A debate is going on in Congress over the Music Modernization Act, and it could have a major impact on how the music business operates in the future. But what is MMA, and how does it relate to country music?

The Music Modernization Act is a bill that unanimously passed the House of Representatives and is currently under debate in the Senate. It's the largest attempt in decades to try to update the laws that dictate how songwriters and artists get paid, which have changed very little since the digital revolution in music, although the new downloading and streaming-based models have changed the revenue streams entirely. In fact, some laws regarding royalty payments are still dictated by rules that date back to 1909 and 1941, some of which were meant to apply to sheet music.

According to songwriters and advocates, the dramatic revenue shift since the advent of streaming, and the inequitable way the revenue is split, has had a profoundly negative impact on songwriters.

"We've lost 90 percent of all American songwriters over the past 15 years. You just can't earn a living anymore," Bart Herbison, Executive Director of Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI), told Taste of Country in September of 2016. "They get millions of spins on streaming services and make tens of dollars, or hundreds of dollars."

The Music Modernization Act addresses that by asking streaming services like Spotify to work together with publishers to streamline the licensing process. The legislation would also set up a blanket mechanical license to collect and pay out royalties from digital services, but the performing rights organization SESAC has proposed a controversial amendment to the current version of the MMA that threatens to kill the legislation in the Senate.

SESAC's parent company is Blackstone Group, a financial management company that also owns the Harry Fox Agency. The Fox Agency is a big player in mechanical licensing, and SESAC's amendment would use "certified administrators," who would serve as a middleman between SESAC and other music rights organizations like BMI and ASCAP and publishers to negotiate royalty rates individually.

In a statement on their website, SESAC states that their amendment "maintains competition, and ultimately drives better royalty distributions to songwriters." but the Nashville Songwriters Association International sees the situation very differently, tweeting, "Instead of songwriter royalties running directly through the music-licensing collective controlled by songwriters and publishers -- Blackstone wants them to run through streaming companies and the Harry Fox Agency!!!!"

A number of artists have turned to social media to try to drum up support for passing the Music Modernization Act as is, including Maren Morris, Brothers Osborne, Travis Tritt and Margo Price. Fans who want to support the Music Modernization Act can do so by writing to their senator and encouraging them to support the act as is, without the amendment SESAC proposed. The Music Modernization passed in the House of Representatives in a rare display of bipartisanship in April, when lawmakers voted for it unanimously. If it passes the Senate and becomes law, some advocates say it could save the future of American songwriting.

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