SONGS, SENATORS AND SAUSAGE …

You don’t want to see legislation or sausage being made, goes the old adage. Watching either of those endeavors will sour you on both. I’ve never seen sausage being made. But I was a witness to the passing of the federal seat belt law, when I was around ten-years-old. We were in the big congressional hall. A bunch of people got up and argued with each other (one at a time). Then they all said “aye” or “nay.” Then my father whispered in my ear, “Now, we always have to wear our seat belts. If the president signs this – and he will – this will be the law from now on.”

And it is …to this day.

Most people in America don’t know this about America, but the songwriting profession is THE ONLY profession in the history of our nation that has always been completely and totally run by the government. THEY set our rates. THEY set our licensing practices. THEY dictate our entire livelihood …almost. There are some places where they have little to no control. And in those places, we have the possibility of actually doing pretty well. In fact, in THOSE places, we can compete with our “master recording” counterparts dollar-for-dollar. But those places are in TV, film and commercial licensing.

The vast majority of our income streams are set by congress (or worse) “rate court” judges. Yes. The amount of money I earn on each spin of a record, on the radio, is decided BY. A. JUDGE. So when you ask me, “hey, who decides how much money you make per spin of a record?” The answer is …I have no idea. But he or she wears a robe and works somewhere in Washington D.C.

I wonder how many people can say their income is determined by ONE judge, somewhere, who knows nothing about the ins-and-outs of their business?

But it gets better …

There’s also a law on the books that makes it illegal for that judge to allow the current market value of intellectual property to be introduced into evidence as part of his or her decision-making process. So, they literally make it up out of thin air …based on nothing. And they have to …legally.

I’ve been filming a documentary with three singer/songwriter friends and an Emmy award winning film maker for over a year, now. Our quest? To get to the bottom of why our particular industry is going away and how we can save it. Especially when the music business (as a whole) seems to be doing just fine. One of the many conclusions we’ve come to is that congress needs to get out of the songwriting profession altogether and let us handle our own business.

Two weeks ago, we went to congress and asked them if they could do just that …ON camera. We were loaded for bear, ready to lower the boom on these representatives and senators. We had our oh-so-informed questions and queries ready. But to our surprise, EVERY SINGLE representative and senator we talked with agreed with us. They ALL – to a person – thought our plight was insane and wanted to help.

So why can’t they do anything about it? The answer is simpler than I wanted it to be: once something becomes a law, it’s really hard to undo it. Once people have built businesses and lives and economic machines on the foundations of something, telling them to dismantle all of that is almost impossible without an enormous groundswell of support for such a thing.

And so these elected representatives all empathize with our plight. We spoke with two from the far left and two from the far right. And they ALL agreed with us and each other. AMAZING! But there are so many fractured interests in the music business itself that we (as an industry) can’t even get to a general consensus on what we (as an industry) actually want done. And that leaves the good folks in D.C hamstrung on what they can do.

You see, making law is like putting crazy glue in your hair. You’d better REALLY want it there. Because getting it out is gonna be a painful and ugly operation. The three other guys in the doc are my close friends. We’re like brothers. We are all the same gender and race and close to the same age. And even WE were arguing like playground kids about how the thing needed to be fixed, who was the best messenger, what the main issues were, etc …by lunch. And that speaks more to the nature of precedent, existing law and the difficulty in changing it, than anything else.

We ask our elected officials to be experts in every aspect of life. But they’re not. And how could they be? And maybe the best course of action is often for them to not be asked to step into a business in the first place.

As we watch the current healthcare debate, I’m reminded of how cavalierly our current healthcare law was passed. And how little was debated about the possible unintended consequences of the government stepping into one sixth of the American economy. It was just about coverage or lack thereof.

I’ve been very public about my political point of view and my thoughts on American healthcare. As a libertarian, I always take a “try-everything-but-government-first” approach to pretty much everything except the military. The reason isn’t because I want to see people die or lose coverage or get left on the street or any of those old chestnuts, hurled by statists, who think only people in Washington D.C can manage anything important. It’s because I am LIVING through the nightmare of government being so out-of- step with my chosen profession, that it almost isn’t a profession anymore. And I desperately want to keep that from happening in something as important as healthcare.

As a songwriter, what I need in 2017 isn’t a world view from 1909. But that’s what I have to live with. Because the government can’t keep up with Google or Apple or Spotify or Pandora. And I can’t keep up with all the conflicts of interest that keep all those entities tangled up together and working against my interests as a commercial artist.

This kind of chaos can have dire consequences when life and death are in the mix.

So, my word to the wise, inside the healthcare profession itself, is be careful what you wish for when it comes to the government dancing with you. It may seem wonderful for a while. It may seem pragmatic. It may seem humane. it may seem to make the most sense. But then, one day you may find yourself making a nice living taking X-rays, with your pay-grade, benefits, etc all managed by some government agency, when – all of a sudden – iPhone comes out with an app that does your job for free. Check breaks and tears and hernias and masses, just by clicking on the app. Point and shoot. Text it to your doctor. Have your robot-driven car take you to the first available “bone-setting” station, in the local strip mall.

Think I’m exaggerating? In 1997 I would’ve NEVER believed that two thirds of planet earth would be holding access to every song ever recorded …on their phone …for $14 bucks a month …that I can’t participate in …because the laws of 1909 couldn’t imagine the same world Steve Jobs could.

If you’re not a part of that dynamic AS it develops; that innovation; that ebb and flow of market genius, you just might find yourself where I am: losing 80% of your income while people in D.C try to figure out why their regulations and oversights – that never saw the new model coming – aren’t helping you.

And the real losers in that structure? The people who just want affordable access to world-class health care. I personally believe we can get there without a complete government takeover of the healthcare industry. We need laws – of course. But they need to be carefully written and (at least in my view) the fewer the better.

My profession is inundated with sausage (legislation) that has gone bad. WAY bad. I don’t wish that on anyone else. Especially not an industry that holds life and death in its hands.

 

R

5 thoughts on “SONGS, SENATORS AND SAUSAGE …

  1. Thank you for writing this… I have been thinking the same thing. While you feel the government regulations in the songwriting industry, try the automotive industry… or transportation industry… banking industry… just to name a few others. They have been squeezed and squeezed by crushing government regulation intended to be fair and make sense. However, reality and practicality are very different beasts. The consumers actually loose when business is regulated / crushed so deeply.

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  2. Well said as always. I hope you can get the government out of your profession, sadly I think we may be stuck with it in healthcare, and it will only get worse.

    By the way, I do not think there is a federal seat belt law (other than the law requiring seat belts in cars). As a citizen of the Live Free or Die state, we don’t need no stinking seat belts!

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  3. I think the difficulty is that there are too few songwriters, so too few votes. Politicians are all about votes–only legislation that might translate into a significant amount of votes gets their time and effort.

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  4. The less government the better. So when someone says nothing is getting done in Washington I cynically think that’s probably a good thing. I pray you live to see those punitive laws repealed.

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