And Finally Artist News Beef Of The Week

CMU Beef Of The Week #304: Musicians v Donald Trump

By | Published on Friday 6 May 2016

Donald Trump

Now that the campaigning is over and Donald Trump is king of the world – or at least the man America’s only slightly smirking Grand Old Party is now actually putting forward for the job of king of the world – it is surely time for everyone to take a breather and assess how the whole Trump political adventure has played out so far. In terms of music I mean. Because when it comes to the presidential hopeful’s choices of soundtrack, it’s been a right old time.

This week, The Rolling Stones became the latest act to take exception to Trump’s use of one of their songs at a political rally. “The Rolling Stones have never given permission to the Trump campaign to use their songs and have requested that they cease all use immediately”, the band said in a statement.

It’s a familiar collection of words by now. Numerous artists have put out similar statements during the primary campaign, distancing themselves from Trump after he used their music to whip up excitement amongst his fans as he toured the good old US of A. The statements have come short and fast, as musicians try to make sure everyone knows that, just because their tunes are accompanying the Trump, they’re definitely not endorsing the chump.

As much as it’s seemed like this has happened an awful lot to Donald Trump, musicians getting angry with politicians for using their music isn’t new. In 2008, presidential hopeful John McCain prompted as many, if not more, angry statements, and became embroiled in a lawsuit with Jackson Browne (which was later settled out of court). And there were those legal battles between David Byrne and Florida Governor Charlie Crist and Eagles frontman Don Henley with Republican politician Chuck DeVore in recent years.

But where things went legal, it was usually because the offending politicians had made the mistake of including music in online campaign videos without permission. That constitutes a sync, which requires a specific licence in the US, and where no such licence had been sought there was a case for litigation. Chuck DeVore rewrote Henley’s lyrics and sought protection under the parody right that comes with the fair use provisions in US law, though it turned out that right didn’t extend far enough to help the political man.

Trump has been smarter though, using big, recognisable songs as his entrance music at rallies, but ditching them as soon as there’s a complaint, and before anyone has thought to include them in a campaign video.

Use of all of these songs will be covered by blanket public performance licenses granted by collecting societies ASCAP and BMI (on the song side, on the recordings side there isn’t a general performing right in the US, so no permission is required at all). And withdrawing songs from the ASCAP and BMI blanket licences would deprive songwriters of income from radio, live and other public performances, which probably isn’t worth it just to ensure you never get associated in anyone’s brain with Donald Trump (just).

There is a possibly an argument that, under US law, a politician using a song in a way that associates an artist with their cause might infringe said musician’s publicity and privacy rights. Well, that was an argument used by a legal rep for Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler earlier this year when he took offence at Trump using his music. Though that argument was just set out in a cease and desist letter, and Trump ceased and desisted, so it hasn’t been tested in any real way.

Which basically leaves artists with just one option when they suddenly find themselves soundtracking a political cause they find offensive: the angry statement. And angry statements from popular musicians can be sufficient to tarnish a politician’s own rep.
Charlie Crist’s apology to David Byrne as part of his settlement is a particularly sad affair.

Except, of course, things far worse than an angry popstar have failed to tarnish the Trump brand in anyway during the battle to secure the Republican presidential nomination, so that sanction hasn’t proven so effective this time around. Indeed, part of the reason there has been so much coverage of Trump’s battles with musicians in recent months is his willingness to come back with a biting quip of his own. And biting quips are what his supporters like.

“Even though I have the legal right to use Steven Tyler’s song, he asked me not to”, said Trump following the cease and desist. “Have [a] better one to take its place! Steven Tyler got more publicity on his song request than he’s gotten in ten years. Good for him!”

“Nine times out of ten, it’s a young advance person who thinks it’s a cool song to play when the guy’s walking in and the candidate hasn’t a clue what was playing”, campaign manager for Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential bid, Joe Trippi, told Rolling Stone earlier this year, after Trump’s first musical run-in with Neil Young. “In this case, Donald Trump could have walked in that room: ‘I want that Neil Young song, and it better be playing loud’. But I don’t know”.

Even if Trump had had no idea what was playing as he walked up to the stage, he certainly acted like he did when Young got angry about it, attempting to throw the negative spotlight back onto the musician, saying: “A few months ago Neil Young came to my office looking for $$ on an audio deal and called me last week to go to his concert. Wow… total hypocrite”. He then started a familiar trend, saying that he’d stop using ‘Rocking In The Free World’ at his rallies because he “didn’t love it anyway”.

In the case of The Rolling Stones, Trump had been using their song ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ throughout his campaign, though it was only when he took to the stage at Trump Tower in New York on Tuesday to the sounds of their 1981 song ‘Start Me Up’ that they noticed he was apparently a fan.

Like all the others, their request for him to stop using their music will presumably be heeded. But assuming there’s no sudden coup against their presumed nominee by the Republican Party establishment, and Trump therefore does go forward as their actual presidential candidate, there are plenty more artists he can piss off as he gets into the election campaign proper. Don’t forget, this won’t be over until November.

Meanwhile, away from the music, Trump has hit back at claims he is just an over-privileged fat cat who trades on a name and fortune built up by his father rather than his own business sense. He’s had it tough, he says. He’s had to make scarifies. “I’ve given up a tremendous amount to run for president”, Trump told CNN earlier this week. “I gave up two more seasons of ‘Celebrity Apprentice'”.

And in a way, I think we all have.

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