Do artists have to be paid when their song plays on the radio?


MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Artists are not always paid when the song they sing is broadcast on the radio.

The songwriter is often paid, but often the performer himself does not.

That’s because of current copyright laws, but Congress has joined the debate — with hearings on a proposal to give artists compensation.


There is no doubt that the best performers love being on stage.

Earl “The Pearl” Banks is a perfect example.

Many weeknights, the 85-year-old performs on famed Beale Street in Memphis.

Banks and his guitarist, Eric Lewis, say being an artist can be a tough way to make a living.

Decades ago, it was easier, according to Banks.

“The music is very different now. It’s hard now,” he said.

Banks’ music has played on the radio over the years, but at 85, he’s still performing.

“Record labels aren’t what they used to be,” Lewis said.


It seems that Congress wants to help struggling artists.

The American Music Fairness Act would compensate artists and performers when their songs are played on the radio.

“It’s really about fair wages and fair earnings,” said Bruce Newman, host of WEVL 89.9 in Memphis.

Newman says current copyright law allows songwriters who own the copyright to be paid, but the actual performers receive nothing.

This is because writers often own the copyright.

Musicians from Gloria Estefan to Dionne Warwick testified before Congress to change that.

Proponents of the bill have focused on how older musicians are affected by the lack of controls, as they often no longer play or record new songs.

Most countries, says Newman, pay artists.

“We’re the only ones who don’t pay performers,” he said.


The radios go back.

The National Association of Broadcasters “strongly opposes” the bill, fearing it will force many AM/FM stations to close.

The lobby group points out that performers benefit from free promotion of a song when it is played on the radio.

Instead, the group is pushing for the Local Radio Freedom Act, which would limit payments.

Newman admits it’s a complicated question and that smaller stations would have to be exempted for the plan to work.

“We (the radio station) couldn’t survive if we had to make payments,” Newman said.

Back on Beale Street, Banks said he would like to see some change.

“You should get paid for this,” he said.

However, until that happens, he will continue to play.


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