Dionne Warwick: Hey, radio stations, if you play my music, then pay me for my work

·4 min read

Music is in my blood.

Growing up in New Jersey, music was a part of everything my family and I did. It was our gospel, our income, our education, our passion. I started singing when I was 6 years old, and I haven’t stopped since.

It’s never been easy to find success in this industry, but luckily I did. And by luckily, I mean with a lot of hard work, dedication and persistence. It took 20 years before I had a No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. Throughout my 60-some-year career (don’t do the math), I’ve experienced great success and more than a few failures. But music has always kept me going.

I’ve seen a lot of changes in the industry since I got my start – most good, some bad – but disappointingly one thing has remained the same: Radio stations still aren’t paying artists for their work.

USA TODAY's opinion newsletter: Get the best insights and analysis delivered to your inbox.

These stations – most of which are now owned by a few multibillion dollar media corporations – get away with using musicians’ work to bring listeners to their stations, allowing them to charge advertisers huge amounts of money, without ever paying performers a penny.

And here’s the worst part: It’s all legal. Our outdated laws – made decades ago in very different times and kept intact today by lobbyists for the biggest corporate broadcasters – say all this is OK.

But it’s not OK. It’s unfair and unjust – and it’s time for things to change.

Dionne Warwick has won five Grammy Awards and received its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019.
Dionne Warwick has won five Grammy Awards and received its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019.

For too long, I accepted this status quo. Radio stations would play my chart-topping music without offering me any compensation for it, and I would frustratingly think, “I suppose this is just how it is and always will be.”

Frank Sinatra was right

And then I met Frank. Sinatra to you, “Poppy” to me. Frank was a warrior for music fairness, and he showed me we didn’t have to accept this great injustice. He showed me that we could make a change, fight for fairness and fight for the artists coming after us.

More than 50 years later, Poppy is no longer with us, but we’re still in this fight. And we’re not going anywhere.

Radio stations once were able to hide behind the idea that they were virtuously exposing musicians to the masses, spurring sales of physical recordings and concert tickets. This isn’t the case anymore.

First, artists cannot depend solely on record sales for income – in the first half of 2020, only 7% of music revenue came from physical sales – and the pandemic proved we cannot rely on concerts and touring either.

Second, hardly anyone is discovering new music through traditional FM/AM radio stations these days. A recent survey shows a majority of Americans use streaming services like Sirius XM or Spotify, or digital platforms like YouTube or TikTok to discover new artists and songs. Recently, both old fans and new have found me on Twitter, bringing my music and my passion for making it to great new audiences.

Streaming services pay artists

But guess what? These online platforms pay artists when users stream our music. As the industry changed, so too did the regulations, forcing streaming services and digital platforms to compensate the people whose work brings customers to their businesses.

So why do we still let big corporations that own thousands of radio stations off the hook? It’s not the '60s anymore, yet these multibillion dollar entities still operate like it is. The rules are written in their favor, rigged against the artists whose music fills their air.

It’s time to rebalance these scales.

And finally, we have a shot at it. The recently introduced American Music Fairness Act will do just that. This bipartisan bill would force the massive radio corporations, just six of which now own more than 2,000 stations across the country, to provide fair compensation to musicians for their work.

Paying people for their work – not too novel of an idea, right? It shouldn’t be.

I urge Congress to pass the American Music Fairness Act and listen to the artists. It’s time to right this wrong. It’s time to rectify this injustice and give artists their due. It’s time to pass legislation that finally levels the playing field and ensures fairness for working musicians.

Perhaps most of all, it’s time to show young, hopeful musicians across the country that they also can have a real shot at pursuing their passions and dreams – and actually get rewarded for their effort.

I have had my fair share of success. This isn’t for me. This isn’t for the Sinatras or the Beyoncés or any other big name artist. This is about fairness for the people who put in the work.

This is about making sure that all those young musicians, who put in the time to work their way up like I did, are respected and compensated for that work.

It’s only fair.

Singer Dionne Warwick has won five Grammy Awards and received its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019. Follow her on Twitter: @dionnewarwick

You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to letters@usatoday.com.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Dionne Warwick: Make radio stations pay to play my music

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting