The Ingrates Previously Known As Artists

Sam Moore, of the duo Sam & Dave, thinks Cox Radio President Bob Neil is a racist.

Last week Neil told a Congressional committee getting ready to butt into the artists’ attempt to squeeze more money out of the radio industry: "I saw the (congressional) testimony yesterday, and the reality is a lot of those people would be sitting in a shack somewhere in a small town if it wasn't for the fact that radio supported their music when it was coming up.”

Moore, who should change the spelling of his name to “More”, is screaming bloody murder.

Moore doesn’t like Neil's use of the term “those people” so automatically a man like Neil who doesn’t have any history of being a racist is now a racist.

The only race involved in this dispute is the music industry’s race to self destruction.

Moore was appearing with other singers including Judy Collins trying to give Congress an excuse to stand up for “those people” – the ingrates previously known as artists. Congress doesn't need an excuse. And it has nothing to do with the color of one’s skin as Moore ought to know best. Radio was and is his best friend and greatest advocate.

Neil told’s Roger Friedman, “The songwriters may make a million dollars over a lifetime on their royalties…But the performers made a hundred million dollars up front on record sales and concerts. Now they’re coming back and telling us to pay them. We won’t.”

Translation: it’s up to the record labels to take care of their own.

Neil is also talking big. Let’s hope he means it.

He is threatening to charge artists to play their records if the performance tax is passed. Properly disclosed, this is not payola.

It’s pure genius.

Lucky for the record industry and the greedy artists that most radio executives have no guts.

They may also have no brains.

Radio has been derelict in its efforts to remind audiences, the industry and regulators that radio did not profit directly from record sales. Maybe a little payola that was not worth the aggravation (remember, the labels were the ones paying the payola). Maybe you could argue that playing music was cheap programming, but radio could counter by calling it free publicity for record sales.

One of the things that is hurting music radio right now is dependence on music supplied by the labels that long ago lost the ability to find what the public wants.

That public now uses the Internet to audition what it wants to buy, steal or share. Radio can’t do much about it and the record labels have futility attempted to intimidate consumers into relying on old models.

Ironically, radio really does have a huge weapon in this fight and it’s bigger than a mere threat.

Radio actually needs to find and feature a wider variety of music. They are their own worst enemies with lousy music and too little variety. Over the past 20 years about all radio stations could do is change its sweepers and liners to try and make listeners believe they were getting fewer commercials and a wide variety of music.

Now, radio can actually deliver what their listeners have been clamoring for -- more variety.

In a way I’d like to see the artists get their performance tax because maybe a few Bob Neils might step up and show the artists why they should be careful what they wish for.

The labels would have you think that first you write a song, then singers get paid for the song that hasn’t been played on the radio yet (singers aren’t paid when a record is played on the radio only the writers are although some singers make side deals).

Radio stations are trying to get anyone who will listen to understand that there is no hit music if radio doesn’t play the songs – still the case even as the Internet has grown in its influence with younger consumers. Some day radio may not matter, but Internet radio will matter especially when WiFi or WiMax enables universal Internet on the go.

And we all know that taxing can easily become contagious.

If only radio had the guts to line up behind Neil’s threat. Let Congress see the showdown that is developing. By acting on behalf of these ingrates, Congress could actually hurt the very music industry it would presumably be trying to help.

It sucks that record labels have had a history of screwing their artists out of the fortune they were able to make on their backs.

But make no mistake about it – without radio – the record labels would have made nothing.

The fix is fairness.

Radio is the sales engine for popular music. It pays rights fees. Those fees could be reapportioned to pay the "poor" musicians who want Congress to act.

And, Internet radio should be encouraged and nurtured – not punished through unfair copyright fees.

Digital rights management (DRM) should be removed from all music now before the labels train another generation that the best way to share music is to steal it.

The labels have run the music industry into the ground.

Let’s hope the radio, satellite and Internet radio industry doesn’t let it do the same to them.

Go on record now and back the Neil promise to charge the labels for airplay. Watch the bully run.

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