Advocate Spotlight: Maria Schneider

  • Photo: Paul Morigi/
    Maria Schneider makes a point about the notice-and-takedown process during her March 13 testimony before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Capitol Hill.
  • Courtesy Maria Schneider
    Maria Schneider
  • Photo: Jason LaVeris/
    Maria Schneider with her GRAMMY Award in the Best Contemporary Classical Composition category for "Winter Morning Walks" at the 56th Annual GRAMMY Awards in January.


Maria Schneider is a GRAMMY-winning composer and bandleader in the jazz and classical genres. A member of The Recording Academy since the '90s, she has served on the Board of Governors and is currently a member of the Advocacy Committee for the New York Chapter. In March, Schneider testified on behalf of The Academy before the U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's notice-and-takedown provision. As the only music creator on the witness panel, Schneider described what it is like for copyright holders to chase down online infringers.  Schneider returned to Washington to join advocates for GRAMMYs on the Hill Advocacy Day in April. 

You joined the Academy in the '90s. When did you first get elected to your Chapter board?
About ten years ago. Originally my involvement was because of the recordings and the GRAMMY Awards, but then I was invited by New York Chapter Governor Carlos Alomar to run for a seat on the Board. Through becoming involved with the Board, I started discovering all the things The Academy does, like MusiCares, GRAMMY in the Schools, and Advocacy. I found it really refreshing to be around musicians coming from other genres, not just my own. It was like musical oxygen to get out of the jazz world, and I love that. I've served on the Board on and off.

Testifying before Congress is one of the most important and challenging things an Academy advocate can do. How were you invited to appear at the copyright hearing?
I had met with [Chief Advocacy & Industry Relations Officer] Daryl Friedman a few times in New York and had been vocal about the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and how silly I thought it was. I feel like it's there to protect [ via safe harbor] these companies that are profiting from infringement, because it gives the illusion that they're acting responsibly. The law is completely limp and ineffective. Then [U.S. Register of Copyright] Maria Pallante had come to New York to address the Board about the ongoing copyright review and she had said to Daryl that I might be good before Congress.  But Daryl had already been thinking about me for that role and suggested my name to the House Judiciary Committee.

So what was it like to speak before members of Congress during the hearing?
I was excited to do it because it's always wonderful to feel that possibly you can be part of change. But I was also very scared because it felt like a massive weight was on my shoulders. I was just terrified. When I'm doing concerts I can talk on a mic and tell every personal detail of my life, but something about being in front of Congress was terrifying. I was on this panel where every other witness was an attorney – plus I was sitting next to the attorney from Google who didn't exactly share the same views on things  —  so it was pretty intense. [Read Maria's opening statement at the hearing.]

You do quite a lot of preparing beforehand. Daryl and his team practice with you with different questions that might get thrown at you by the subcommittee members. I was told that the subcommittee members might have no questions, or no more than one or two, at most three. Well it turned out to be more than that, much more! And some of them were really out of left field, like the cat video question from Rep. Blake Farenthold [R-Tex.]. I wanted to stay on course with the things we had discussed beforehand, but at a certain point during the hearing I thought I'm just going to go for it and hope that Daryl isn't behind me having a heart attack. I couldn't tell if he had fainted on the floor, but when I looked back he was smiling.

You were quite passionate in your rebuttal of Farenthold's contention that there are too many hoops to jump through to get permission from a copyright holder to put music on a cat video.
The more I thought about it, the more I thought it was a good question. Because that is what so many people want to do. I wish I would have said that if you came to me and asked me for permission — which is what I did say — chances are I would give you that permission. But what I would want and expect — which he isn't thinking about — is if you put an ad on that video, I deserve some of the income from it if it goes viral.  Now, if you do that, you give incentive to the creator to want for people to use their music.  People argue, I think tongue-in-cheek, that such use is ''fair use.'' But fair use is really something very different.  Give music creators some fair financial incentive, and then music creators will want you to use their music. Music is an occupation and a business, not a charity.

How was your experience coming back to Washington as an advocate during the GRAMMYs on the Hill Advocacy Day?
It was my first time participating.  I thought it was great, very enlightening. In some ways it was disappointing; it was a dose of reality. Some of the Congress people we met with just said ''no.'' On the other hand, Rep. Jerrold Nadler [D-N.Y.] said something that stayed with me, which is that the voice of just regular people telling their story and speaking out to their local representatives is hugely powerful. People in The Academy, every musician who cares and is frustrated and feels like there's just no chance for their career, should be speaking up to their representatives. Especially college kids, like GRAMMY U members;  they should all be making appointments with their local representatives when they're back home, going into their offices and saying, ''I don’t know how I can possibly make a living as a professional musician amidst all the lawlessness. Please help.'' Unless our representatives feel the real impact from real people nothing will change.  You can bet that Google, which has that massive new space in Washington for lobbying, is setting up all of those meetings. A lot has to be done.  People have to make noise. Unless they do, music will no longer be a way to earn a living. Musicians have an awful history of just assuming everything's gonna work out and I'm just gonna do my music. Well, what if who it works out for is all these companies taking advantage of them?

The premise under which a lot of musicians operate is a myth that we have to work to get rid of. That is that somehow, deep in our core, we believe that the starving musician is somehow the deeper musician — that there's some sort of glory in being that starving musician. That's a pile of bunk. Imagine what that attitude gives to all these companies that want free music so they can capitalize on it? Now companies like Spotify and Google are making billions on data and advertising, so it's in their interests to completely devalue music. That's something musicians are not paying attention to. The idea of suffering for art is just killing us.

You co-authored a July 29 editorial in Billboard with fellow Council of Music Creators members Phil Galdston and David Wolfert about the dangers of music publishers possibly withdrawing from ASCAP and BMI over disputed consent decree guidelines and digital rights. Why did you speak out?
The basic thing that the PROs have built into that system is transparency. They are there for the songwriter, and I have had this experience with them many, many times. As a matter of fact I'll be calling them because something happened with missing royalties from my performances in Australia. The PRO will look into it, figure it out and they'll fix it. I can bet you won't get that kind of transparency, knowing where every dollar is coming from, if your publisher is handling your performing rights. Phil and David are very bright and I have learned a lot from them because they have investigated a lot about these complex issues.

What's really sad is that all this stuff — and I put Google at the head of it — has created a feeding frenzy within the music business.  All parts of the music business operate with panic, because the pie is seemingly smaller.  In truth, Google is sitting on billions while parties in the music business all devour each other.  All parties have to step back and think sustainably — that what's good for the songwriter and the performer is good for the business as a whole, because the musicians are what create the bread and butter for everybody else. The point at which you undermine somebody else to make a lot of money is when you'll quickly destroy the whole environment and it'll come back to bite you. The music industry and the Internet companies should all be thinking sustainably. Think about the fact that at one time, people were happy to pay for music. Creating this thing where people think they should get music for free is such a new concept, and it's just so ridiculous. It's right up there with the polar opposite, where water was once free for everybody; now people are convinced that they should pay for bottled water (stale water in carcinogenic plastic no less). Let's turn this around. How about drinking tap water and paying for music?

Do you see the current crusade to get effective copyright protections and fair pay for creators as a David and Goliath scenario?
Yes. Except the little Davids aren’t fighting hard enough. They're assuming they're too small and don't have a voice. They're scared, scared of alienating their fans, and I understand that. I'm less scared because I know I'm right. I'm fighting the fight for the next generation of musicians and creators. We can do so much more to make our voices heard.

Schneider is recording The Thompson Fields, her follow-up to her previous GRAMMY-winning projects Concert In The Garden and Winter Morning Walks.

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