Music Taxes -- A Broken Record

Little Stevie Van Zandt is one of my favorite characters in The Sopranos.

He plays -- Silvio Dante, the consigliere -- advisor to crime boss Tony Soprano.

Stevie also plays guitar for the other boss in Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band.

I was reading his comments the other day on the sorry state of the music industry. Stevie Van Zandt could be the wise advisor to the record labels -- if only they would listen.

Here's the wisdom of the consigliere as it relates to the music industry we love. My comments, although not as wise, are in italics.

1. "Our stalwart record companies had completely given up on the idea of actually making great records people might want to buy, and had instead decided to charge radio stations for having the audacity to broadcast their records over the airwaves willy nilly so that even the unwashed, unsubscribed could hear them". The Sopranos enjoyed pulling off a few good hits every season but in real life Van Zandt knows that killing off radio station airplay would be a real crime against the artists, radio stations and the public.

2. "Now it's the rights societies turn to go after those thieving huckleberries who run nightclubs, coffee shops, restaurants and hair salons. And don't think for a minute you sneaking, sniveling dentists are safe either. It will take more than laughing gas to save your ass". Stevie points out that the license fee in Australian nightclubs that play records has been boosted from seven Aussie cents per customer to $1.05. If there's dancing, from 20 cents to $1.07 per person.

3. "Performance rights organizations are now going after coffee shops where folk duos play to 50 people". Someday we will probably thank the misguided music industry for stunts like this that will eventually force club owners to hire only artists who don't perform copyright- protected music. These tunes can't be worse than what the majors are putting out there lately.

4. "In Canada the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers is going after barbers, hairdressers, and yes, dentists who play music of any kind (sic) that their customers can hear." Will your dental insurance be going up to cover this incidental cost. I'd rather have my teeth drilled than pay it.

5. "A restaurant in Florida was contacted by a company that said it had to pay a license fee for music or it would be fined. 'But we don't play music,' the conniving scoundrel claimed. 'You broadcast Monday Night Football don't you?' our protector and savior asked. 'Yeah, so what?' 'We own the rights to Hank Williams, Jr's Are You Ready For Some Football, and you're broadcasting it.' " Tell me they're kidding. This would be hilarious if only it were not true.

So the next time the MusicFirst Coalition argues that the NAB is using scare tactics over royalty issues beware.

MusicFirst contends that the eventual royalty taxes that the labels seek from American radio stations will only be between $470 million and $1.116 billion (applying what European broadcasters now pay to U.S. stations)

Currently radio stations pay no music tax in their 24/7 effort to sell product gratis for the less than appreciative labels.

And, by the way, isn't MusicFirst a great name for the mouthpiece of the record industry?

Music interests come first.

Screw everyone else -- even their partners in radio.

The record labels' act is sounding like a broken record.

The next time they make $1 billion sound like its nothing even as the radio industry is in decline then remember Stevie Van Zandt's colorful words.

This is just the beginning.

The beginning of more taxes on broadcasters, venues -- and yes, even dentists.

Just the beginning!

The beginning of the end.

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