The Tennessean: How the internet is now a fairer place for songwriters | Sen. Lamar Alexander

Posted on October 11, 2018

The Tennessean: How the internet is now a fairer place for songwriters | Sen. Lamar Alexander

By Lamar Alexander

October 11, 2018

https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/local/dickson/opinion/2018/10/11/music-modernization-act-makes-internet-streaming-fairer-songwriters-lamar-alexander/1602150002/

Sitting in Nashville’s Bluebird Cafe three years ago, I heard Jessi Alexander (unfortunately, no relation), sing her new song, “I Drive Your Truck,” about how a father grieved for his son killed defending our country in Afghanistan. 

As Jessi sang, everyone cried. I said to someone, “This has to be the song of the year,” and it was.

Because of a new law signed on Thursday by President Donald Trump, called the Music Modernization Act, Jessi and tens of thousands of Tennessee songwriters from Beale Street in Memphis through Music City, to the birthplace of country music in Bristol, now actually may be paid a fair market value for their songs when they are played over the internet.

The internet has turned the music industry upside down by transforming how we listen to music. More than half of music business revenues now come from the internet. Songwriters like Jessi often aren’t paid when their songs are played online, and when they are, they aren’t paid a fair market value.

For two years, I’ve been working with songwriters, music publishers, digital companies, broadcasters and my congressional colleagues to solve this problem.  When I started, staff members on the Senate Judiciary Committee smiled and said it would be impossible to bring together all of the warring factions in the music industry, but they -- and Congress -- succeeded in doing just that.

Steve Bogard, president of the Nashville Songwriters Association International, says the new law “represents the most significant copyright reform in a generation.”

I worked on this law with Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, himself a songwriter with gold and platinum records. I don’t have a gold record, but music has been important to me since I was a boy growing up in East Tennessee. I made a deal with my mother that I would practice piano for 30 minutes before school every morning if in return I could do what I wanted to do in the afternoon.

As governor, when trying to think of what could unite our state, the answer was always music. So I played the piano on Billy Graham’s Nashville Crusade, at the Grand Ole Opry with Roy Acuff and with the Knoxville Symphony in Cades Cove to help celebrate the Great Smoky Mountains’ 50th anniversary. I persuaded the legislature to fund endowments for symphonies and community orchestras and then performed on the piano in concerts with 21 of them.  A lot of Tennesseans turned out to see the governor make a mistake on the piano.

Here is what this new law will do for songwriters:

First, it will create a new licensing entity that will make it easier for digital music companies to obtain a license to play songs and ensure that songwriters are paid when their music is played. This new entity helps songwriters because it will collect royalties each time a song is played, and hold on to their royalties until they find the songwriter. This new entity simplifies matters for digital music companies and means fewer lawsuits from songwriters who haven’t been paid.

Second, the legislation revises the century-old songwriter royalty standards to ensure songwriters are paid a fair market rate for their work. The new royalty payments will be based on what a willing buyer and willing seller would agree to in a free market—not the statutory below-market standard of today.

This law was complicated to write. It required a lot of different people to focus on areas of agreement, rather than disagreement. But that’s how you get a result.

From Memphis to Mountain City – and across the country – songwriters finally will be paid a fair market value for the songs that all of us enjoy.

Lamar Alexander is the senior U.S. senator from Tennessee.