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Joe Crowley. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call Inc.

Former Rep. Joe Crowley is registering to lobby for his first client — a coalition of recording artists fighting to finally get paid when their work is played on the radio.

Why it matters: Crowley is a New York Democrat who was on track to become House speaker until he lost a primary to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2018. Now, by registering to lobby, it's unlikely he’ll join the Biden administration in any capacity.

  • When he was ousted from Congress two years ago, Crowley joined the international law firm Squire Patton Boggs. There had been political chatter about him joining the administration in some capacity.
  • “I have always had a history of standing up for the little guy,” Crowley told Axios about his plans to lobby for music performers.
  • “FM and AM radio is playing their music but not paying for it," he added. "There are thousands of artists who are struggling to make ends meet — and COVID has only made the situation worse."

The big picture: Streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora pay performers a royalty every time a song is played on their platform.

  • Radio stations in the U.S. are only required to pay the songwriter and publisher of a song — not the artists performing it.
  • For example, Willie Nelson receives royalties for his hit “Crazy,” which he wrote, when it's sung by Patsy Cline on the radio. Her estate does not get compensated.
  • The theory behind the arrangement is that radio gives performers free advertising to drive ticket sales at concerts.

Between the lines: With concerts on pause during the pandemic, and music festivals only starting to return, artists and the Recording Industry Association of America are redoubling efforts to challenge the old radio rule.

  • Crowley — a musician who played in a funk fusion band called Coast to Coast in college — has been retained by musicFIRST.
  • It's preparing for an intense lobbying campaign on behalf of the artists.

The other side: Radio stations call any additional fees for performers a tax, and the National Association of Broadcasters has long organized efforts in Congress to keep the status quo.

  • "Broadcast radio is the principal means by which listeners discover new artists," according to a "Dear Colleague" letter circulated by Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) and Steve Womack (R-Ark.).
  • "Free music for free promotion has benefited both (the radio and music industries) for nearly a century and continues to do so today."

Go deeper

Sep 1, 2021 - Podcasts

Federal intervention in the school masking debate

The ongoing battle among local, state and federal officials over COVID precautions in schools continues. The U.S. Department of Education has now launched a civil rights investigation into five GOP-led states that have banned mask mandates in schools.

  • Plus, the return of evictions in America.
  • And, Amazon steps into the live audio business.

Guests: Axios' Ben Montgomery, Linh Ta, Felix Salmon and Sara Fischer.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Hope King, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, and Ben O'Brien. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at podcasts@axios.com. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

Go deeper:

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Winter view from Charlotte as winter storm Izzy creates dangerous conditions in Charlotte, N.C. on Jan. 16. Photo: Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A major winter storm was lashing much of the East Coast on Sunday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The big picture: Heavy snow and ice accumulations are "likely to produce hazardous travel," downed trees and more power outages from the Mid-South to the Northeast, per the National Weather Service. Some parts of the U.S. can expect to see up to a foot of snow through Monday.

Updated 2 hours ago - Science

Volcanic eruption in Tonga caused "significant" damage

This satellite image of the eruption on Jan. 15 taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite operated by Japan Meteorological Agency and released by National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT). Photo: NICT via AP

Significant damage has been reported in Tonga following an undersea volcanic eruption on Saturday, which covered the Pacific nation in ash and cut off communication lines.

Driving the news: The eruption triggered tsunami warnings across Tonga's islands and in other regions, including the West Coast of the U.S. and New Zealand.