October 18, 2013

Thousands Sign ASCAP’s Pandora Petition and Write Passionately About Fair Payment

Pandora Petition

On September 17th, ASCAP launched a petition asking incoming Pandora CEO Brian McAndrews to stop fighting to pay songwriters and composers less and to instead “join music creators in an effort to construct fair music licenses that allow songwriters and composers to thrive alongside the businesses that revolve our music.” So far, more than 7,000 music creators have signed the petition.

Get the Facts and Sign the Petition

Pandora, which controls close to 70% of the US music streaming market, currently pays the lowest fees to songwriters, composers and music publishers among music streaming companies and has taken ASCAP to court in an attempt to pay even less. Right now, every 1,000 plays of a song on Pandora is only worth about 8 cents to songwriters, composers and publishers.

Pandora repeatedly tells the public, Congress and the courts that they can’t afford to pay musicians and songwriters a fair market rate, while its message to Wall Street is that they’re more successful than ever. For a look at Pandora CFO Mike Herring's most recent round of misdirection and contradictions, click here.

As more and more music creators learn about Pandora’s efforts to pay them less and less for the music that drives Pandora’s business, they are speaking out. Among the more than 7,000 of them that have signed ASCAP’s petition, many have written letters expressing their passionate feelings about the unfairness of Pandora’s actions.

One writer, Dustin Mitchell of Salt Lake City, Utah, poses a question to Pandora for which thousands of music creators would like an answer: “Why not construct a business model that permits you to meet your bottom line while generating a profit, a model that financially allows me to create additional quality content for you, so that both YOUR business and MY business can sustain and grow?”

Here are just some of the many letters written by songwriters and composers:

Dear Pandora, Attempting to build a business while exploiting the very people who create the product for your income is bad karma. You're a leader. Act like one.

- Donna Valentine

Take a moment and consider your world without your favorite songs. Close your eyes and imagine every movie, TV show, sports game, concert and morning drive with the radio on if it no longer had quality music. Imagine your life's milestones - your first dance, first kiss, graduating high school or college, getting married, family road trips - and now imagine them without your favorite songs being played. What do you see, hear and feel?

How satisfying would a movie be in the closing scene without music? How would your favorite sports team celebrate without a theme song? How would the corner gas station workers get through the day without the radio on? Whether it’s in the background or cranked up loud at a party - what do you see, hear and feel without your favorite songs?

To me, life would turn from color to black-and-white without the music that paints the scenes to the soundtrack of our lives. Who creates this music? Hardworking songwriters do. Behind the scenes of every successful artist are a couple of songwriters working tirelessly to write thousands of songs, so the few great ones can change the world.

When companies like Pandora pay eight cents for one thousand plays, they are making a bold statement about how much the music they financially rely on is worth to them. It is an immense insult that they want to pay even less.

I am writing to ask you for your support in passing the necessary legislation so we can become ‘up to date’ with the technological world. We want easy access for listeners and for them to be able to put their songs on any device they want...once they PAY for it. We understand the music business needs to reform and update. We understand the needs of the listener to take their music ‘on the go’ in whatever device they choose. We want freedom for the consumer to do all these things, but there needs to be a fair policy on how they PAY. What Pandora is proposing is not even close to fair. Support the music of the world by supporting your songwriters. Without the songwriter, the musical soundtrack of YOUR life would not exist. What is it worth to you? Is it worth paying for- the same way you pay for good food at a restaurant, a spa treatment or any other aesthetically pleasing part of your life? Why should music be free when everything else costs more today? Support songwriters so you can continue to enjoy the quality of music you deserve!


- Lee Johnson

I'm a songwriter who has not broke into the “mainstream,” so Pandora isn't a direct threat to me because my songs aren’t played there. However because Pandora is part of a larger machine called "the music business,” then I am indeed impacted in a negative way by their business practices. I've been lucky enough to license songs to film and television, which is where I think the realmoney is if you're not a popular artist. Unless you're selling thousands (or millions) of records, you're not making great money. If you're not getting thousands of internet radio plays each month, then you're not getting great royalty checks either, especially at the pathetic pay-per-play rate the industry has set, that we as artists have somehow accepted as OK. The entire system by which we get paid needs to be restructured and the percentages for songwriters needs to be largely increased. So yes Pandora is a problem, but let's not forget the larger picture as well.

- Benny Sanches

I'm making a living in music. I have a decent amount already composed and published, but I hope to do a lot more composing and publishing in the future. I'd like to think that I could actually pay my bills doing so. I'm concerned with the increase in free music and the Pandora example is just the latest thrust in the movement. By the way, ASCAP offers us (musicians) the opportunity to band together and stand against this movement.

Thank you for all that you do!

