Former Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson wasn’t just one of the greatest football managers of all-time: he also came up with some of the best soundbites. Particularly “squeaky bum time” – the phrase he used once to describe the period at the crunch point of the football season, when managers would be squirming about in their (plastic, thus squeaky) seats due to the tension.
If ever there was a moment to apply the phrase to the music industry, it’s yesterday’s passage of the US Music Modernization Act (MMA) through the Senate. The process went down to the wire: if a single senator had objected to the bill passing, it could have been held up and possibly even kicked into the legislative long grass. And satellite-radio company SiriusXM had been lobbying hard against the MMA, earning blunt criticism from industry bodies (and the threat of a boycott from prominent artists) in the process.
Yet the MMA was passed unanimously, and will now go forward to its next stage: being voted on by the US House of Representatives, and ultimately being (hopefully) signed into law by President Trump. Billboard has the gossip on how this happened: a “last-minute” compromise based on giving SiriusXM “rate certainty” until 2027 – pegging its requirement to pay 15.5% of its revenues out as royalties for five years beyond its previous expiry date, as set by the US Copyright Royalty board – although other SiriusXM demands were not met in the negotiations.
Music industry bodies issued a barrage of celebratory statements once the MMA was ‘hotlined’ through unanimously. “It’s been an epic odyssey, and we’re thrilled to almost be at our destination. For the modern US Senate to unanimously pass a 185-page bill is a herculean feat, only achievable because of the grit, determination and mobilisation of thousands of music creators across the nation,” said RIAA president Mitch Glazier.
ASCAP CEO Elizabeth Matthews also used the ‘h’ word – “a Herculean industry-wide effort to promote and celebrate songwriters and ensure their right to a sustainable livelihood” – while Sony/ATV boss Martin Bandier said it “shows what can be achieved when a diverse group of parties puts aside its differences and works together for the music industry’s greater good”.
It’s best not to count chickens just yet: if you’ve read Bob Woodward’s new book ‘Fear’, you’ll know that President Trump signing something into law isn’t something that can be taken for granted – although the MMA hopefully isn’t something his aides will want to whip off his desk before he sees it. Bums won’t stop squeaking in their seats just yet. But yes, in theory the MMA in its final form represents an impressive feat of industry solidarity, and of negotiation and compromise with some of its tech partners. The celebrations are justified.