It seems like forever since that casual conversation I had as a new NSAI President with the big kahunas of two major music business trade organization about the upcoming 2006 CRB trial. In fact in music business time, it was forever, fourteen years ago. The conversation / conflict back then was about the statutory rate on physical product vs. a mechanical right in an interactive stream, just a chat about how the future might play out. Streaming was in its infancy, so it didn’t seem like a big deal back then, and we were still managing to sell a few CD’s.
I (and many others) really believed at that time that the future of music consumption was streaming, and that physical sales would continue to drop. Not exactly an astonishing prediction, all I had to do was look at my royalty statements. We needed a mechanical right in an interactive stream. Much smarter people than me were already working on it but from a songwriter perspective I knew it was life or death.
Word from the labels back then was “Impossible!” How do we figure out the PRO / Mechanical splits? How do we figure out promotional streams with the services? I figured next they’d be talking about “returns” and “breakage.” (For you youngsters those are old school terms that purportedly kept labels from paying for physical product damaged in shipping J)
These guys’ salaries were bigger than our organization’s entire budget, so I guess there are some advantages to volunteering for a gig like NSAI president. You really have nothing to lose if you push too hard and they fire you. I had no reason to be careful, so I said something to the effect of, “You guys have been able to figure out promotional rates and controlled comp and contract loopholes that have ripped off songwriters for seventy-five years. This shouldn’t be so hard. And it’s the future of songwriting.”
In the coming weeks, a groundswell of peer pressure grew around this issue and at that year’s CRB, we settled for status quo on physical product and opened the door to mechanical rights in an interactive stream. It was a life-changing moment for me, realizing that someone who fed his family from the royalties off songs he created might be able to influence or even outgun the big boys in New York and DC. I still say it was the heat in the courtroom that final day of the 2006 CRB trial, but songwriter urban legend still tells the story of the RIAA lawyer asking me the wrong songwriter question, and when the answer created a Perry mason moment, she fainted dead away and exited on a gurney.
It was the first step on our fifteen-year journey to the next CRB and after that, the historic Music Modernization Act.