About NPR All Songs Considered agreement

posted in: Music, Personal | 0

(originally I published this on Blogger on Dec 14, 2009 so please pardon me if some information is outdated and some links are broken. I’ll be updating the links and the info as fast as much as can in the near future)

On another site, Scary NPR Open Mic Agreement on cdbaby.org, there is a forum going on about the agreement artists are required to agree to for submissions to the program “All Song Considered” on National Public Radio (www.npr.org)

That forum started with somebody saying that it was ok to agree to the following:

“In consideration of NPR’s review of the Material in connection with its program All Songs Considered (the “Program”), I irrevocably license NPR the right to copy, duplicate, perform, store, archive, retrieve, digitalize, transmit, and distribute the Material, in whole or in part, on a non-exclusive basis, worldwide, in perpetuity, in the Program on the NPR Web site and in other media now or hereafter known. This license is assignable by NPR at its sole discretion.”

I was not able to post my comment there, their site did not give me a confirmation my reply got posted, so I’ll post it here:

I make a premise here. I’m just an artist and not a music lawyer.
I suggest you read “All You Need To Know About the Music Business” by Donald S. Passman (www.donpassman.com) to get a through understanding of details about music laws. I also hope Mr. Passman will finally start contributing in these forums in the feature clearing things like this for us.

I want to make a premise first: I’m a big fan e regular listener of NPR. However, that does not mean I agree with like they treat music artists (and not just NPR but all the radio industry and other broadcast industries as well)

Well, 2 issues here:
Issue 1:
First, NPR is protecting itself as much as it can by trying to clear their road as much as they can from future hassles (like paying the artist for mechanical licenses for reproducing the recording on an “All Song Considered” compilation CD for example)

Why this seems fine to many artists puzzles me.
It would ok for NPR to not pay you performing rights if they are featuring your record on their program in an editorial way (that means they are playing excerpts and talking about you and your record). That would fall under “fair use” laws and I’m ok with those laws as they make sense.
However, any radio station should pay performing rights for the song they broadcast full-length in a non-editorial context (even as background music). This is the rule abroad in many other countries. In those countries radio stations have to regularly submit a cue-sheet like other broadcast industries are required to do. So, the radio really pays for the songs they broadcast. In my native country, Italy, even restaurants, bars, and any other public places that performs music in any way (either through a band or through a CD player) are required to submit cue sheets (and money) to the performing right society. This is just fair and how it should be. Somehow, in the US many laws are not on the music artist/writer side and this causes us to lose a substantial amount of money.

As far as NPR putting songs from your record on their compilation CD without paying you any mechanical rights, that could be ok if they were going to promote you in some ways (maybe by sending that CD to other radios like OasisCD does with their sampler)
However, when NPR creates compilations with your songs and songs from other artists and sells those compilations for substantial money (see links below) then NPR “has to” pay machanical licenses.
I put the words “has to” between quotes because of course NPR does not have to as long as you have agreed with their agreement listed above in the forum. And that’s what mainly wrong with that agreement. It is designed to protect NPR and give NPR all possible advantages in exchange for just hope, hope to be eventually chosen for their program and get a very tiny exposure (yes, tiny, as they will not be definitely doing a program about you every week, but just once). And, sorry, but “hope” does not pay me for my music and neither pays my bills.

Links to NPR “All Songs Considered” compilations sold for $$$ on many web stores and making money just for NPR (and of course the retailers), not the artists/writers:
– www.amazon.com/All-Songs-Considered-CD-Collection/dp/B000641ZNG
– shopping.msn.com/prices/all-songs-considered-4-cd-collection/itemid1729774/?itemtext=itemname:all-songs-considered-4-cd-collection
– www.amazon.com/All-Songs-Considered-Vol-4/dp/B0001ADB6O/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=music&qid=1231941833&sr=8-1
– www.amazon.com/All-Songs-Considered-Vol-2/dp/B00006RAL2/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=music&qid=1231941833&sr=8-2
– www.amazon.com/All-Songs-Considered-Various-Artists/dp/B00005JIUT/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&s=music&qid=1231941833&sr=8-4
– www.amazon.com/I-Heard-NPR-Home-World/dp/B00009KTX7/ref=pd_sim_m_4
– www.amazon.com/Heard-NPR-Singers-Sessions-Voices/dp/B000BX8QSY/ref=pd_bbs_sr_12?ie=UTF8&s=music&qid=1231941877&sr=8-12

– 2) Second, NPR is not making clear enough how the artist is protected. I’m probably repeating most of issue 1 here but the point is that the only two words that seem to be on the artist side in their agreement are “non-exclusive”. Guess what, “hope” triumphs again. So we start thinking “Well, I know I’m giving them basically all rights for their program and station and also to produce compilation CDs they are going to sell for big money and I won’t get paid one penny for any of that, but hey, it’s non-exclusive so not bad”. Bullshit. We music artist/writers are so used to live out of hope that we do no longer think straight. We just go for hope.

Well, guess what. If we do not ask to be paid for our work, who will?
Have you ever experienced something like that with professionals other than music artists/writers? Did you ever go to a dentist and have a crown done and expect to pay nothing and have the dentist agree with a contract that says “I’m the customer and owe you no money and You, the dentist retain the non-exclusive right of your profession in exchange for me to carry your crown around and maybe promote you by telling other people about your work.”

It’s sad to hear artists/writers saying that’s ok to agree to something like that because you get “hope”. That means those artists/writers are the first to blame as they are not giving any monetary value to their work. They just hope to “make it big” one day, have a “break”. But you have probably better odds playing the lottery and win a lot of money than have a break in the music industry that would allow you to continue living on your music. That’s the truth. And in all this, the hope for smaller acts to make a living out of their arts becomes day by day harder and harder. Music industry is changing, but it’s getting worse, not better. Notwithstanding the increase in digital downloads the music industry as a whole lost more than 4 billion dollars in the last 10 years, in the US alone. Which brings me to another topic for another day so I’ll stop here: people have to wrong assumption that music should be free and CDs should be priced very little. But I think CDs should be priced even more especially for smaller acts. Mariah Carey can still make millions selling $5 CDs. A smaller act should sell CDs for $40 to be able to just make a living.

Links:
Scary NPR Open Mic Agreement on cdbaby.org
www.ascap.com/playback/2005/winter/features/cuesheets.aspx
Trend: The Record Industry as We Know it is Dying
Sales And Marketing Trends In The Music Industry
Music Industry Trends Have A Lesson For Radio
Ten Music Industry Trends in 2009

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