achievements and commitment to numerous music education programs, praised his music teachers, and invited policy-makers to continue to support music education and arts. Wynonna got policy-makers to sing her song 'No One Else on Earth' and tease them for not knowing the lyrics.

 Reforming copyright laws
But as Daryl Friedman, the Washington-DC-based chief advocacy and industry relations officer for the Recording Academy, reminded the audience that artists were also in DC to talk about the need to reform antiquated laws. Friedman listed many of the issues on the table, from performance rights for sound recordings on terrestrial radio (Fair Play Fair Pay Act)  the modernisation of the consent decrees ruling rights societies ASCAP and BMI (Songwriters' Equity Act), and the Allocation for Music Producers Act (AMP Act), which would give for the first time a royalty to music producers.

One unexpected issues also made it on the list: The threat faced by arts agencies National Endowment for the Arts and for the Humanities (NEA and NEH) to see public funding fully disappear in the Trump administration's budget for 2018. Two of the Academy's honorees -- Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) -- made references to this situation, as did the CEO of the Recording Academy, Neil Portnow.

Congressman Udall explained that one in ten jobs in his state of New Mexico is related to the arts. "Arts enrich our lives, make us more humans and connect us," he said. "The purpose of government if to provide for public good and art is a public good." He pledged to fight for an NEA "under attack" and ensure that its budget stayed on, calling it "a good investment."

 A hindrance for artists
The Recording Academy's Neil Portnow
Speaking before the event, The Recording Academy President/CEO Neil Portnow told me that the funding for the arts has become "a big issue," calling it "a mistake to eliminate funding for something that is key to American culture." Portnow said Grammys on the Hill has become "enormously successful," and this year is particular in that there is a real momentum on the Hill for music-related legislation.
"We've seen some bills coming in the past three or four weeks," said Portnow. "Music is usually a bipartisan issue, there are no party lines, and we have a lot of supporters in Congress. There are also a lot of newly elected representatives so there is a lot of education to do."

He added, "Some parts of the music industry are regulated by laws from 50 years ago, if not more, based on the circumstances from times, but that do not apply any more today. They have become a hindrance to our creative community."

Artists I spoke to before the event said they were ready to play their part. Cheap Trick's Nielsen was in DC for his second time. He joked that the first time, he went into a Senator's office to be greeted by the Congressman saying "I have all your albums." "They [the Academy] asked me and I came," he said with his raspy voice. "I have never been involved in politics, but arts are very important and people in the music industry must be treated fairly. I am one of the lucky ones. A lot of people struggle. A lot of our laws are archaic and they [legislators] know it. Time for some common sense." 

Help fix policies
Songwriter/performer Joy Uecke, of Jesse&Joy, is for the first time at Grammys on the Hill, but she enlisted and she hoped to "talk about music and politics in an amicable way." For her, the most important message for policy-makers is that creators have to be "treated fairly."

Singer, songwriter and producer Mario was on the same wavelength, as a first timer too. "When we go into a project, we put all out energy and efforts into it, and we hope to reap the benefits, but because copyright laws are not up to date we are fighting over a small piece of the pie," he said. "Music affects every body's lives, but [the system] is not fair for artists."

For Blues Traveler's John Popper, who also came for the first time, it's also about the next generation of artists. "I am hear to help fix policies that affect people," he said. "We have a lot of obstacles to overcome, and the next generation will be dealing with even more. I hope things will happen and that we'll get moving."

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