This week, Americans will decide on the next president of the United States, and musicians across the country are among the hundreds of millions of lives that will be impacted by the outcome. In a recent article, which cited industry executives on both sides of the aisle, Billboard broke down what’s at stake for musicians in this upcoming election cycle, underscoring copyright as the most important policy issue in the music business right now. Since the copyright industries collectively contribute more than $1 trillion dollars annually to the Gross Domestic Product, many members of the music community might therefore assume this to be the big-ticket issue that could help them decide between candidates. Unfortunately, though, it’s not that simple.
“While there is no shortage of issues that differentiate Trump and Biden, music is generally not one of them,” Daryl Friedman, the Recording Academy’s Chief Advocacy Officer, told Billboard. The fact is, both Joe Biden and Donald Trump share very similar views on copyright and have pro-music policies on their records, making it very difficult for undecided voters in the music community to choose a candidate based on copyright policy alone.
Ahead of the 2020 Election, GRAMMY.com spoke to a number of artists and musicians about some of the most pressing issues impacting the music community this voting season.
Pandemic Music Rights
Many musicians and industry professionals show tremendous concern over the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has directly impacted the music industry in drastic ways. In fact, when Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris took to Instagram Live with artists Miley Cyrus, Billie Eilish and Selena Gomez in October, the pandemic was central to their conversations. The inability to tour has proven particularly devastating for the careers of indie musicians, and the same goes for indie music venues, which are struggling to survive
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“The lack of a national strategy has not just meant live music venues across the country being shut down, but many having to shut their doors permanently,” one Los Angeles music venue manager tells GRAMMY.com. “Many big venues will be fine, but what does that mean for small businesses?”
The Recording Academy has worked closely with lawmakers and policy makers, including in the Trump Administration, on relief efforts to support the music ecosystem, and it continues to advocate for a substantial relief package—inclusive of funding for musicians, venues, studios and other music small businesses affected by the pandemic.
According to Ruth Vitale, CEO of CreativeFuture, piracy has also worsened since the pandemic, as Americans find it increasingly more difficult to pay for streaming services. “In a time when few can work, piracy cuts into the already reduced legitimate revenue streams from our creations, exacerbating our economic challenges,” she explains in a letter to Joe Biden last month.
Indie pop duo Flora Cash expresses similar concerns for the music industry amid the pandemic. “The music industry as a whole is in a really tough spot right now due to the situation around COVID-19, and some real help is going to be needed, especially for live music venues that have not been able to open for almost the entirety of 2020,” they told GRAMMY.com in a joint statement.
When asked what issues matter most to her this voting season, GRAMMY-nominated songwriter and R&B artist Victoria Monét addressed musicians’ rights. “There are [policies in place] that don’t reflect the way today’s music is consumed or accurately accommodate creatives in general,” she tells GRAMMY.com. “Among many other political issues, fair and equal pay for songwriters is very important to me.”
Monét’s point is supported by many musicians who argue that the payout to artists, songwriters and producers from streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music is too low, especially given the significant role the copyright industry plays in our economy.
“The core copyright industries are an important economic driver for our country, employing 5.7 million Americans and contributing more than $1.3 trillion to the Gross Domestic Product,” CreativeFuture’s Vitale shares in her October letter to Biden. “[This is] more than aerospace, agriculture, or pharmaceuticals.”
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Musicians’ rights are a hallmark of the Recording Academy’s advocacy efforts. Just recently, Academy Trustee Yolanda Adams testified in front of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and earlier in 2020, the Academy’s Chair and Interim President/CEO Harvey Mason jr. spoke to the same committee about the importance of establishing a terrestrial radio performance right for artists. The Academy will continue to advocate for fair pay for artists and creators in a more inclusive and modern copyright system.
Fortunately, both candidates have expressed similarly strong views on the issue of copyright. In 2018, President Trump signed into law the Music Modernization Act (MMA)—the most significant update to music licensing in a generation, with significant support from the Recording Academy and its members. President Trump also recently signed the USMCA, which included a number of substantial pro-copyright modifications.
And as Billboard recently reported, Vice President Biden has a long and verifiable track record in supporting pro-copyright policies, citing his eight years as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Look, piracy is outright theft,” Biden said in 2011. “People are out there blatantly stealing from Americans – stealing their ideas and robbing us of America’s creative energies. There’s no reason why we should treat intellectual property any different than tangible property.” (The Recording Academy honored Biden at the 2011 GRAMMYs on the Hill Awards in Washington, D.C.)
Delving further into the candidate’s track records reveals that Joe Biden was behind the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, which was responsible for millions of dollars going back into the pockets of musicians and arts organizations that were impacted by the economic crash of 2009. “ARRA supplemented my income so that I could continue Chorus America,” GRAMMY-winning choral conductor Peter Rutenberg tells GRAMMY.com.
Despite widespread criticism of the Trump Administration’s handling of the pandemic, they haven’t left musicians completely empty-handed either. At the urging of the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2020 , which was signed by President Trump, took steps to help musicians combat the economic challenges spurred by the pandemic by temporarily allowing gig workers to apply for unemployment assistance.
Funding The Arts
As for the classical community, one of the primary concerns for voters is the funding of the arts. “I am deeply concerned for the arts in America,” Stephen Williamson, principal clarinetist for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, tells GRAMMY.com. “We are usually the first genre to be cut from schools and/or underfunded by the government.” “I sincerely hope that our country sees the need for the arts in the enrichment of the human spirit … something that all people are truly craving in light of this pandemic.”
The Recording Academy annually submits testimony to the House of Representatives and Senate in support of additional funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). As part of Congress’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Academy successfully advocated for the establishment of a $75 million supplemental fund for the NEA to help struggling creators as part of the CARES Act.
Your Voice Matters
From Black Lives Matter to the environment, the list of issues that matter to the music community is vast. Ultimately, Americans must decide for themselves what issues matter most and why. No matter who you support, musicians and music-lovers alike are encouraged to get to the polls on Election Day (Tuesday, Nov. 3) if you haven’t yet cast your ballot via the #MusicVotes campaign. You can visit the Recording Academy’s election page for voting resources and additional information to make your vote matter.
“It’s important for everyone, not just musicians, to get out and vote,” GRAMMY-nominated film composer Bruce Broughton tells GRAMMY.com. Broughton, who is known for such film scores as Tombstone, Young Sherlock Holmes and Moonwalker, believes there is more at stake in this election than ever before. “This year, the choice is big, and the repercussions of that choice will be bigger. I don’t see anyone not being [affected] by whichever side wins this year.”
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