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David byrne meltdown

David Byrne writes an op-ed on why radio should pay the likes of Beyoncé and Willie Nelson

10 July 2024, 16:35 | Written by Tyler Damara Kelly

In a new op-ed for USA Today, David Byrne has advocated for US radio to dish out payments for performers on songs, as well as writers and publishers.

In support of the cause, he went to Washington, D.C., to lobby on behalf of the American Music Fairness Act – which will enable musicians to get paid for radio play. Cuba, Iran and North Korea are among the only other countries who don't pay performers for airplay alongside the US.

"Aretha Franklin had a worldwide hit with “Respect” – but she didn’t write the song, Otis Redding did, so she got paid nothing – nothing! – for decades of U.S. radio airplay. That’s what I’m talking about," Byrne writes. "Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U”? Nothing to her. Karen O “Under Pressure”? Nope. Willie Nelson “Always on My Mind”? Nada. Cat Power on “Ballad of a Thin Man”? Nix. “Umbrella” and Rihanna? Uh-uh. “Irreplaceable” Beyoncé? Never. “Get the Party Started” Pink? Nope. The list goes on and on."

Explaining how this has come to be, Byrne says: "Radio in the United States was positioned to musicians as a promotional tool to sell their sheet music; before recordings were available that was how music was “sold.” Music played on the radio was often performed live in those days. The artists were singing and playing live while you heard it in your home."

"Records in various formats became popular, and radio play of these recordings was similarly positioned as a promotional tool," he continues. "As recording artists we were fed this same justification for why we weren’t going to be paid for radio play – exposure that promotes your record sales and your live shows."

Byrne likens musicians as being small business owners and entrepreneurs who employ other musicians and professionals in order to run their businesses. As such, there can be a knock on effect if something isn't run as smoothly as it should. "Because the United States doesn’t pay foreign performers for radio play, some other countries reciprocate, tit for tat. They are holding an estimated $300 million a year that is due to U.S. artists – [but] that will be released if the situation here changes when U.S. radio starts paying their artists.

Aware that broadcasters use "exposure" and "promotion" as to why they don't pay artists – "I witnessed “Burning Down the House” become a hit due to radio play. But promotion like that is about introducing new music to an audience" – Byrne notes that this is no longer a viable excuse. "Most of the songs played on the radio now are old, and record stores are hard to find these days. So where’s the promotion?"

To read the full op-ed, visit

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