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Ghost Town Troubadours shine spotlight on those usually behind the scenes: songwriters

A group of four songwriters, who call themselves the Ghost Town Troubadours, play a show at Bakersfield's Fox Theater on Monday, Aug. 8, 2016. (KBAK|KBFX/Matt Boone)

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - Raising awareness of the struggles of American songwriters, the Ghost Town Troubadours played an intimate show Monday night at the Fox Theater.

The group is comprised of four hit songwriters who, while talented musicians in their own right, have spent much of their careers writing for other artists.

Their two-week tour from Nashville, Tennessee to Los Angeles comes amidst a major shakeup in the music industry as it shifts from selling songs to streaming them.

That new business model has created many issues when it comes to licensing music and how artists and songwriters get paid.

Because of this, the United States' two main performing rights organizations, BMI and ASCAP, requested that the Department of Justice (DOJ) change parts of a consent decree that was first issued in 1941.

The two-year review ended on Aug. 4, with the DOJ denying the request.

In a statement explaining the decision, the DOJ wrote, "Although stakeholders on all sides have raised some concerns with the status quo, the Division’s investigation confirmed that the current system has well served music creators and music users for decades and should remain intact."

The ruling was a blow to songwriters, who receive fractions of a penny each time one of their songs is played through a streaming service such as Pandora or Spotify.

"We're the only trade industry in America that's governed. Our rate is set by the government," said Aaron Benward, a songwriter and member of the Ghost Town Troubadours.

The Troubadours, which include Benward, Danny Myrick, Regie Hamm and Travis Howard, decided to do something about it, embarking on a two-week tour, stopping at a city each night to play a show. Their mission was to share not only their music, but also their stories.

"I think I started songwriting when my first wife left me," joked Travis Howard. He went on to score a slew of hits, writing with country music star Miranda Lambert.

Despite their success, they said revenue from royalties has been sliding, adding a constant level of uncertainly to their careers.

"There’s hit songwriters now, we're talking way bigger than us, that are working factory jobs, swing shifts," said Benward. "And I'm one right now."

Both said they were angered by the DOJ's decision, though not surprised. They acknowledge music streaming is the future of music distribution, but they said songwriters have been getting left behind.

"The music business is booming, don't get it twisted," said Howard. "It seems so counterintuitive. They say the rising tide lifts all boats, but that’s just over and over been demonstrably untrue."

The group has been filming its journey along the way, planning to release a documentary about the experience.

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