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Battle of the Bands

Remember when everyone used to get worked up over payola?

The reversal of fortunes was very much in evidence at Capitol Hill today, where Suzanne Vega, Brett Anderson of the Donnas, Abdul (Duke) Fakir of the Four Tops and Gary U.S. Bonds were among the dozens of musicians lobbying for a new law that would force broadcast radio stations to pay performers when they play their music.

But they are met by a powerful lobby of broadcasters, who cite not just the falling ad market, but the value that recording artists have had in using radio as a promotional platform.

The artists have been casting the issue on moral grounds, given that they are paid for their performances on satellite radio and other mediums.

“We just want to get paid for what we do,” said Anderson, whose group met with Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Rep. Diane Watson (D-Calif.), among others.

There was to be a hearing on the Performance Rights Act, but it’s been delayed, perhaps to next week, because of scheduling conflicts with the visit of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The legislation is backed by the Recording Industry Assn. of America.

While attention has focused on the headliners who are making the lobbying effort, the act would compensate the keyboardists, guitarists, drummers — anyone who is heard performing on the radio.

“None of the musicians who played with Sinatra — when he was on the radio, they didn’t get paid.”

Phil Soussan, bass player for Ozzie Osbourne, Billy Idol and others, met with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), one of the bill’s co-sponsors, as well as a staffer for Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.)

He noted that the broadcasters’ objections “are always sort of over the economic or financial issues.” He argued that 75% of the fees that stations will play will be “completely affordable,” i.e. “less than they pay for electricity,” while the remaining 25% is open to negotiation.

“Someone explained the Bible to me — ‘love your fellow man, the rest is details.’ It’s that simple. What we are asking people to do it allow us to get paid for working. The rest is details.”

The National Assn. of Broadcasters, meanwhile, has been at work lining up lawmakers in opposition. They are pushing for the Local Radio Freedom Act, which would ban any “fee, tax, royalty or other charge” for the airplay. Some 135 lawmakers have signed on to the resolution.

It wasn’t too long ago when record companies were making settlements with authorities over the practice of showering station managers to play certain songs. But as anyone in the recording industry can tell you, it’s a whole different business today.

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