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How the Recording Academy Enlisted 1,800 Members for District Advocate Day

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As the Recording Academy’s chief advocacy & public policy officer, Washington, D.C.-based Todd Dupler oversees the organization’s efforts to champion creators’ rights and advance pro-music legislation from Washington, D.C. 

His efforts include the annual District Advocate Day when Recording Academy members come to the nation capital to meet with their local Congressional representatives. On Oct. 5 — less than a week after a government shutdown was narrowly averted — nearly 1,800 Recording Academy members participated in more than 100 meetings with their Congressional representatives via virtual and in person-meetings in D.C. and in their home states. Key among the academy members’ concerns were the evolution of artificial intelligence and protecting the human creator’s rights and ticketing reform. They also advocated for passage of the Restoring Artistic Protections (RAP) Act, which limits the use of songwriters’ lyrics as evidence in criminal and civil proceedings, the Help Independent Tracks Succeed (HITS) Act, which amends the tax code to allow independent artists to fully deduct the cost of new recordings and the American Music Fairness (AMFA) Act, which calls for performers to be compensated when their work is broadcast on AM/FM radio in the U.S. 

Dupler, who received his J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C., joined the Recording Academy in 2012 and relaunched the District Advocate program as well as Grammys on the Hill. Under his leadership, Dupler has guided the academy’s efforts to support the passing of legislation including the PEACE Through Music Diplomacy Act, which was signed into law at the end of 2022, as well as the Music Modernization Act and the Better Online Tickets Sales Act. He also launched the Grammy Fund for Music Creators, the academy’s political action committee. His efforts have earned Dupler the title of Billboard’s Executive of the Week. 

Here, Dupler breaks down how the Recording Academy prepared for District Advocate Day and how he and his team work 365 days a year to fight for creators. 

In terms of scope, how did this year compare with past years and how many years has the Recording Academy held District Advocate Day? 

We first launched the initiative in 2014 with just a few hundred participants. This year we saw nearly 1,800 academy members participate across 46 states and the District of Columbia. As we prepared for District Advocate Day this year, we faced the threat of a government shutdown and a historic level of instability in Washington. This impacted the number of congressional offices who were able to schedule meetings with us last week — but we didn’t let these challenges stop us from being music advocates. Even with these obstacles, over 1,000 members met with nearly a hundred congressional offices from Orlando to Seattle, New York to Los Angeles, and in dozens of congressional districts in between. Beyond these meetings, hundreds more participated in the academy’s first-ever virtual GRAMMY Advocacy Conference, a reimagined way to use District Advocate as a day for collective action in music. 

How do you prepare the 1,800 participating members on the complex issues they are discussing with their representatives? 

We provide a variety of resources to members to help prepare them, including a training webinar and talking points about the issues, but the most important thing we emphasize is that our members do not need to be policy experts. Every member comes in with different expertise and passion — one may be particularly familiar with the reforms needed for live event ticketing, while another may be passionate about the Restoring Artistic Protection Act and freedom of creative expression overall. The most important thing that they can do to make an impact is to tell their own story and build a connection with the lawmaker or staff member. The conversations we have on District Advocate Day provide the space for our members to speak to their own experiences, giving a personal voice to these issues. 

AI is such a major topic right now. The Recording Academy’s focus is on protecting the human creator. How was that message received from the Congressional members you met with? 

Members of Congress are very interested in all aspects of AI, but they haven’t necessarily thought about how AI impacts the creative industries and individual creators. We’ve found that lawmakers are extremely receptive and sympathetic to the unique concerns of music makers and the music community. 

During your tenure, what do you consider the biggest victory that has come out of District Advocate Day? 

District Advocate has led to a number of notable successes, from building support for the Music Modernization Act to advancing the CASE Act and the PEACE Through Music Diplomacy Act, which were all signed into law. But I’m especially proud that during the first year of the pandemic we were able to adapt and create a virtual program that allowed our members to advocate for much needed relief and support for the music community. 

How do you gauge the success of District Advocate Day beyond getting legislation passed? 

Promoting our policy priorities is just one aspect of District Advocate Day. The program also provides a unique and powerful way for academy members to actively participate in our advocacy work. Many of our members consider District Advocate Day the most important thing they do as part of the academy. 

How does District Advocate Day differ from Grammys on the Hill, which takes place in spring and includes performances and awards, in representing the Recording Academy’s agenda? 

Grammys on the Hill is a chance to bring a little bit of the excitement and fun of the Grammy Awards to Washington, D.C., and connect current Grammy winners and nominees with lawmakers. But District Advocate is our opportunity to demonstrate just how broad and diverse the music community really is. We have thousands of academy members across the country in almost every congressional district. Many members of Congress have no idea that there are people making music in their own backyard, so District Advocate is our way to make the issues relevant and relatable to them. 

How do you coordinate advocacy across the academy’s 12 chapters and state legislation year-round?

Our chapters are enthusiastic about advocacy both because of the potential for member engagement and because of the positive impact on the community when we are successful. Increasing our state-level advocacy has been an important priority for me. Last year in California, for example, we secured the enactment of the Decriminalizing Artistic Expression Act, which limits the use of song lyrics as evidence in court. That led to the passage of a similar law in Louisiana this year and is fueling ongoing work in New York, Maryland, and even at the national level in Congress. We rely on our members to use their voices and support our state-level advocacy efforts in a number of ways, from writing letters to their congressional representatives, obtaining ballot signatures, and so much more.

In September, the Recording Academy launched the Global Music Diplomacy Initiative, alongside U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Given Hamas’s attack last week on Israel and the ongoing conflict, how does the Initiative plan to direct its efforts to use music as a diplomatic tool in the Middle East? 

We know that music not only provides comfort and hope during tragedy, but also builds bridges and promotes understanding between peoples and cultures around the world. Our hope is that through the new mentorship program we are developing with the State Department we will be able to support the growth of music economies in emerging markets around the world like in the Middle East and facilitate new relationships and connections that cross borders. With these goals in mind, the academy will be welcoming international mid-career music professionals to the U.S. through the American Music Mentorship Program starting in fall 2024.

You joined the Recording Academy in 2012. In what ways has its legislative strategy legislation changed over the years and through regime changes? 

Throughout my tenure, advocacy has been a constant at the Recording Academy and at the forefront of our mission. Under [CEO] Harvey [Mason jr’s] leadership, I’ve worked to expand and increase that work to better serve our members and the music community. We’ve used the platform provided by the new Songwriters & Composers Wing, for example, to increase our advocacy for songwriters. The new partnership with the State Department has created new opportunities globally. And the expansion of our state advocacy work provides another avenue to assert our leadership on issues that matter to music. Serving music and the people who make it will always be our lodestar.

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