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The radio industry, with its influence and reach, has long been a platform for musicians to shine and the subject of controversy regarding it’s treatment of these creative minds. Beneath the glamorous surface lies complex relationships about how radio exploits artists and songwriters.
One of the largest concerns in the radio industry is the lack of fair compensation for artists. Unlike streaming platforms that offer royalties based on plays, traditional terrestrial radio does not pay performance royalties to the creators. This had led to decades of radio stations profiting off of artists without properly compensating them.
Many broadcasters will argue that they do indeed pay for the music they air on a daily basis, but that money is split between the record companies via The American society of composers, authors and publishers (ASCAP) and Broadcast Music, INC. (BMI) but at the end of the day, a songwriter might be lucky if he or she even receives a single penny from either organization.
Historically, radio has its fair share of problems with ethics, most notably in the 1950’s with a payola scandal that involved some notable names in the industry at the time. This led congress to add amendments to the communications act in 1960 that made the practice of payola and plugola illegal. Indirectly, there have been situations throughout the years that have pushed boundaries into legal gray areas where some record companies still influence what is popular today on most radio stations. This limits the diversity of music, and not just on possible racial grounds, along with marginalizing Independent and lesser known artists who may never be heard, even in their own communities.
In a market heavily dominated by corporate conglomerates (Iheartradio, Audacy, cumulus), many artists and songwriters struggle to secure airplay. Many radio stations today rely on mainstream, well known acts over independent artists. This limits exposure and restricts the growth of a diverse musical landscape, preventing many artists from gaining the recognition they deserve.
Much like the ongoing WGA-SAG/AFTRA strike, it may soon be time for songwriters to stand up and demand fair compensation or risk going on strike against the terrestrial radio industry. While terrestrial radio is undeniably a crucial promotional platform for artists and more importantly the songwriters, the continual exploitation and inequality remain. Acknowledging these issues is the first step in fostering a more equitable environment, by working together, Record labels, radio stations, musicians and songwriters can co-exist in harmony to ensure that music remains a source of inspiration and enrichment for all.
Written by: Jason Knight