Radio R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Written by Jay Jay French

Aretha Franklin (and all recording artists) get no “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” in regards to being paid to have their songs played on the radio. Aretha Franklin has never been paid for the 7.4 million times the song “Respect” has been played on commercial radio. Here’s the surprising reason why: The history of recording artists being ripped off by crooked managers, agents, and record labels are legendary. It seems that every VH1 Behind the Music is the same story. Artists starve in the early stages of their career, suddenly have a hit record, become rich and famous, and then, through a combination of ignorance (as well as drug and alcohol abuse) gets ripped off. They wind up broke, and in many cases, die an early and tragic death. Sometimes, the artist is able to “come back,” wiser (and sober) to make a lot of money and write a book about the nightmare of the road to stardom. Then, there are the kind of artists, like Aretha Franklin, who have an amazing and lifelong career. She has multiple Grammys, multiple hit singles, has sold millions of records, received the Congressional Medal of Freedom from the White House, and left an estate estimated at $80,000,000! Except…. She has never received royalties for her most famous song “Respect” (let alone all her other hits) being aired on the radio. Why? This is the part of the music business that the public doesn’t understand. Artists do not get paid for commercial radio play. Not the Beatles, not Michael Jackson, or Led Zeppelin, or Madonna, or Stevie Wonder, or Frank Sinatra, or even Twisted Sister! No matter how big (or small) you are, the fact that commercial radio stations (not including satellite and internet) do not have to pay the performing artist to air their music, was “baked into the system” years ago. Does anyone get paid? Yes. The writer(s) of the song gets a royalty for every play. In the case of “Respect”, that writer is Otis Redding. For example: Of The Beatles, only Lennon and McCartney (and occasionally George Harrison) receive royalties from commercial radio stations. But, only as the writers. How and why was this decided? Commercial radio play is considered public broadcasting. Therefore, by law, the only royalty that has to be paid is to the writer/publisher. This also applies to all music being played in public places, such as stadiums, arenas, and concert halls. Ironically, this also covers the use of any song registered to ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC that is being used at rallies, such as political ones. Any one of 80 million songs can be used without the artist’s permission, and without paying the artist any royalties. Read about President Trump’s use of “Were Not Gonna Take It” here. This law was established by Congress, and only an act of Congress can change it. Commercial radio, having very powerful lobbyists, has kept Congress from changing these laws. In contrast, satellite and internet stations do pay royalties to the performer, as they are much more recent configurations. Commercial radio does not pay royalties to the performer, rationalizing that the performer benefits from the airplay and profits from live performances and record sales. Ask any artist, and they will tell you that a radio station charges for commercials based on the popularity of the station (the more popular the station, the more they charge). However, the success of the radio station comes from playing the very songs that people want to hear. It took me years to learn about what rules were “baked into the system”. Some of the rules that may seem unfair, are still the rules that your peers in the music industry are living with. If you have the energy to fight government regulations that seem grossly unfair, just know that it’s a big fight, and in most cases, the changes are incremental. The good news is that the playing field is equal, and the smartest survive because they learned how to maneuver around such regulations. The recent headlines about a new music bill, just signed by President Trump, still does not address this issue of play on terrestrial radio, and it is still weighted heavily toward the writer/publisher. In this regard, “Respect” has not yet come to Aretha, or any of the thousands of other artists who have made commercial radio stations hundreds of millions of dollars, but we will keep fighting for that R-E-S-P-E-C-T!
Back to Copper home page

1 of 2