Next Generation of Songwriters Demand Fair Pay at BMI Pop Awards

On Tuesday, May 10th, the 70th annual BMI Pop Awards took over the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, California.

Hosted by BMI president and CEO Mike O’Neill and vice president, worldwide creative Barbara Cade, Carole Bayer Sager and Mike Stoller were honored as BMI Icons for their contributions as songwriters — their many credits include such classics as “Don’t Cry Out Loud” and “Hound Dog,” respectively. Both are members of Songwriters Hall of Fame and have enjoyed profitable careers in their craft for decades, as was noted in their BMI presentations. In their honor, Ledisi performed Bayer Sager’s “Nobody Does It Better” and Anderson East delivered a moving rendition of Stoller’s “Stand By Me.”

Mike Stoller and Carole Bayer Sager (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for BMI)
Courtesy of BMI

Additional honors went to Omer Fedi (pictured at top, with Blake Slatkin to his right) and Michael Pollack for pop songwriter of the year, and to Sony Music Publishing and Universal Music Publishing Group for publisher of the year, each representing 28 of 2021’s most performed songs.

But in a room filled with fellow songwriters, composers and music publishers, one question was high on BMI members’ minds: when will the songwriters of today see fair pay for their work and contributions?

Songwriter and producer Oak Felder, who worked on Demi Lovato’s “I Love Me,” shared his thoughts on the topic with Variety. “Songwriters aren’t paid enough and that is something that we have to solve — period, point blank,” said Felder on the red carpet. “Songwriters get together and they help make these bodies of work — and if it doesn’t get used or it doesn’t do well, you don’t get paid. At the end of the day, I want all songwriters to be able to have a livable wage. That’s something that I’m definitely focused on making sure happens.”

Jozzy, who co-wrote on Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Old Town Road,” and is currently working on Diddy’s new project (which was recently announced as a project on Motown with Love Records), said: “You know how they treat songwriters. The most pressing energy, the elephant in the room is they really don’t give songwriters the same love they give producers. But I’m helping with that change along with Justin Tranter and Julia Michaels, we’re all a part of making a change. Definitely songwriters don’t get the respect that they deserve financially and vocally.”

When asked what needs to happen, Jozzy added: “We have to make artists feel comfortable to write with songwriters. The stigma, especially in rap, is that you’re not credible, but we need to show the fans. The fans need to know we don’t write these guys’ verses. It’s the collaboration, but it starts with the fans to teach them, because everybody is ignorant to what a songwriter is. It starts with the business. The business is more writers need front ends, like every producer does.”

SlimXX, a writer, producer and hype-man for Machine Gun Kelly, revealed he’s part of a committee similar to the 100 Percenters, which has been advocating for songwriters’ rights. “We’re all fighting for the same thing,” he said. “Within the last week, in the next term, we’ll be seeing a 32% raise. We’re doing a really good job. It’s a new term that they do every five years, but we fought and now songwriters will be receiving an extra 33% raise in the next year.” SlimXX was referencing ongoing negotiations with the Copyright Royalty Board.

Michael Pollack, who worked on “Holy” and “Anyone” for Justin Bieber, described the current situation as the “wild wild west.”

“The most pressing issue is songwriters not being able to stand up for themselves and it’s not their fault,” said Pollack. “Songwriters would stand up for themselves if there was the opportunity, and there isn’t right now. Some people are trying to make that happen, but until there’s some moves made from rooms that you can’t be in, songwriters are waiting to all come together. And they’re ready, it’s just that they can’t now. Everything needs to be more organized and structured for songwriters, in my opinion.”

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Courteney Cox and Johnny McDaid (Photo by JC Olivera/Getty Images for BMI)
Courtesy of BMI

As for the artists who are most exciting the industry in 2022: Lil Nas X, Jack Harlow and the Weeknd were high on people’s lists.

Pollack, who spent two days working with Lil Nas X, offered his take. “He’s an icon,” said Pollack. “He sees so far beyond what he’s already done and what he’s going to do. He’s a visionary. I don’t think there’s a song he could do that wouldn’t feel authentic to him because he is music. He’s so fucking dope.”

As a fellow gay man, Pollack added that he identifies with the message. “[Nas] gets pushback because he’s crossing lines that should’ve been crossed a long time ago,” Pollack said. “He’s brave enough to cross them and that’s really fucking dope.”

Producer, engineer and mixer Roy Lenzo, who worked on Lil Nas X’s “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” and “Industry Baby,” “among other projects, agreed. “He’s pushing boundaries,” said Lenzo. “He’s doing what people have never done before in our generation. He’s the leader of all these new people that are going to be up and coming. He inspires everybody.”

Added Daniel Baptiste, one half of production team Take A Daytrip, who’s also worked on “Montero” and “Industry Baby”: “He’s fearless. That’s the most important thing when creating, just to be fearless. It’s inspiring to be around someone that’s like that.”

When asked his favorite song of 2022, Lenzo responded: “Probably ‘First Class’ by Jack Harlow. I hear that everywhere. I hear it everywhere and have to support my homie Jasper that worked on it.”

The Weeknd was named as a dream collaborator for several in attendance.

Said David Stewart, who worked on BTS’ “Dynamite”: “Listen, you’ve got the Weeknd who’s coming out naturally, stepping out and being ambitious. Going into conceptual ideas, whether it be albums, outfits, everything. For me, that feels groundbreaking.”

Iann Dior, who was an honoree for pop song of the year — “Mood” by 24kGoldn — sharing the recognition with Omer Fedi, KBeaZy and Blake Slatkin, also sang the praises of the Weeknd: “What he’s doing right now is amazing,” said Dior. “I always look forward to what he’s coming out with next.”

Despite the lingering uneasiness about COVID, the BMI Pop Awards drew a number of notable celebrity attendees, including Courteney Cox, who accompanied her significant other, songwriter Johnny McDaid, and Addison Rae, representing as Omer Fedi’s girlfriend.

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Omer Fedi and Addison Rae (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for BMI)
Courtesy of BMI