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What It’s Like When A Label Won’t Release Your Album
May 19, 2013 12:44 PM   Subscribe


 
Why don't the ones like JoJo, trapped in a seven album deal with a company that won't release her album, just sit down in a cheap studio for a day and pull a Van Morrison, giving them seven albums worth of Ring Worm and washing their hands of it?
posted by Flunkie at 1:00 PM on May 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


because the contracts are structured in such a way that the label has to accept the album and for acts like jojo, that usually entails picking the producers and studios and musicians and all that. as the article states - she's presented the album to them 3 times and 3 times she's heard nothing - none of those count towards her commitment.
posted by nadawi at 1:11 PM on May 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Sometimes they accept the album and never release it, but it still counts - as with Andrew Eldritch, WEA and “SSV”.
posted by Auz at 1:16 PM on May 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Another good band with similar problems.
posted by Samizdata at 1:26 PM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


The sooner these large labels die the better off artists will be.
posted by zzazazz at 1:29 PM on May 19, 2013 [9 favorites]


'They told me the nastiest things, like, “Sorry, there’s already one girl coming out at the moment, we can’t do two.”'

Just. Wow.

And when the glorious day comes that the big (three is it now?) die a painful horrid death, they will utter as their last words that it's the fault of thieves and pirates. Never will it occur to them that they are responsible for their own failure.

And it will be a good day. And I will remember stories like these. And I will look at the successful musicians that continue to thrive without the support of the 'majors'. And I will spit on the graves of the major labels.
posted by el io at 1:35 PM on May 19, 2013 [15 favorites]


The story, and the NY Post story on Jo Jo that it links to, fail to answer, or even ask, an obvious question: why isn't she currently suing to get out of her contract? They mention at least two California laws that would offer an exit: the Brockert clarification that says that if you don't release the music you can't hold the artist, and the seven year personal contract limit. The Buzzfeed one mentions she sued in 2009, but then the label was acquired by Interscope, and so she dropped it. But it's been four more years and the label has been dropped again for two of those, and yet she's complaining to websites and on twitter instead of taking legal action? There's fairly obviously More To This Story, but neither reporter bothers to ask, as far as I can see.

The NY Post one is expecially annoying, because it announces "So why won't JoJo just leave this contract? Because it was signed -- and officiated -- when she was a child, so it's super duper tricky" without saying a thing about *why* it would be "super duper tricky". In US law, it's generally *easier* to get out of inequitable personal contracts signed as a child rather than harder.
posted by tavella at 1:51 PM on May 19, 2013 [8 favorites]


"...an obvious question: why isn't she currently suing to get out of her contract?"

Probably because she meant to ask her personal assistant to make an appointment with the attorney she has on retainer to meet with her to discuss this lawsuit, but she just sort of forgot to do so because she was distracted by how much fun she was having climbing the mountains of money she made from her two released albums.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:10 PM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


tavella: "why isn't she currently suing to get out of her contract?"

Seems the obvious answer would be that it takes money she doesn't have.
posted by Mitheral at 2:11 PM on May 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


In what sense did JoJo release a mixtape? I know what the word mixtape means to me, but I'm not sure how they're using it here.
posted by Ruki at 2:13 PM on May 19, 2013


Indeed, it might be money, but a decent reporter would *ask* that question and give us the answer, or at least report the refusal to answer. I should not be speculating after reading a story that about her contract woes.
posted by tavella at 2:17 PM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


As discussed by noted producer and grump Steve Albini.

There's some good advice on contract clauses in the "Take Legal Action" section of this Buzzfeed article.

