U.S. Senate vote could protect Texas musicians' rights

As one of the most diverse and vibrant states in the country, it comes as no surprise that Texas’ music legacy is as rich and creative as its population. George Strait has had more No. 1 (44) songs on Billboard’s Hot Country Chart than any other artist. Beyoncé has reigned on the charts since her debut as part of Destiny’s Child, and Selena catapulted Tejano music into the mainstream as Billboard’s top-selling Latin artist of the 1990s.

And while these artists appear as if they have little in common, they are all Texans.

Texas’ diverse musical heritage is the foundation of the state’s continued commitment to musical greatness. During a recent hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on the Music Modernization Act, bill co-sponsor Sen. John Cornyn described the impact of the Texas music economy.

Austin is, of course, known for many things, including being the “Live Music Capital of the World.” This is because of famed venues like Austin City Limits and SWSX, and also the honky-tonks, dance halls and clubs where countless artists have played over the years.

While Texas’ great musicians have shared their art and passion with the world, music laws and policies in the United States haven’t always shown them the same respect. But the time for change has come and an unprecedented group representing music creators, producers, engineers, songwriters, publishers and digital music services is working with the U.S. Congress to modernize music policy. 

The Music Modernization Act (MMA) recently passed the House of Representatives 415-0. A straightforward and impactful bill to help thousands of songwriters, artists and music creators found a level of support that is rarely seen in Washington anymore.

The MMA fixes glaring problems that have been tolerated for too long. Due to a long-standing injustice in the law, recordings made before the arbitrary of date February 15, 1972, do not receive federal copyright protection. Because of this legal loophole, many digital music services have simply decided not to compensate the legendary artists who built great genres like country, bluegrass, and rock.

These artists have been forced to file multiple lawsuits in several states, including Texas, simply to be compensated for their works. The bill fixes this problem and ensures that Texas’ great legacy artists will predictably and fairly be compensated for their works on digital and satellite music platforms. 

“There are about 15,000 music industry professionals including about 8,000 recording artists,” Cornyn said. “It is big business, creates a lot of jobs: 95,000 permanent jobs, according to the Texas Music Office; $3.6 billion dollars in annual earnings; and over $8.5 billion dollars in annual economic activity. It’s not only a job creator but something that has made our lives more enjoyable.”

The MMA also ensures that producers and engineers are more fairly compensated. It requires that all digital music platforms use the same market-based rate standard to determine the level of compensation they provide to the music creators who provide the lifeblood of their services. 

The Music Modernization Act has significant bipartisan support in the Senate and we look forward to its passage. It will benefit thousands of music creators in Texas and make the music economy in the state that Sen.Cornyn touted even stronger. 

We hope we can count on both of our senators to support and quickly advance this important piece of legislation because it will benefit the Texas economy and the thousands of music creators who call the Lone Star State home.

Chris Israel is Executive Director of the musicFIRST Coalition.