Music Business

Has NPR Turned Their Backs On Musicians?

NprIn what can only be described as troubling and suspicious activity, NPR has joined Google, Amazon, Pandora, Clear Channel, the NAB and even the National Restaurant Association in opposing changes that would benefit songwriters and musicians. 


Guest Post by Will Buckley on NPR Fare Play

They’ve all signed on as members of an industry funded organization called the Mic Coalition, posing as an organization watching out for the consumer.

The Mic Coalition has nothing to do with protecting the consumer, many of whom already pay nothing for music.  The truth?  Mic Coalition was created to maintain the status quo keeping the compensation to musicians and songwriters for broadcasting their music below the poverty line. 

Comment-bubbles-on-blackboardThis was expected from the tech sector as they gear up to oppose any positive changes for creators proposed by the Congressional Subcommittee reviewing our predominantly pre-internet copyright laws. But the real shocker is NPR joining the group.  It is no less out of character than the Republicans endorsing ObamaCare. 

For decades NPR has been depending on the generous support of recording artists to appear and provide product and tickets to their upcoming shows, not to mention that NPR already pays one of the lowest statutory rates for broadcasting and streaming music.

So if it’s not about the money, what’s NPR’s motivation in supporting the commercial broadcast industry in opposing a living wage for artists?

After all, NPR has enjoyed a vaunted reputation as an advocate for the little guy.  Now, all of a sudden they are lending their name to mega corporations in their quest to pay as little as possible for an artists’ work.  Something’s not right here.

The first crack in NPR’s facade was a post by Emily White, a young intern at NPR. White  brazenly posted on the NPR blog about her joy and feeling of entitlement as she downloaded thousands of songs from NPR’s music library onto her own personal hard drive without having any second thoughts about compensating the artists for their work. 

Her post did not go unnoticed.  David Lowery wrote a gentle, but probing post for the Trichordist about Emily’s lack of understanding about contributing to musicians for their work.  His post, “Letter to Emily White at NPR All Songs Considered.” struck a chord as millions of readers lit up the internet to read the post in a matter of days, nearly crashing the Trichordist website.

But if the letter to Emily was a crack in NPR’s facade, their new CEO, the fifth since 2009, is a glaring fissure.  Aside from his extensive experience in broadcast media, little about their new CEO seems like a fit for NPR. 

Jarl Mohn, whose on-air name was Lee Masters and is credited with creating the slogan “No rant, no slant” which sounds more like Nancy Grace than Charlie Rose, is NPR’s new CEO, appointed a year ago.   

In the press release from NPR, about Mr Mohn’s hiring this is what he had to say about his previous experience before coming to NPR:

“The first thing I would think if I were a reporter or anybody inside the organization (NPR) or outside is — ‘Oh my God. This guy’s coming in. He’s worked at MTV. He’s worked at VH1. He’s worked at E! This is the direction we’re going?’ And I can tell you w 100 percent certainty: absolutely not.”

Mohn’s also independently wealthy and politically connected.  He’s contributing more than $200,000 to politicians over the years; although he did say in the same press release that he was going to stop making political donations.

He’s also connected to tech, sitting on the board of the Web analytics company ComScore and funding another company with ties to Torrent Freakthe daily news for online piracy.

None of this is a clear indictment of their new CEO, but the recent decision from NPR’s Policy and Representation division to join the Mic Coalition, was reportedly made without discussing the endorsement with NPR’s newsroom, their journalists or on air personalities.  Ultimately though, it had to have been approved and more likely proposed by Mohn.  

Apparently, NPR’s Policy and Representation division isn’t fielding the angry calls from musicians who feel betrayed by their actions.  Over the weekend, in a leaked e-mailclaimed to have been sent from within NPR, there was information confirming where the endorsement of the MIC, (Music, Innovation, Consumer), Coalition came from:

“We have joined the MIC Coalition through NPR’s Policy and Representation division…. Our participation in the coalition is completely separate from NPR’s newsroom. NPR journalists and music curators have absolutely no role or involvement in the coalition.”

Are we about to witness an internal battle between NPR Senior Management and their editorial division?  If an article posted on NPR’s Website in recent days is any indication the answer may very well be yes:

“Music streaming services like Spotify and Pandora continue to grow more popular with music fans — but not with musicians, who complain they used to earn more in royalties from CD sales and music downloads. Songwriters say they’ve been hit even harder, and the Department of Justice appears to be taking their complaints seriously: It’s exploring big changes to the music publishing business for the first time since World War II.”

Just how the two sides will navigate their differences will be interesting to see.  It is one thing for a newcomer, even if he’s CEO, to advocate joining an outside organization, it is quite another changing the philosophical underpinnings of a news organization that prides itself on taking the high road and representing individuals over powerful corporations.

Artists can and will make a difference if they are proactive in standing up for what’s fair and right.

Sign every petition that supports an artists’ work and use your art to create awareness and inspiration for other artists and your fans.  Help them understand the serious challenges artists are facing today.   We can do this, together.

Photo Credit:  Stock photo © davincidig   

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