We’ve been saying for a long time that it will take a movement to get Congress to act on fair pay for artists. And this week we saw one beginning to take shape.
When the great Percy Sledge passed away on Tuesday, the global outpouring of respect, grief and appreciation for the man and his music was profound and intense.
And for musicFIRST supporters, the loss was compounded by an especially cruel irony. Just the day before, at the Fair Play Fair Pay Act Kickoff Event in New York City, Rosanne Cash had spoken about Percy Sledge as we launched a new campaign to fight for fair compensation for him and his fellow greats:
"Percy Sledge, who sang When A Man Loves a Woman, one of the greatest recordings in American music, receives no royalties for that performance in the digital domain because it was recorded prior to 1972…It makes no sense, it's shameful that the great artists of past generations are slighted so painfully. The Fair Play Fair Pay Act would correct that terrible inequity."
It hurts that, just as musical greats from Elvis Costello to Gloria Gaynor stood up to try and make life better for Percy Sledge, he was taken from us.
And we weren’t the only ones who noticed – a flood of tweets and retweets took over Twitter decrying this very same injustice. An organic, grassroots movement standing up and making itself heard.
Rosanne herself weighed in: "Percy Sledge got ZERO performance royalties for 'When A Man Loves A Woman.' Tell Congress to pass #FairPlayFairPay. http://musicfirstcoalition.org"
That has been retweeted 300 times (so far). Her fans and followers were appalled as well:
“Unjust” said Jacqueline Roche.
“THAT is EXACTLY what I was thinking when I read that he passed,” said another.
Laura wrote: “Definitely an issue of social justice.”
Robert Young, an Assistant Fire Chief from Washington state summed it up: “A serious lack of integrity to allow such wrongs to be allowed to continue!”
Jeff Coltin from Phoenix and New York made the connection: “Damn. Just yesterday, Sledge was lifted up as an icon at the @musicFIRST press conference.”
A metro editor at The New York Times wrote: “He gave us the ultimate slow-dance song but never got royalties…Percy Sledge Dies at 74.”
And we were amazed and inspired to see the legendary San Francisco band Deerhoof weigh in: "The total payment Percy Sledge received from digital radio for playing "When A Man Loves A Woman" was $0.00"
Meanwhile, the Big Radio companies didn’t ignore Percy Sledge’s death – they rushed to offer their condolences (though nothing else, of course):
iHeartRadio tweeted: "Our next #iHeartRadio #TBT is from Oldies: "When A Man Loves A Woman," turns 49 today! RIP to the late Percy Sledge."
While SiriusXM tweeted: "RIP to Percy Sledge, the voice of the 1966 hit 'When a Man Loves a Woman'"
Unfortunately, shameless, cynical condolences aren’t going to be enough to stem the tide. Too many people are watching now. Too many people know how digital radio has been mistreating our pre-72 greats.
This spring is a season of change for music creators.