I’ve been getting together in the last few months with a small group of musicians and writers who are concerned that there is no organization to represent us on many of the issues that affect us. More on that later. One issue that has been discussed recently is the payment of performance royalties on commercial radio broadcasts in the U.S.
When many of us think of the song “Respect,” we think of Aretha Franklin. Many people are shocked to learn that Aretha never made a penny from all the radio broadcasts of her performance of R-E-S-P-E-C-T (this is because she wasn’t the composer.) It’s true—many musicians receive little compensation or struggle to pay bills despite having widely-aired recordings. Executive Director of The Jazz Foundation, Wendy Oxenhorn, recently released an eye-opening statement explaining why performance royalties on radio broadcasts are so vital:
For nearly 14 years, I’ve been working to save jazz and blues musicians from eviction, homelessness and hunger. On a daily basis, legends who recorded with Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Chet Baker, Miles Davis are having to be saved. Even the legends themselves; including Odetta, Abbey Lincoln, Hank Jones, Elvin Jones, Ruth Brown, Etta James and so many others have been touched by the Jazz Foundation of America. Had there been radio royalties all these years, I can guarantee that many of the crises these great talents have had to face in their old age would never have had to exist.
More on the royalty atrocities against artists can be found in Byrne’s altogether indispensable How Music Works.