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If Labels are Loan Sharks, What Do You Call the Signees?

By Lauran Gangl -

[Editor's note: The following is a piece from a debate on the music community and indie label, GarageBand Records, over the role of major labels in the music industry: "One way of looking at a standard record deal is simply as a loan - with the record company offering initial cash investment in exchange for profits down the line. But when the share of the profits they demand is too high, and if your band can find ways to get moving without the initial cash... then who needs a record deal?" We felt that Lauran's thoughtful and insightful piece needed to be shared.]

Back in the old days, successful actors were enslaved to the moguls by way of being ordered to do films they had no desire, artistic motivation, or even financial gain to do. Often, if they opposed such demands then a "scandal" would ruin their careers, or - worse - they were found as a "suicide" victim. The studios were making a fortune, and the moguls didn't want to share.

But a very independent minded, courageous, and quite impish actress said "I'm not going to take it anymore!!!" So she broke free. She was blackballed from any studio, but she had a plan. She persuaded her well known actor husband and another well known comedic actor to join in her revolt and they pulled their own finances together and bought their own studio, hired their own administrative staff, hired their own writers and directors, costumers, - the whole thing. They found investors and risked their own lives, careers and life savings."

On January 14, 1919, this group - known as "the big five" - created a new corporation: United Artists Pictures. The five were Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, DW Griffith, William S Hart, and a woman that cowered from her mother but stood up to some of the most evil men in show business, Mary Pickford. United Artists was so successful it outsold Paramount pictures, Warner pictures and Famous Artists in box office sales for over 17 years.

The demise of United Artists was mainly due to Mary Pickford and her husband's (Fairbanks) divorce in marriage. But both of them - and the others - made a huge profit in selling their shares to other artists that could afford to buy them, and UA continued until 1986.

Point is: if these actors of limited talent (as musicians we must assume superiority of talent over all the creative world ;-) can organize together to form a multimillion dollar film studio, having control of their own projects, choice of director, scripts, etc, then why can't musicians do the same thing? Why haven't any such masterminds as P Diddy, Madonna, Janet Jackson, Shania Twain, or their masterful producers Butch Vig, Mutt Lange, Glen Ballard, et al, start their own record label? They could then persuade all their artist friends to follow under the same organized anarchy.

NO RECORD LABEL EXISTS WITHOUT ARTISTS! My fellow musicians, for some amazing reason, do not realize THEY ARE IN CONTROL! MUSICIANS HAVE THE POWER! And yet they choose to accept ridiculously, restrictive contracts - they sign - no one signs for them. And sometimes they think they have their own label, but it's usually just a fašade because it's a Vanity/Artist Imprint label that reports straight up to a major. These bands beg and whine about how wrong they are treated, yet they continue to sign up for renewals.

I would like to see an artist like Madonna or even Garbage and No Doubt say "Hey, we have made money for the majors. We paid our debt of advances and the 'risk' they took on an unknown. Now we are leaving, even if we have to take all our money and buy out our contract. Now we want you, our music artist friends - and now international artists - such as Missy Elliot, Moby, Matthew Wilder, Eve, to come join our new label, along with Prince, Ric Ocasek, Blondie, Dave Stewart, Stent, William Orbit, Nellee Hooper, and Steely & Clivie (all who worked on their latest CD).

Imagine if all these top sellers walked out on the majors and started up their own label. IT CAN BE DONE WITH GOOD LAWYERS. Just as little Mary Pickford had to sell her house and get all kinds of financing - but she could persuade people because she was a top box office draw.

So why can't musicians unite as artists? What is wrong with us? Are we so ignorant and selfish? How could film artists do it in early 1900s yet in 2002 no one in the music industry has even tried? The Beatles started out very successfully with Apple (but still it was a sub of Capitol - not totally independent) but then hired very poor administration - that was their downfall. But if they'd united with the Elvis, Little Richards and Simon and Garfunkel at the time - even the Rolling Stones - then we may not be in the conundrum we are in now.

(I'm still surprised that Mr. "Business Wizard" Jagger has not already done this. He could be the svengali to all beneath him. It would feed his supposed massive ego, I trust you would agree).

So let's do it now. Get a bunch of artists together and do it alone. Then operate some of the businesses just as the majors have, with the big names bringing in the money to support the new and up & comers. It's a win-win situation. All distribution would be unraveled due to major artists jumping ship so the distributors, major agents, promoters, box office agents, radio airplay would follow the artists - BECAUSE NO ONE WILL HAVE A JOB IF THERE ARE NO ARTISTS MAKING MUSIC!!!

Why can't these artists see past their belly rings?!!! If you're lucky, a musician's career lasts about 7 years - then you disappear into VH-1's "Where Are They Now." But for shareholders or even A&R execs - they don't have to go back living in Mom and Dad's basement and singing at bah mitzvahs. No, they would be reaping in the profits of their label, owning shares of masters, going on to produce new artists on THEIR roster. In other words, enjoying a lifelong career.

I must believe I am NOT the only one that sees this idea as something to be proactive about. I aspire to be a mega rockstar NOT for fame, money, dicks (as opposed to chicks) and the passion of creating my own music - hell no!!! I want to start my own MAJOR label and bring in all my friends! Is that so wrong???"

So let's get moving. If Marion 'Suge' Knight can create Death Row Records in 1992 and reach 26 million in sales in just four years without the help of a major - and then continue running his corp from prison! - then we can do it, too.

Let's walk to the front of the bus!

Copyright @ Tag It 2001 - Republished with Permission

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