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Grammy Artists Turn Activist, With New Political Action Committee

The red carpet will be rolled out tonight for the 58th annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. While all eyes will be on artists like Taylor Swift and The Weeknd – both nominated for “Record of the Year” and “Song of the Year” – a group of Grammy nominees and previous winners want you to be thinking about something else: fair compensation for artists.

The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, the group behind the Grammy Awards, has created a political action committee called the Grammy Fund for Music Creators. Stars including Babyface, Nile Rodgers, Anita Baker and Jimmy Jam will serve as ambassadors for the group.

Here & Now’s Lisa Mullins talks with the co-chair of the new PAC, music producer Harvey Mason Jr., who has won six Grammys and is nominated this year for “Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media” for the movie “Pitch Perfect 2.”

Interview Highlights: Harvey Mason Jr.

What are the major problems you’re trying to address?

“Some of the problems are inherent in the new business model and the way things are set up with streaming and digital downloading and some of the problems are even within our own music community, but what we’re facing is the community and the creators of music are not being compensated or paid fairly for what they’re doing. The companies – record companies, streaming companies, other companies are utilizing our music and distributing our content and money is not being passed down to the people that create it, so we are really trying to find a fair and equitable solution for the creators, and we are not trying to take money out of anyone else’s pocket, we are just trying to find a fair balance so that we can continue to make great music, create great art for all of the people that consume throughout the world and still be able to make a living.”

Where does the money go when an artist records a song and it becomes famous?

“The breakdown would take me well past our interview time, but there’s money generated every time a song is played on terrestrial radio, satellite radio, streaming services, downloaded from Apple or from another downloading site, or actually a CD purchased. There are royalties streams associated with each of those; all of them are federally regulated, statutory rate for anything mechanically distributed, but with streaming, which is kind of the future of our business, there’s not a regulated fee or set amount of money that goes to any of the different constituencies, whether that be the producers, artists, singers, record companies, publishers, side musicians; all those different groups are arguing and negotiating and trying to get whatever they can from a stream. Right now, you said you’ve been hearing this argument for the last 10 years, but right now is the time that it’s most important because of the changes that are happening in our industry; because of the streaming, and I think that’s the reason you’re hearing more and more about it, and that’s one of the reasons we’ve started the PAC.”

What are the ‘invisible jobs at risk’ that you have talked about with politicians?

“It’s really everyone from the top to the bottom. Everyone sees the artist or they hear the artist on radio or they’re buying their music, but they don’t see all of the other people that go into making a song. Starting from the artist going down, there’s the artist, producer, I’m a producer so I’m pretty familiar with that job, but also underneath me or the people who work along with me are the engineers, my other musicians, my other songwriters, my other assistant engineers, administrative staff, studio employees, studio managers and it really trickles down to a level that people never really notice that participates in the process of making music.”

Because you hear the artist in the song, but you don’t hear everyone else.

“Right, and that’s why when members of Congress come into my studio, they see all of these people doing all of these different jobs they didn’t even know existed, and I explain to them if the artist makes less, the producer makes less, then I can’t afford to pay any of the other 20 or 30 different people under my employment. So they start to really understand that their constituents are being affected by the way music is being paid for.”

Who are you fighting against?

“That’s a good question, and I don’t like to say we’re fighting against anybody. I like to say that we’re all trying to come together to find a comprehensive solution. I don’t feel like we have an enemy out there. The streaming companies are running great businesses, and I understand what they are trying to do and build their business, but as creators and artists we are trying to continue to fight for what’s fair. As I said at the top, some of what we’re fighting is the difference of opinions between all of our smaller groups, our sub groups of publishers, record companies, artists, musicians, so we all need to come together. We all need to find what’s fair and equitable for all of us, and then we need to approach members of Congress and approach the digital companies and really figure out a solution that works. I think that we all need to work together, and we’re all on the same team here.”


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