- Robert DeFriese

Because of technology, songwriters (like myself) can release our material without the help of a record company. ASCAP is an integral part of the revenue we collect and if streaming music is the way of the future, music broadcasting should be worth just as much as our ASCAP income. The radio stations cannot survive without the musical content we provide and the revenue they collect from actual CDs and MP3s has already been compromised. Let's not give anymore of our broadcast revenue away.

- Marla

Why should I have to take a massive cut in pay and rummage around for monetary alternatives just because YOUR business model is not built solid enough for you to turn a profit and pay MY licensing fees? My creative works is the reason YOU even exist! I already have to compete with pirates offering my work “for free," which has completely devalued my work to zero in both physical and digital format. Now I am expected to live off of peanuts from my royalties for online streaming?

As the creator of works you exploit, how is this fair to me? How is this the wave of the future? How is this better for other artists and me? How is this even better than what terrestrial radio or premium subscription services offer? That being said - how am I supposed to feel sorry for you? It is not just the singer or the drummer, but it is also the music producer, the lyricist and the keyboardist. It's even the roadie loading equipment on and off of a tour bus. It is ALL OF US in the business that you are asking to take a pay cut from.

You enjoy my creativity enough that you specifically created a business that drives, thrives and revolves around my work, possibly because you are a huge fan of music and want to share it with the world. If this is true, I applaud and appreciate your efforts! However, I am disappointed at how you illustrate your gratitude for it. The least you could do is give credit where credit is due and pay me properly, instead of making it financially impossible for me to create music for you, let alone put food on the table.

I have a very simple and economical solution. Rather than starving your cash cow while trying to milk it dry, why not feed it plenty of hay and give it a huge pasture to live on? Your cow would be happy and it would provide you with more milk than you would know what to do with. In the end, you would be happy too! Wouldn't it be economically sound to take those hundreds of thousands of dollars from lobbying and invest it back into your business in a positive way?

Why not construct a business model that permits you to meet your bottom line while generating a profit, a model that financially allows me to create additional quality content for you, so that both YOUR business and MY business can sustain and grow? Correct me if I am wrong, but wouldn't you rather try my idea than spend countless hours and lobbying dollars on attempting to legislate a change for something that in fact does work, has worked and above all… is fair for EVERYONE, including PANDORA? Just a thought…

- Dustin Mitchell

Dear CEO McAndrews:

There is a certain amount of common decency that would prompt most people to pay musicians for their efforts. Some people simply believe we work for free, or that our work has little merit, though a world without music would be barren indeed.

I will be publishing compositions and chamber music for orchestras, choruses and soloists. I compose and publish to give audiences a profound musical experience and also to boost my scanty income. Surely you can honor my effort and that of countless other musicians who depend on music for their livelihood and whose music is better and to whose output is greater when they need not take a "day job."

- Sincerely, Peter B. Metcalf

Good Afternoon,

My name is Shelton Oliver and I am an ASCAP writer. Royalties are extremely important to the other writers and me given that this is our pay for our hard work to place records and for all of the sacrifices needed to stick it out in the music industry. As a rising writer, the royalties I am receiving quarterly are going directly to my bills just like every construction worker, teacher, police officer or any other professional supporting themselves and a family. 'Musical entertainment' is just of a needed service as any other; it is often used as a temporary get away or relaxer- (if you will). We (writers and composers) help ease the day for some, motivate others to continue being positive and unite an unimaginable amount of people through our musical efforts. To not pay us fairly would be a great injustice and could possibly be detrimental to society. We should be treated equally, fairly and with respect.

Thank you for your time,

- Shelton Oliver

Fair is Fair. It's an outrage that artists do not reap the benefits of their work and talent. It's bad enough that the Internet makes pirating quick and easy, so legitimate companies like Pandora should pay fair market rates and stop the abuse!

- Vivian Garcia, MALA Latino Rhythms Publishing
(Independent Label and Artist Manager)

Dear Fellow Humans,

Where would the music come from if someone had not composed it? There would be none. Where would all of the money to pay Pandora salaries come from if someone had not composed the music? There would be no Pandora; there would be no music.

Perhaps it is time for ASCAP to create a policy where their music is prohibited from being playing on Pandora or any other service, unless the service pays a particular minimum amount - which is to be established by ASCAP members as a union. If the service does play ASCAP music without paying the minimum, ASCAP would cease to allow that service to play ASCAP music and would sue them in court for violation of contract.

Signing petitions is about as effective as saying "please" to these criminals who are stealing composers' intellectual property. We need to put some power behind this. It seems to me that there are certainly enough composers in ASCAP to make an impact and I would imagine that BMI could be talked into participating since such an arrangement would be equally in their interest.

Music is food for the soul and it is healing so it is therefore one of the most valuable commodities on our planet. The composers of the music should be compensated accordingly. Anything else is immoral in my view.