I play in a band. We've got a good thing going, and it feels like we might be getting a little local buzz. I would be extremely wary of signing with any label, were the opportunity to be presented. Too often it's just an excuse to make money for someone else, and get tied up in legally binding contracts on extremely unfavorable terms.
posted by Existential Dread at 2:19 PM on May 19, 2013


Correction: make that ENGINEER and grump Steve Albini.
posted by Existential Dread at 2:21 PM on May 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music is a book I found very readable about how recording and music interact.
posted by telstar at 2:40 PM on May 19, 2013


In what sense did JoJo release a mixtape? I know what the word mixtape means to me, but I'm not sure how they're using it here.

In hip-hop, it means an album put together on a lower budget, with limited distribution, that someone puts out as a promotional thing. For new artists it's sort of like a public demo tape. For established artists it can be a way of staying in the public eye between releases, or a sort of side-project-ish way of recording stuff you couldn't get away with on a real album.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 2:54 PM on May 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Fuck a label fuck a label fuck a label.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 2:56 PM on May 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


If it is that IMPORTANT for me to hear, you'd leak it yourself, consequences be damned.
posted by Renoroc at 2:56 PM on May 19, 2013


Geffen Records, in my opinion, signed us to keep us from signing with their competition. They made it impossible for us to do anything. We couldn’t record or tour…nothing. We fought back and finally, 3 years later were allowed to make our record. Geffen pressed up 25,000 copies, gave us 3 weeks of tour support, and promptly dropped us. Turns out that was normal business practice back then, but we were crushed.
Kyle Ellison

Kyle and his brother were in a band that was super-hot in the early nineties, here in central Texas. They were kids, they were hopeful, they were talented, they had busted their asses to put the thing together and create all that momentum. Life was good. They had no idea the buzzsaw they were running into.

I don't think you can say straight up that Kyle's brother killed himself because of Geffen -- the resiliency of the human soul and all of that -- but what happened just blew all of their lives apart, blew that band apart, and Sims just couldn't make it through.

Geffen didn't send a flower, they didn't send a card, they didn't call.

Talk about resiliency of the human spirit -- Kyle has forgiven those people. He's a good man.

At least it's been turned to good -- the SIMS Foundation here in Austin has made it a sure thing, that a musician can get help for any type of mental illness or addiction issue; if you're in trouble, just pick up the phone. So there's that.

I am so happy that those people are dying out. A pleasure to hear them belly-ache and whine and snivel as the knife gets closer and closer to their heart. No one knows yet how it's all going to shake out -- how is a musician or a band going to get known? I guess it's all going to be momentum from here on out. I'm thinking that radio is dead or soon will be, people are all going to be listening to their niche on whatever distribution site -- maybe an act has to get into one of those playlists, maybe that'll be the way.
posted by dancestoblue at 3:03 PM on May 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


These bastards won't even take my phone calls, much less release my album
posted by thelonius at 3:19 PM on May 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


So why are these guys still around, anyway? Do they provide a service that is at all useful?

It seems like there should be an incredibly strong incentive for avoiding this system, since you hear all the time it's impossible for an artist to make money. What's the incentive for not?
posted by selfnoise at 3:27 PM on May 19, 2013


So why are these guys still around, anyway? Do they provide a service that is at all useful?

They promote, advertise, and fund. It's not impossible to get a song or album noticed by the world without someone spending millions of dollars promoting it. But it's a lot easier that way. Independent artists are often very good. But they tend to operate under a different business model that does not seek widespread commercial success and that is not reliable enough to provide a career very often.

That said, I've had the good fortune of having a couple of different record label contracts for my own work over the last few years and the boilerplate contract language they tried to get me to sign was outrageous. On one occasion, I sent a marked-up version back to the label asking for revisions and they were at a total loss as to what any of my edits meant, because they had never actually read the boilerplate they have their artists sign. They had their outside lawyer call me, who was a brand new entertainment lawyer shocked to learn that the 'artist' on the other end of the line was also a lawyer. The contract we ended up with is still not great, but it must have been surreal for the label's lawyer to have an artist explaining why the indemnity clause contained language that was likely unenforceable under applicable law and striking language all over the contract that everyone else just accepts as part of life.
posted by The World Famous at 3:47 PM on May 19, 2013 [30 favorites]


