Since when does music have to be “red state / blue state”?

Tom Petty

Tom Petty's not happy about Bachmann's use of "American Girl"

It’s that time of year when artists everywhere decide which political figures can use their music, as though music was a “red state / blue state” thing. Let’s be honest — I’m a pretty staunch liberal, though I’ve always prided myself on voting for the strongest candidate in a particular election. But I’ve never broken down my music listening along political lines, and it’s about time artists stopped doing exactly that.

In this case, it’s Tom Petty making a stink over Michele Bachmann’s use of “American Girl” during her presidential campaign announcement. And while her campaign should have requested permission, it’s my belief that no one with a brain is going to assume that Tom Petty is a Bachmann supporter simply because he’d let her use a song. Does Tom Petty not want republican fans? It seems shortsighted to me that artists are willing to shut out a portion of their audience because a person who plays their music supports beliefs they don’t particularly espouse.

Maybe Bachmann’s biggest mistake was in not checking to see if the catalog of Bachman-Turner Overdrive was available instead. “Taking Care of Business” could have opened up a whole new avenue of supporter discussion. And she wouldn’t have to worry about people asking her if she’s a size 14.

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UPDATE:  (5:10 p.m., 6/29/11)Rolling Stone notes that Bachmann’s campaign used the song again during a campaign stop in South Carolina. The article goes on to mention the potential legal debate on this subject:

The Petty camp immediately sent the candidate a cease and desist letter, but the legal rights of politicians to play music at campaign events without the permission of the artists is unclear. Many legal experts feel that if the campaign buys a license from ASCAP they are allowed to play any song they want without seeking approval from the artist. Others argue that the use of a song at a campaign rally implies that the artist endorses the politician, and thus they must seek approval from the musician.

I agree that if a politician wants to use a song in a political advertisement, that’s a different matter — and it should have to be licensed and approved by the artist or their management. But if you consider playing “American Girl” a live performance, under ASCAP rules, the campaign paying for a blanket ASCAP license should clearly quell the hysterics. Otherwise a whole kettle of worms opens up regarding artists having to grant personal approval to who gets to have a live performance license.

I think it comes down to no one being willing to work with anyone who has beliefs which are different than theirs. Music is supposed to cross borders. And while I may disagree with Michele Bachmann’s politics, I feel she has every right to use the song — and as long as her campaign purchased the proper licenses, Tom Petty should cease and desist with the pettiness.

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