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Alicia Keys Wins Icon Award, DOJ Antitrust Boss Calms Nerves at National Music Publishers’ Meeting

Along with good financial news for songwriters and publishers, the annual National Music Publishers Association meeting in New York on Wednesday delivered two other big headlines. First, Alicia Keys received the organization’s Songwriter Icon award and used her moving speech (read it here) to announce a pro-female collective called She Is the Music. But also, after some alarmist speculation earlier in the week regarding the event’s keynote speech from U.S. Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Division Makan Delrahim and what it might indicate about the future of the 75-year-old consent decrees that govern ASCAP and BMI, he calmed nerves by saying, “We recognize the industry has grown up around [the decrees], and we should not take any action lightly or without due care and consideration.”

Delrahim — who was in headlines earlier this week after the Supreme Court approved the AT&T-Time Warner merger, which the DOJ opposed — took his time in getting to that point, and one could feel the several hundred publishing executives in the room leaning forward each time he seemed to be leading up to it. (Read his entire speech here.) ASCAP and BMI have been governed since the early 1940s by separate but similar consent decrees designed to stimulate competition, prevent monopolistic behavior and set royalty rates. The decrees were designed for the then-new broadcasting industry; they were last updated in 2001. Notwithstanding the monumental changes in the music world over the past 17 years — let alone the past 75 —  the decrees arguably place the two dominant U.S. performing rights organizations at a disadvantage against competitors like SESAC and Global Music Rights, which are for-profit and not bound by such rules. (Anyone seeking more information on consent decrees, knock yourself out.) The two organizations have long argued for a free-market model and the gradual phase-out of the decrees — and while Delrahim has a long history in the world of patents and copyright, he is also a Trump appointee who has lined up hundreds of consent decrees across many businesses for examination, and there was some concern about overly drastic action.

Thus, when he announced “we should not take any action lightly or without due care and consideration,” there was a collective exhale across the room.

Delrahim concluded by saying: “To be clear, the Antitrust Division has not reached any conclusion about whether the ASCAP and BMI decrees strike the best balance among competition, innovation, and regulation. Congress, moreover, is also paying proper attention to the industry. It is taking a hard look at the Music Modernization Act, and we look forward to seeing that legislation enacted and the results of those changes, which have involved several years of process and input from various interested parties.

“I can say with confidence, however, how we approach that question. You’ve heard tonight the principle the Division adheres to: protecting competitive markets in which innovation and consumers thrive. I also hope you understand from my remarks tonight the passion and respect I, and the Division, have for this industry. That principle, and that passion, will define our approach to the decrees and to antitrust enforcement in the music industry.”

During his presentation, NMPA CEO David Israelite (pictured above with Keys) painted an optimistic but realistic picture of the current state of the publishing industry. “It is a period for the music-publishing and songwriting industries with probably more disruptions but also more opportunity than I’ve ever known,” h said. “Despite that, I’m very pleased to tell you today that the state of the industry is very strong.”

He presented charts showing that in 2017, U.S.-based songwriting and music-publishing revenues was $2.957 billion — a year-over-year increase of 10.3%, and a 37% growth over the past three years, after many years of decline.

Another chart showed that 54% of that 2017 revenue came from public performance (primarily airplay and live concerts), while just 18% came from mechanical royalties (physical product and other sales), and noted that number had dropped from “around 60%” at the beginning of his career around 30 years ago. And of that 18%, half of it came from the percentage of streaming that is considered mechanical; the small remainder came primarily from the sale of physical product and downloads.

Israelite also pointed to victories with the Copyright Royalty Board, which will lead to a minimum of a 44% increase in the interative streaming rates through 2022; a BMI-led court victory allowing fractional licensing; and licensing deals with Facebook.

“It’s an incredible turnaround story. The publishing industry is a little behind the record industry in terms of growth numbers, but the last three years demonstrate that we’re in a very strong state.”

Also during the ceremony, outgoing Carlin Music CEO Caroline Bienstock — who took over the company from her father, Fred, one of the greatest music publishers of the 20th century — which was sold to Round Hill earlier this year for some $240 million. In presenting the award, longtime Famous Music chief Irwin Robinson called her “a brilliant businesswoman who is fearless in expressing her point of view.”

Nashville Songwriters Association International executive director and Capitol Hill bruiser Bart Herbison — whom Sen. Orrin Hatch once affectionately called “a pain in the ass,” arguably the greatest possible compliment — was honored for the changes he led in copyright law, and longtime songwriter advocate Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse — who was in Washington for votes — accepted the Presidents Award with a video message.

Finally, after a stellar performance of Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You” by Chris Blue, “The Voice” winner she’d coached, the evening’s big honoree took the stage. Keys delivered a 10-minute acceptance speech that was, to paraphrase Sly Stone, both thankful and thoughtful. She thanked Kerry Brothers — her songwriting collaborator “since back in the dizzay”; her “magnificent publisher,” Universal Music Publishing CEO Jody Gerson — “who’s been with me since I was 14!” and former EMI chief Marty Bandier; longtime engineer and “brilliant entrepreneur” Ann Mincileli, her first manager Jeff Robinson, her “beautiful mother,” her “most magnificent, amazing husband Kaseem Dean (a.k.a. Swizz Beatz) “who has taught me everything about dreaming in color,” and finally everyone at NMPA. You can read her moving speech right here, but the pertinent section follows:

“I’ve joined forces with a group of really powerful female executives, songwriters, artists, engineers, producers and publishers to help reshape the industry that we all love by creating real opportunities  and a pipeline of talent for other women,” she said. “We’re calling our initiative She Is the Music. We want to create a model for change that effects women across all industries. We deserve the utmost respect, and so many of these women across industries are telling our culture that time is up on double standards, and it is it’s over for pay inequity and colleagues who are at best disrespectful and at the worst unsafe — so it’s over for that.”



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