- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 10, 2015

Rihanna’s fans enjoy grooving to “Only Girl (in the World),” but few, if any, take a moment to thank Crystal Johnson, who wrote the massive radio hit.

Fortunately, Ms. Johnson and several fellow unsung songwriters will be honored Tuesday at the “We Write the Songs 2015” concert, presented by the ASCAP Foundation and the Library of Congress at the Coolidge Auditorium.

Songwriters including Ms. Johnson, Donald Fagen (“Reelin’ in the Years”), Rupert Holmes (“Escape,” aka “The Pina Colada Song,”) and Natalie Merchant (“Wonder”) will be donating manuscripts and lyric sheets to the library.

“Music is such a powerful, universal language, and as a songwriter, I’ve been given the ability to not only speak this language but to help translate it to multiple generations and genres though writing,” Ms. Johnson said in a statement.

On Wednesday, the “We Write the Songs” scribes will meet with lawmakers to push for more stringent music licensing and copyright policies to head off the scourge of publishing in the 21st century: online piracy.

“With the climate of music changing so drastically due to the digital age, the opportunity to create freely as a professional is becoming more and more challenging,” Ms. Johnson said. “I love what I do and have no desire to stop doing it.

“This event gives me the platform not only to speak on behalf of myself and my purpose as a music creator, but to speak on behalf of music in general — one of the few things in this world we all have in common. I get to plead the case of music, so it’s a pretty big deal.”

Librarian of Congress James Billington and ASCAP Foundation President Paul Williams will address the start of Tuesday’s event, followed by performances by the songwriters donating materials.

Hip-hop artist Che “Rhymefest” Smith will be recognized for “Glory,” the Academy Award-winning song from the film “Selma” that he co-wrote with John Legend and Common.

“This event gives us the opportunity as music creators to not only use a pen to write songs but to utilize our voices to fight for fair compensation,” Mr. Smith said.

Though his award-winning song continues to amass accolades, piracy keeps the cash from flowing to him, he said.

“As a professional songwriter, I need to be able to sustain my family, and it’s become more difficult to do so under this current system of streaming,” Mr. Smith said. “I’m hoping that the digital world begins to realize that, if left unchecked, the entire music industry will be in jeopardy.”

Ms. Johnson will donate the initial handwritten versions of “Only Girl (in the World)” and “Love All Over Me,” performed by Monica, to the Library of Congress. She wrote both songs in 2010, which she claimed was “a significant time in my life where I was seemingly having a ‘cold period’ in my career.

“I was having a hard time staying focused due to a lack of interest in my songs from different record labels,” she said. “I even questioned if I would ever have another song recorded by a major artist, [but] the success of these two songs reminded me that there are doors that only God can open and only God can shut.”

She credits her faith for pushing her to complete the songs, which each went on to be No. 1 Billboard hits.

“I was able to walk through those doors and confirm to myself that I was born to create music,” Ms. Johnson said.

Other songwriters to attend: Alan Bergman (“The Way We Were”), John Bettis (“Top of the World”), Ne-Yo (“Miss Independent”) and Allen Shamblin (“The House That Built Me”).

“To visit and perform at the Library of Congress, apart from the honor of being asked, is like a homecoming for any songwriter,” said Mr. Bettis. “The great works of our profession and the lives of the masters of it are housed there. Besides that, I can be loud and not be asked to leave.”

No matter their history or awards, all are fighting for profits that are being siphoned off by streaming — legal or otherwise.

“The current music licensing system, as of now, threatens the entire industry,” Ms. Johnson said. “More importantly, it threatens anyone with a love and appreciation for songs in general.

“If we, the creators, are unable to create music without our livelihood being compromised, eventually the whole music industry will be at a severe loss.”

While she and her colleagues create songs and memories, “it’s getting harder and harder to create these memories in a profession that no longer guarantees financial stability,” she said.

“Honestly, without songwriters, music would cease to exist,” she said. “Your favorite artists would have nothing to sing [and] fans would have nothing to stream. There would be no venues with live performances and no music on radio stations. Imagine that — a world without music. That’s not a world I want to be a part of.”

Ms. Johnson and her colleagues will lobby Congress to modernize the music industry model so that fans can access what they want in such a way that songwriters can be compensated for their work. She stands behind last year’s proposed Songwriter Equity Act, sponsored by Rep. Doug Collins, Georgia Republican, which is stuck in a House Judiciary subcommittee.

“My hope is for change,” Ms. Johnson said of the legislation. “The reforms we are proposing would create a more efficient and effective music business. In essence, we could save the music world. This is my hope.”

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