WASHINGTON – Musicians who add the guitar riff or bass groove to "bring a song to life" should be paid when their work is played on the radio, four-time Grammy winner Lyle Lovett told a Senate panel on Tuesday.
Lovett, testifying the morning after a local gig, urged the Senate Judiciary Committee to consider legislation requiring commercial radio to pay royalties to performers when they play their songs. Songwriters already receive such payments.
"This issue is not about me. It's about the thousands of performers across the country who work so hard to earn livings that are so modest in relation to their talent," Lovett said.
Lovett said the musicians often are critical to the songs. "Those are people who are usually not credited as writers of a song, but are extremely influential in bringing a song to life and are very much a part of the creative process," he said.
Lovett appeared on behalf of the musicFirst Coalition. He was joined at the witness table by singer-songwriter Alice Peacock, who performed a portion of her hit song "Bliss" as part of her testimony. Ray Benson, who leads the Texas swing band Asleep at the Wheel, also attended. He planned to lobby lawmakers later.
Internet, cable and satellite radio already pay fees to performers and musicians, along with songwriter royalties. But commercial AM and FM radio stations do not, the witnesses said.
The National Association of Broadcasters opposes the fee for performers, and local radio stations consider it a performance tax, said Steven Newberry, president and CEO of Commonwealth Broadcasting Corp.
"The existing model works for one very simple and significant reason: The promotional value of what the record labels and performers receive from free airplay on local radio stations drives consumers to purchase music," said Newberry, who operates 23 radio stations in rural Kentucky.
Senators questioned what effect the payments might have on the radio business and musicians, as well as whether fees should be based on revenue or profit and whether fees should be based on size of the station's audience.
The musicians found sympathy among the committee members. Among them was Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican who has received royalties from songs he has written and recorded. "You ought to find some way to do it," Hatch told the radio representatives.
But Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, was more skeptical.
"The problem is once Congress starts mandating things, it never seems to stop," Cornyn said.
Sen. Pat Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who chairs the committee, questioned whether it is right for the U.S. to not pay performers while other countries do.
"When we turn on the radio, I want to know that the voices I hear belong to artists who are being treated fairly," he said.