Not only has this presidential primary season been crazy and negative for the masses, it's now hit me personally because of Donald Trump's use of our rock anthem "We're Not Gonna Take It."
The song, along with another one of our anthems "I Wanna Rock," has become one of the most licensed songs from the '80s for movies, commercials and TV shows.
Over the past 10 years however, "We're Not Gonna Take It" has become something more. It has developed into a clarion call for the oppressed and disenfranchised; a modern day protest song--an aggressive version of "We Shall Overcome." Such is the power of its message that its singular ability to express frustration has been coveted by both sides of almost any issue. It's used by politicians and political groups, and almost always without a formal request to the band or the several companies that control the use of the song.
Donald Trump's use of it at his election rallies has caused a great deal of controversy, mostly from Trump haters who accuse us of being Trump supporters, or worse, a bunch of highly paid whores solely in it for the money.
There are a couple of myths that need to be addressed (and clarified):
Myth 1 The artist has to give permission.
Truth No. If the use of a song in a venue (bars, nightclubs, gyms, auditoriums, stadiums) is covered by an agreement with ASCAP, BMI or SESAC, which are public performance rights societies, then no special permission is needed. As long as the venue pays one of these societies a license fee, which varies with the size of the venue, this right covers thousands of locations and about 20 million songs.
Myth 2 The artist must get paid for each use.
Truth Nope. The performance rights societies collect royalties for the songwriter and or publisher of the song being played, but the artist performing doesn't get anything, which would only amount to pennies per play, anyway.
So, here is the rub for the artist: If a song is used at a sporting event, there is a general understanding by the public that there is no connection to the team--not through a business arrangement and/or as a fan. But in politics, the use of a song at a rally tends to convey some sort of support and/or approval for whatever their political party association is because the artist's song is being used. One of the first examples of this can be traced back to the Rat Pack's special recording of the song "High Hopes" for JFK in 1960. And who can forget Bill Clinton's victory speech ending with Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow)," which they even performed at his inauguration! Sometimes it backfires, like when Ronald Reagan incorrectly used Springsteen's "Born in the USA," a strong anti-war song, which embarrassed many who mistakenly thought it was a pro-America anthem.
So, what should artists do if a politician they don't support uses their song legally, but they don't approve?
There are two options: ask the party involved to quietly stop using the song or shame them in public, complements of the media. In the past two months Adele, Aerosmith, Coldplay, Neil Young and Springsteen have publicly shamed various politicians to remove their songs from respective rally playlists. (Shaming is seemingly the preferred method since no one wants bad press.)
Political party preferences for Twisted Sister members range from the left to the right, and as such, we historically have stayed away from any band endorsement...which brings me back to Trump. Dee Snider has been on the "The Apprentice." Additionally, Trump has both directly and indirectly helped him raise a lot of money for his chosen charity and I respect that relationship. Through back channels, Trump was informed that philosophical differences between the band's worldview and Trump's were proving to be very problematic. Thankfully, our band will not be added to the roster of artists forced to publicly shame a public figure to discontinue the use of broadcasting our song to benefit their cause.