- Walter Zajac, ASCAP Member

I am a songwriter. I worked in the industry at a major record label for over 27 years and have been writing just as long with a few decent successes. I founded a collaborative songwriter company (going strong now for over 8 years) that promotes the creation of songs in a unique and fun way. Quite simply, I've seen it all from all sides of the industry and one thing remains the TRUTH: Without the song, there is no artist, no radio, no digital companies and no industry.Why is it so difficult to understand SONGS are the SOUL of this multi-trillion dollar industry? The truth is the song always came first, but the industry as a whole (within an unconscionable mindset) built everything around the artist, thus viewing songs as the cheap bait to promote celebrity. They did so by constantly reducing songwriter copyright laws, royalties and payments while increasing their own profit margins. Now in this world of technology, new companies (like recording artists) are being created on the backs of songs and their songwriters, which are still considered the cheap bait for other's successes.

Don't get me wrong…I love artists, but I've always thought songs deserve the same respect an artist receives. Great songs should (at the very least) be on the same level as great artists. After all, there are songs that have made artists and artists who have made songs, but one is no greater than the other.

Sadly until the industry (including artists) begins to fight for the songs that made them, songwriters and their songs will remain the serfs within this industry created serfdom.

More soup, please.

- Andrea Standley

My name is Rob Kolar. I am a touring musician and an avid music listener. I write and sing in the bands He's My Brother She's My Sister and Lemon Sun. I am a premium member of both Spotify and Pandora. Part of the reason I spent more money and became a premium member (besides the application benefits) was because I anticipated more money going back to the artists I was listening to. I love both of these applications and feel they are great means of discovering music and 'testing out' artists that you are curious about. Clearly there is an unbalanced way of distributing money made from these applications going back to the artists. It's evident talking to artists as well as people in the music industry.

I think the time has come to find a reasonable solution and compromise in order to make both sides happy. One solution could be adding more tiers to the service. I for one would be happy to spend $20-30 a month for Spotify if that means I can access all the music out there and appropriate royalties were distributed to the artists being played. This is one idea: Raising some of the fees in order to compensate the writers and artists. Also a scaled down version for those who can't afford premium membership would be useful and practical. This would limit their access to the amount of content or the amount of plays but still would allow them to use the service within their means. Information that would be worth disclosing is - where does all this money go? A full account of finances should be viewed in order to understand where Pandora/Spotify money goes and how much is received for advertising and from member fees for its service. If we can see a proper and detailed account of the money which comes in and where exactly it goes, we might be able to get a better gauge on how much money it would be fair to pay artists for each play. If that amount still feels too low, then we need to implement some other means to make up that difference.

I for one (an artist with a loyal following) am seriously considering holding off on a Pandora and Spotify release of new music until these measures have been resolved or at the very least postponing its inclusion until the music has had time to live on more generous platforms (ITunes, Bandcamp, etc.). I encourage other artists and labels to do the same. Audiences will lose interest in a platform that doesn't stay current with its releases and ultimately the power is in our hands as music creators and music releasers. As far as I know, there is no law or rule against retracting releases from either of these platforms. If we as a community of musicians are unhappy we should just pull off our releases and work together in order to propel a compromise. I think ultimately being reasonable is the best aim. If Spotify and Pandora are truly lovers and supporters of music and its fans then they (as companies) should be looking out for the artists they use and promote. It seems counterproductive and useless to fight with the same person you "share a bed with." So lets crank the numbers, find a fair royalty that we can all accept (something that considers inflation and should work as a healthy percentage of revenue made using our written content) and move on and enjoy these applications. Ultimately they are great tools for a listener. Let's just make sure we can feed and support the artists who inspire us and help make our days on this planet more pleasant and comforting. If we don't, ultimately music and art will suffer and then everyone loses. We are moving into a new frame of mind in evolution and it's time that we lose the idea of 'us versus them' and recognize we are all affected by these decisions and conflicts. Helping one another will only continue to promote that very notion and allow us to continually evolve as businesses, as artists and as human beings.

Thanks for your time.

- Rob Kolar

I have been working all my life as a songwriter. I can no longer make a living at the rates that our material is earning. I am concerned for the future of all songwriters- not just the one with a top hit at the moment. I want songwriters to earn a fair share. I want the songs to come from a growing community of writers with a healthy future. I appreciate what sites like Pandora do for our music. Please pay us an equitable rate for our future and for yours.

Respectfully yours,

- Larry Alderman

The substance of music is the music. It doesn't come from nowhere. Someone must help bring it into existence. This is the privilege, duty and life of a songwriter. If songwriters don't get fair compensation, enough to live on, they must find another way of getting money and by default, that means less time to work on music and songwriting. Thus, production and quality suffer for both artist and audience. The VERY LEAST that companies should do is pay songwriter's an adequate portion of the money they're making off of them. Forget just being professionally ethical, it's morally ethical.

If I make $1000 dollars off of apples, should I not give the apple guy more than 8 cents; especially if all you do is sell apples?

Let's keep people creating by giving them a FAIR cut.

- Jordan Bass, ASCAP member

For more letters, click here