[Editor Charlie sez: Hot on the heels of the Steven Johnson debacle in the New York Times, we find out that our friend Janita was approached by Forbes to do an interview about the #irespectmusic campaign–an offer that was quickly withdrawn once Forbes found out what she had to say. So naturally…here it is.]
Guest Post by Janita
I have great respect for journalists, and I respect Forbes magazine. As a newly-minted American citizen myself, I’ve gained a deep love and understanding for the inherent––in fact unique––importance reporters have in U.S. society. So, I was excited and honored when told I’d been “confirmed to be the subject of a major Q&A with Forbes.com,” specifically about my involvement in the #IRespectMusic campaign.
I was sent five thought provoking questions from the writer at Forbes, and I answered them as authentically and truthfully as I could. I sent the completed written interview back.
Then came the surprise.
I was informed that following the receipt of my answers, the reporter had suddenly “passed” on her own interview with me. The only reason the reporter gave was that the interview read like (and I quote) an “impassioned plea from Janita to help her and other performers get paid more.” She informed us that she was afraid she “just couldn’t run with it.”
Remember, they asked me for this interview. About this subject. And sent these questions.
It’s one thing for an editorial department to pass on a story. But here, a journalist asked me five direct questions in an interview and then wouldn’t––or couldn’t––run the story because either she or Forbes didn’t like the answers.
Respectfully, that’s doesn’t feel journalistically ethical. Forbes is a serious, global, news-breaking outlet, and rejecting answers to their own questions isn’t what we expect of them.
I’m truly grateful to the people I work with who set up this interview with the best intentions, and to my record label for standing by me.
I believe this fight is too important for me to keep silent. The bills now before Congress would address serious issues facing brave people who simply want to continue making music––people who are now standing up and speaking out, together. And I intend to stand with them.
Below is the #IRespectMusic interview I was asked to do for Forbes.com which they then refused to publish––unchanged and in its entirety.
Again, I deeply respect reporters. I respect journalism.
But I’m releasing this interview here because I respect music.
1) Why it’s essential that musicians get paid for radio play
So this is a business magazine, and I’m sure each of your readers would agree that a fundamental tenet of a capitalist society is that people should be paid for their work. Plumbers, lawyers, teachers, bus drivers––each and all get paid for what they do––as they should be. Artists and musicians should be paid fairly for their work too. But here in the United States many are still shocked to learn that they aren’t. We live in the only democratic country in the world, in fact, where artists don’t get paid for radio airplay. For example, when you hear someone say “R.E.S.P.E.C.T.” you probably think of Aretha Franklin, right? Well she––just like every other music artist––has never been paid one penny for that song being played on the radio in the U.S., ever. It really is shocking. What’s more, the short list of countries that share the United States’ policy on this issue includes Iran, North Korea, and Rwanda. Also shocking, and definitely a list we don’t want to be on.
Last year alone, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) made over $17 billion in advertising alone. Not a small amount of money. While raking in that money, they didn’t pay a single dollar to any artist, or for any track around which they sold all that advertising. That just doesn’t make any sense to me, or anyone I’ve ever talked to about this.
2) Why America doesn’t pay and why other countries do
The argument the Amercian radio industry always seems to put forward as the reason why Ms. Franklin––and middle-class artists like myself––shouldn’t be paid for radio airplay is that we’re getting “exposure.” Seriously, this is their argument: that our compensation is promotion. Can anyone, anywhere, think of another example in our society where it’s accepted that people are paid exclusively in “promotional value?” A leader in Congress on this issue, Congressman Nadler (NY), makes this point often, and has said repeatedly that he cannot think of anywhere else in our capitalist society where this is accepted.
The truth is there is no good reason why artists don’t get paid in the United States, other than that the NAB simply doesn’t want to pay. Truly. Music is these radio stations’ only product, and they don’t want to have to pay for it. I get it, but it’s clearly not a valid “position.” The rest of the world’s radio stations have been paying these royalties to artists for decades, and they’ve made it work––terrestrial radio is thriving everywhere. So you have to ask, if Bolivia can make this work, can’t we, here in the United States?
3) How it degrades what these amazing artists do to NOT be paid for radio play
Music is a profession, like any other. And this profession relies on its vast middle-class, like every other. It isn’t just rock stars who aren’t getting paid, it’s millions of working artists and musicians. For the most part, these are people just like myself, who are far more interested in polishing their craft than polishing their gold hub caps. We’re simply asking for the same fair treatment that every profession deserves. It is, in fact, a matter of respect––for music itself, and for the hard working people who make it. What’s more, it’s an American jobs issue. Think of the electricians who wire clubs for sound, carpenters who build recording studios, tour bus drivers, and so on. These are jobs that in turn rely on music and the musicians who make that music. If we could change this policy regarding radio royalties and get money fairly into the pockets of music makers, think of what it would do for American jobs. Here’s another example: think of the legacy Jazz artists living in my own city––up in Harlem––who have added immeasurably to the fabric of our nation’s identity. These are, in many cases, artists who are now in their seventies and eighties and who have never made any money from their entire recording catalog being played on the radio. Artists who can’t pay their rent or afford their health insurance. This is so easy to fix, in a world where so many things are so hard to fix. We have to show the courage, and the responsibility to fix it.
4) Other artists (Taylor Swift, etc.) who’ve fought for these rights and their positions on this issue
Over the last eighteen months or so, something amazing has been happening. And, it’s what I believe is finally turning the tide in this fight: music makers and music lovers are standing up now, and standing together. Many musicians have recently become courageous advocates for artists’ rights, and it’s so heartening to see. We are indeed becoming a united force, and it’s powerful. Artists like David Lowery, Zoe Keating, Aloe Blacc, Taylor Swift, Jason Aldean, David Byrne, and so many others. Artists taking on streaming royalties, music piracy, corporate transparency, and more. Each in their own way, with their own voices, but as part of one chorus. Blake Morgan has perhaps been the most vocal advocate when it comes to this particular issue of radio royalties. He started the grassroots movement I Respect Music, which began as a petition urging Congress to support artists’ pay for radio airplay, and has now grown to become what’s being called the largest grassroots movement in American music history. The hashtag, #IRespectMusic is a rallying cry for tens of thousands of people––music makers and lovers alike––all over the country, and around the world. I’ve joined Blake on multiple trips to Capitol Hill to speak directly to Representatives of Congress about these issues, and it’s been incredibly energizing, powerful, and moving to see so much forward progress and momentum. Just this past April, Representatives Nadler and Blackburn (TN) put forward the bi-partisan Fair Play Fair Pay Act of 2015, a courageous piece of legislation that would fix this radio airplay issue for American artists, and get American music makers paid fairly, finally, for their work.
5) What we can do about it
You can help keep the pressure on! You can sign the I Respect Music petition to Congress at www.IRespectMusic.org, you can call your representatives, you can work with the many artist advocacy organizations out there, and you can spread awareness about this issue and join the tens of thousands who have posted selfies on Facebook or Twitter holding up a sign that says #IRespectMusic. Each and every action, large and small, makes a huge difference. This is a joyous fight, a righteous fight, and one worth winning.