‘The Pub’ #24: Cracker, Camper Van Beethoven frontman says NPR is standing against artists

Print More
David Lowery (Photo: Velena Vego)

David Lowery (Photo: Velena Vego)

Big changes could be on the horizon for music radio.

Broadcasters in the United States have historically been exempt from paying performance royalties for the music they air, but now some musicians and their record labels are saying, “No more. If you play us, pay us.”

The Fair Play, Fair Pay Act of 2015 comes to Congress at a time when the bottom has fallen out of the recorded music industry, and content creators are looking to get paid any way they can.

NPR has not taken a public position on the question, but in April it joined with the likes of iHeartMedia, Pandora, Google and other corporate leviathans in creating the MIC Coalition, a lobbying organization comprised of those entities that would do the paying if artists were indeed paid more.

For singer-songwriter and artist advocate David Lowery (Cracker, Camper Van Beethoven), it’s dismaying to see NPR run with that particular crowd.

Mitchell

Mitchell

“We as artists . . . have some sort of special relationship to the public radio stations in the country,” Lowery told me on The Pub. “It’s difficult when we find ourselves on the other side of a lobbying coalition from NPR. Just first of all, cognitively, that just seems weird to us right away.”

The blog that Lowery edits, The Trichordist, has been savaging NPR on this issue. On The Pub, Lowery takes the temperature down a bit and makes the case that public radio should get on what he sees as the right side of a matter of social justice.

Also on the show this week:

  • Doug Mitchell, founder and director of NPR’s Next Generation Radio training project, says public radio needs more talent developers and scouts, like him.
  • I propose a procedure to ensure honesty in editing.

For an upcoming episode, we’re looking for the questions you’ve always had about public media but have been afraid to ask! For me it’s, “Um, what is the spectrum auction?” Send in your questions (and tell me if you want to be anonymous) to adam@current.org by Monday, July 6.

Please subscribe to The Pub in iTunes or your favorite podcast app, and leave us a rating and a comment! That will help boost our search results and allow people to find the show more easily.

We welcome your feedback on the show: You can reach me at adam@current.org or @aragusea on Twitter; my supervising producer at Current, Mike Janssen, is at mike@current.org; and you can contact Current generally at news@current.org or @currentpubmedia on Twitter.

If you’d like to offer a comment to be used in the program, please send on-mic tape (recorded in a studio, with a kit, a smartphone, anything) to adam@current.org either as an attachment or through Google Drive. Please keep it short!

Adam Ragusea hosts Current’s weekly podcast The Pub and is a journalist in residence and visiting assistant professor at Mercer University’s Center for Collaborative Journalism.

  • altfactor@hotmail.com

    If radio stations have to begin paying royalties to artists as well as songwriters, a majority of the nation’s music-formatted stations will drop music and change to speech-oriented (news, sports, or especially talk) formats.

    Music fans, regardless of what kind of music they like, won’t hear much of it on radio.

    • Adam Ragusea

      How do you figure? The rates being thrown around don’t seem that high, and talk is expensive.

      • altfactor@hotmail.com

        But most talk radio is syndicated, and in the case of commercial radio, the only talk show that charges stations to air it is Rush Limbaugh. Every other talk show available to commercial radio is distributed on “barter”, meaning the station gets the show free, but the distributors get a few minutes an hour to sell national commercial spots.

        For public radio, things are different, but then again, most NPR member stations are 24/7 news and information anyway. Most public radio stations that mainly program music are owned by organizations who have a 24/7 news/information station in that city. In most of those cases, the news/information station subsidizes the music station since the news station usually gets a lot of listener donations whereas the sister music station usually doesn’t get nearly as much listener dollars.

        • Adam Ragusea

          Lots of music programming is syndicated too, what’s your point? It’s still gotta be made by somebody, there are still profits and losses. If the ad sales are greater than the production and licensing costs, then music radio will continue.

          BTW, I don’t have a census in front of me, but I’m pretty sure you’re wrong that “most NPR member stations are 24/7 news and information anyway.” I believe most are still mixed format.

        • Aaron Read

          BTW: non-commercial radio stations literally cannot air shows on barter the way commercial stations do. That’s third-party underwriting and it’s against FCC rules. Even just getting it for free is problematic; free content is still treated as “consideration” to the station and thus the content becomes underwriting…and thus subject to all the rules surrounding underwriting.

          I’m also highly skeptical of this latest effort by the RIAA (aka “MusicFirst” aka “Fair Play / Fair Pay Act”) to squeeze stations for royalties. Historically, very, very little of such payments actually benefit artists…save for a handful that own the rights to their own music. (Metallica comes to mind there.)

    • Brian Woods

      I think the marketplace would take over at that point. Things like Musopen are already preparing for such.