The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

8 September 2005

You don't own me

Almost anyone who's tried to make a living off an elpee's worth of toons, it seems, has had some sort of complaint about a record company.

Filling in at Majikthise — Lindsay is in Baton Rouge helping out with relief efforts and other things under the auspices of the Swing State ProjectThad points to one problem, and a solution in the making:

Non-musicians often wonder: "If record companies are so awful, why don't musicians organize to protect themselves?" A big part of the answer here is that the biggest existing collective organization for musicians — the AFM — has, in the past, been indifferent (at best) to the needs of independent musicians. So any collective organization that represents indie artists — like Take It To The Bridge — has to be built from scratch, and has a tendency to vanish once the specific issue it was created to address has been solved. That's why I'm so excited about this recent collaboration between Take It To The Bridge and [AFM] Local 802. This is exactly the direction the union ought to be taking. After all, if there's one task that a musician's collective is uniquely well-suited for, it's taking on the record companies.

What brought them together was, of course, the action of a record company, in this case Knitting Factory, whose new owners basically trashed all the existing contracts with their artists. What's worse, they started throwing out their inventory. Why? It's a record company. Who knows?

Eventually, an agreement was reached: the 28 plaintiffs will receive a full accounting of royalties, ownership rights to the material recorded, return of the original masters, and the right to buy up existing inventory at $2/unit.

I have to admit, I'm starting to understand why so many musicians are releasing their own CDs.

Posted at 6:20 AM to Tongue and Groove


Hey Chaz, thanks for the shoutout. (Trackback on my first-ever blog post, whoohoo!)

As for the self-released CD route, there are serious problems with that route as well. The record companies are -- still -- the gatekeepers. The sad truth is that without a CD on a "proper" label, you can't even get a gig. Artists who are already well-established (like, for instance, Maria Schneider, who won a Grammy this year for a record that was essentially self-released) can afford to bow out of the label system, but emerging artists still need the "credibility" of a record contract -- even if it's a small but respected indie -- to play most venues.

Posted by: Thad at 1:52 PM on 8 September 2005

Thad,

Not sure what part of the country you're in, but a lot of completely unsigned artists get decent - if not great - gigs down in Texas (and I believe Oklahoma as well). That's particularly true in the country/alt-country/reddirt scene, but in other areas as well. They won't be playing at a huge pavilion, but quite a few have been able to make a living at it while setting up their own record companies. Most of the acts I saw down there had no label support (though they did have booking agents).

Posted by: R. Alex at 9:06 AM on 12 September 2005