Based on her global popularity, one might assume that Taylor Swift had decided the year 2014 would be the year she’d officially take over the radio. Her music was everywhere—on TV, in your cab—thanks in part to her song “Welcome to New York,” earning her the title of New York’s Global Welcome Ambassador. Mere days after the release of her single, “Shake It Off,” the song quickly garnered the “ninth-largest U.S. radio airplay audience of any current song,” a feat you might assume resulted in some hefty kickback. In fact, no artist collects royalties when their music plays on the radio.
In addition to the expansive publicity she received after the release of her latest album, Ms. Swift made headlines last year when she made the controversial decision to remove her music from Spotify. “Everybody’s complaining about how music sales are shrinking, but nobody’s changing the way they’re doing things,” she said recently. But the pop star isn’t the only one pushing back against unfair pay for airplay. NYC-based musician, record producer and founder of the I Respect Music campaign, Blake Morgan, is also working to ensure that music makers are paid when their songs play on the radio.
As he sees it, the problem with U.S. terrestrial radio lies at the core of its business model: artists aren’t compensated for providing radio’s source of profit. The United States is the only democratic nation where this is the case. The National Association of Broadcasting profits by selling advertising around the music, without having to pay the artist under the assumption that air time serves as promotion—which is likely to lead to money somewhere down the line via endorsements, concerts and appearances. But the then-“hopefully-you’ll-get-a-Pepsi-deal” approach really only applies to what could be considered the 1 percent of musicians—the Taylor Swifts, the Billy Joels, The Rolling Stones. But for what some would call “middle-class artists,” those working consistently but who aren’t globally, or even nationally, famous, it’s royalties that are an important source of income.
“The National Association of Broadcasting made $17 billion last year in advertising alone and they did not pay one penny to any artist for the tracks on the radio,” Mr. Morgan recently told the Observer. “We live in a capitalist society in which people get paid for their work. There is no other industry where people argue that someone shouldn’t be getting paid because they’re getting promotion.”
Frustrated by what he felt was an under appreciation for art, Mr. Morgan created I Respect Music, a grassroots effort that followed an email exchange regarding lowered royalties between Mr. Morgan and the founder of Pandora that was published in 2013 in the Huffington Post. He says the article was met with more than 40,000 “likes” and Pandora lost $130 million in the stock market the following morning. “It felt a bit like a David and Goliath moment to a lot of music makers,” Mr. Morgan told the Observer, “and a few weeks later, Pink Floyd came in like the cavalry having my back with a beautiful Op-Ed in USA Today.”
According to Mr. Morgan, the purpose of the petition is to get the attention of Congress to support paid radio airplay when they meet for the first time in nearly 40 years to review copyright law in relation to radio and online downloads. Since the launch of the I Respect Music campaign last January, the petition has garnered over 12,000 signatures as well as numerous celebrity selfies containing the hashtag #IRespectMusic.
“It comes down to this: Music is the one thing that America still makes that the world still wants,” Mr. Morgan said. “Rock and roll, hip-hop, jazz, blues, country, bluegrass are all American innovations. These are art forms that show us, and the world, who we are as a nation. It’s what we can be most proud of and I think the people making that music should be paid for their work.”
With a fifth trip to Congress set for February, Mr. Morgan is hoping now more than ever that music makers and music lovers alike will get involved by signing the online petition. “We have a lot of work to do and serious challenges ahead,” Mr. Morgan admitted, “but we have to remember that we have something worth fighting for.”
For more information or to sign the I Respect Music petition, visit irespectmusic.org.