According to my memory, JoJo had the best episode of MTV Cribs ever. It was just her family's perfectly respectable but vaguely shabby duplex in Swampscott and it was like, okay, here's the bedroom, here's the other bedroom, here's the living room, uh, we have a TV here, okay that's about it.
posted by threeants at 3:50 PM on May 19, 2013 [10 favorites]


Yea, is it possible that she received/spent money for the next album(s) and would have to return it if she got out of the contract? Or worse yet, someone else received it (since she was a kid then) on her behalf and now she is on the hook?
posted by asra at 3:51 PM on May 19, 2013


The NY Post one is expecially annoying, because it announces "So why won't JoJo just leave this contract? Because it was signed -- and officiated -- when she was a child, so it's super duper tricky" without saying a thing about *why* it would be "super duper tricky".

SOP for reportage in general, sadly.
posted by kenko at 3:52 PM on May 19, 2013


The record industry acts as the gatekeeper to many of the revenue streams that you might have as a musician. Some number of artists will be able to make a go on their own, but this is generally more possible for "niche" artists or "cult" artists who acquire a comparatively small but very dedicated audience. If you are just a band that a lot of people like rather a lot, it's hard to translate this into selling CDs/mp3s or booking large venues.

Of course, once the labels die this gatekeeper role will vanish and I am counting the days.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 4:50 PM on May 19, 2013


According to my memory, JoJo had the best episode of MTV Cribs ever. It was just her family's perfectly respectable but vaguely shabby duplex in Swampscott and it was like, okay, here's the bedroom, here's the other bedroom, here's the living room, uh, we have a TV here, okay that's about it.

Sorry. Redman's cribs wins forever and ever.
posted by to sir with millipedes at 5:38 PM on May 19, 2013 [22 favorites]


Am I crazy or do all the videos on the Buzzfeed page auto play? That's really fucking annoying.
posted by phaedon at 5:40 PM on May 19, 2013


You know, considering how long this has been going on, and how many people have gotten screwed over by it, I'm surprised we haven't heard about more music execs getting flung out of windows.
posted by Canageek at 8:02 PM on May 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


And yet spend any time around jamspaces or guitar shops and you will still hear people talking/dreaming about "getting signed". It boggles the mind.
posted by dobie at 8:05 PM on May 19, 2013


In hip-hop, it means an album put together on a lower budget, with limited distribution, that someone puts out as a promotional thing. For new artists it's sort of like a public demo tape

I feel like the "mix tapes" I've downloaded in the last 5 or so years are actually better than the subsequent albums 75% of the time. You might get a couple tracks where they rap on someone else's beat, but seriously mix tapes these days are solid as albums. Mr muthafuckin exquire made old El-P and Necro beats sound better than ever. Pretty sure everything that Das Racist, Kool AD, and Himanshu ever did was technically mix tapes, except for one major label album that wasn't even their best work. It's bizarre; the best hip hop out there is literally being given away these days.
posted by Hoopo at 9:18 PM on May 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


And yet spend any time around jamspaces or guitar shops and you will still hear people talking/dreaming about "getting signed". It boggles the mind.
posted by dobie at 10:05 PM on May 19


It's like people who've seen their friends go through brutal divorces, and they themselves have gone through a nasty, horror-show marriage and divorce, yet they still dream of being with someone, they're talking / dreaming about being married. We always think "It's gonna be different this time!" and of course it usually isn't.
posted by dancestoblue at 9:19 PM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


You say that like 50% of marriages don't end with the death of one of the members and the other 50% unhappily.
posted by Mitheral at 10:25 PM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Industry Rule #4080
posted by Stu-Pendous at 10:27 PM on May 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


So why are these guys still around, anyway? Do they provide a service that is at all useful?

