THE BLOG

Leopards and Spots - The 'B' Side

03/02/2014 12:20 GMT | Updated 05/04/2014 10:59 BST

When I write these blogs I am often guilty of forgetting that people read them. It's easy just to write something each month, send it in and forget about it. That's not to say that I don't give very careful thought to what I write, I believe passionately in striving to improve the music industry for the people who really matter the most, the performers and the writers, it just comes as a bit of a shock when I meet someone and they comment on the blog.

Last month I wrote a piece entitled 'Leopards And Spots - Why The Labels Never Change'. It was about record companies and the relationship that they have with performers. I compared my own personal experience of record companies and publishers back in the 1970s with the contracts that I now see being offered to MU members on a weekly basis. The conclusion that I reached was that, although the scams are different, many (not all) record companies are still using absurd, outdated clauses in their agreements with performers in order to reduce the royalties payable. These clauses date back to an analogue era and have no place in today's digital world. This isn't an opinion, it's a fact.

I threw the blog out there into the ether and I just forgot about it. So, imagine my surprise when it was drawn to my attention that the CEO of the BPI (the trade body for the major record labels), Geoff Taylor, had written a blog of his own right here claiming that record companies in 2014 were not at all as I described them but that they actually work in 'partnership' with the artists. So, I've had to revise my position on who reads this blog, I now know that Geoff reads it and for that I am truly grateful. I must also thank Geoff for not disputing what I wrote about the contracts that our members bring to us to be vetted by the music industry lawyers that we use. He knows that whilst there are many labels out there - particularly in the independent sector - that play fair, there are still many that don't. I haven't revised my position on that.

Furthermore, since the 1960's, literally thousands of acts have been signed by record companies on terms that could never be described as a 'partnership'. We know that there are artists from the 1960's and 70's who are on royalty deals that pay them as little as 5% on a stream. That's if their label pays them anything at all because trying to recoup the money you owe the label from a 5% royalty is not easy. Of course, the acts that achieved global success and longevity will have had the market muscle to renegotiate their contracts and achieve terms like those that Geoff alludes to and better, but this only applies to a relative handful of household names. The vast majority of performers who signed record company deals over the last 50 years would not recognize Geoff's description of a record label. It is true that the labels have a proud history of investing money in new talent with no guarantee of seeing a return, but on the other hand, it obviously pays off for them or else they wouldn't bother.

Just a thought, but during the relatively profligate years of the 80's and 90's - I was managing and promoting bands at that time and the richest people I knew were working for record companies - perhaps if the labels had been a bit more circumspect about the acts that they signed, and a little less cavalier about the money they spent on them and themselves then, following Geoff's reasoning, maybe they could have offered better terms in their contracts.

I do accept that the record companies are more adaptable these days; label services and short-term deals are very welcome. I also accept that there are some very good people working for those labels who believe totally in the music. I just think that it's a shame that the industry has not found a way to put right the ills of the past and in doing so, properly reward all the talent that put the labels where they are today.

Finally, there is a line in the song that Geoff refers to, "It Takes Two", that says "one can have a broken heart, livin' in misery". I fear that that is still the reality for many musicians when they look at their royalty statements. Oh, and if you're reading this Geoff, don't worry, I'll write about something else next month.