Nancy Sinatra's boots may be made for walking, but she's tired of never being paid when that song--composed by Lee Hazlewood--plays on the radio. The singer, actress, and one time 54-year-old Playboy model stepped out of her usual roles today to enter into a long-brewing debate over radio royalties. Writing on the Op-ed page of The New York Times, she invoked her father Frank, who fought the same battle his whole life.
When I hear great American standards on the radio, I think of all the songwriters, artists and musicians whom my father, brother and I have worked with over the years. It reminds me that every recording has two parts, the composition and the performance. It also reminds me how many wonderful artists and musicians have not been paid fairly for their work.
Sinatra is just the latest artist to speak out in anticipation of today's hearing on a "Performance Rights Act." As reported in Variety, Will.i.am, Sheryl Crow, The Four Tops, and Billy Corgan have all marched in a celebrity movement to pass a bill granting royalties not only to the songwriters and publishers of music, but the performers as well.
Their argument? As Sinatra puts it:
- Sometimes It's the Performer That Makes the Song. "My father became an icon by putting his inimitable stamp on songs."
- "Promotion" Is a Myth. "The practice of "backselling" -- mentioning the name and performer of the song that was just played -- has fallen into such disuse that a decade ago the nation's largest radio station operator, Clear Channel, asked for $24,000 per title to mention the song's artists on the air."
- Why Is Land Radio the Only Exception? "Internet radio and satellite radio pay artists when they play their records, so do cable television music channels."
- The U.S. Is Backwards and Alone. "Because the United States doesn't have performance royalties, radio stations in countries that do collect them do not have to pay American artists. In many of these countries, American artists make up as much as 50 percent of radio airplay"
You could say, as radio companies have, that the Sinatras have managed well enough without the royalties. (Even after death, Frank pulled in over $50 million in 2007.) Or, as Chris Anderson has said, that "Free" really is the future of business. But until performers can decide whether to give their music away for free, it's also a question of fairness.