They provide a few useful services, really:

• Promotion: Posters and street team stuff, but also getting your music on TV shows, movies, and ads. That's important both as promo and as...

• Revenue stream access: Movie and TV studios, ad firms, and others don't generally want to bother dealing with an individual; they often have deals with labels to get rights to whatever's new. So being on a label hugely increases your access there

• Tour support: This is rarely discussed, but hugely important (and more important than ever now that live performance is so central to the business). A label will get you a deal on better transportation, better places to stay, better food, and vastly more organized venues (a club manager might not give a shit if your show doesn't have a sound guy present, but a label will make damn sure that's covered and the manager won't want to break a relationship with the labe)

It's notable---and disappointing for us veterans of the 90s---that music piracy has made labels stronger and more important. Indie labels and even indie artists could sell music just fine---pressing CDs is cheap, and distributing on Bandcamp is cheaper. But now that selling music isn't financially viable, an artist's living comes from ancillary revenue streams and live performance. And those are the areas where labels have a tremendous advantage.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:25 PM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Something I was told very early on in my brief experience at the periphery of the music industry has stayed with me. Namely, if you're negotiating a contract with a label, get a very expensive lawyer. You can be damn the sure record company has one.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 1:08 AM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


High five to The World Famous. Wish I was a lawyer when I was dealing with majors. Instead I just ended up spending all my money on lawyers.

I suppose there were some narcissistic payoffs, magazine covers and sycophants, but in the end we were the dumbasses and were really only working to make money for others who were better connected.
posted by Wolof at 6:11 AM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just to confirm what the duck by the oboe said and to add to what Wolof said, even if you're a lawyer yourself, getting someone else who really knows the territory well is a good idea. For the one contract I've had that really mattered, I didn't trust my own knowledge of the industry enough and I called in a colleague who is a music industry lawyer who knows stuff I don't even realize I don't know.
posted by The World Famous at 11:27 AM on May 20, 2013


ThatFuzzyBastard makes excellent points, but I would like to add that the band must recoup the costs of doing those things and have no say in requesting the label find cheaper ways of doing them. Picture a bank loan, but the bank gets to choose how the money is spent. Touring is positioned as how bands make money these days, but it is actually just how the label makes money. Bands don't make money, they just go into debt.
posted by dobie at 3:36 PM on May 20, 2013


Whether the artist makes money touring depends largely on the style of music, the venues, what sort of crowd they draw, and what stage of their career they're in. Early on in an artist's career, touring is mostly about promotion and audience-building. As they progress, though, the tour takes on a dual role of both promotion and revenue generation. A rock band on a club tour isn't typically going to make money. An electronic music act playing dance clubs, on the other hand, has a lot better chance of making money, particularly if they have the right deals with promoters and venues.
posted by The World Famous at 3:45 PM on May 20, 2013


Definitely, plus the cost of touring for an electronic act is so much lower, at the club level at least, than that of a band.
posted by dobie at 6:27 PM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Picture a bank loan, but the bank gets to choose how the money is spent.

But it funds your creative effort and you don’t really have to pay it back if you don’t make any money. Labels are like VC’s for musicians. I’m not sure what everyone thinks they are supposed to be. I’m not going to go to bat for record labels, it’s a crazy business. But every time you here a story about someone who’s record never came out and the label screwed them they forget to mention the 10’s of thousands of dollars they spent that no one is getting back.

Seriously, there are a lot of things wrong with labels. There’s a lot of things wrong with every business. And people get screwed with contracts in every business. But most people in other businesses actually read and negotiate their contracts.

These discussions are always full of "fuck the labels" and "musicians are better off without them". Why don’t I hear that about the movie industry, which is just as bad or worse? Or internet startups?

What is it that people think is going to magically and wonderfully happen if every record label shut down tomorrow? We are at a point now where you don’t have to sign with a label to release your music. So what’s the complaining about? Just don’t do it.
posted by bongo_x at 10:18 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


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