Record Labels Screwing Over Musicians Is Nothing New; The Buddy Holly Edition

from the the-interests-of-musicians? dept

It’s still amazing that anyone thinks that organizations like the RIAA or any of the record labels actually represent the best interests of musicians or even the music industry, when they have such a long history of doing things that go against the musicians best interests — and this goes back decades. A bunch of folks have sent in this amazing recording of Buddy Holly negotiating with his record label after the label recorded a song but refused to release it. The label, Decca, had dropped him from his contract and was refusing to release the songs, including the song “That’ll Be The Day.” According to the story, the producer wasn’t a fan of rock music, and did a terrible job on the song, and Decca refused to release it. So Holly went to re-record it at a different studio, and since Decca had dropped him from his contract, he wanted to clear the rights to use that song, but Decca refused, claiming it had money “tied up” in the recordings… even though Holly clearly offered to pay up to reimburse Decca for the costs, the label refused. Holly apparently recorded his phone call with the label discussing this:

Of course, the story is that Holly went on to release the re-recorded version against his Decca contract, but did so under a group name (The Crickets) rather than as Buddy Holly to avoid the contractual issue — but the success of the song resulted in Decca coming back to Holly and signing a new contract. Either way, the phone call highlights how labels have treated musicians for ages — forcing them into terrible contracts.

There still is a role for labels to play in the music industry, but one of the more exciting things that’s happening is that with greater alternative options, musicians are able to sign deals that are much more favorable, and are less likely to get them locked up in a situation where the labels have too much control.

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Comments on “Record Labels Screwing Over Musicians Is Nothing New; The Buddy Holly Edition”

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28 Comments
The Mad (Patent) Prosecutor says:

So, if I present a recording of another telephone call from the era in which the opposite occurs, can I use this ONE piece of anecdotal evidence to “prove” “how labels have treated musicians for ages – – helping them into magnificent contracts”? Or, are we only allowed to use anecdotal evidence that supports the point we wanted to make before we had the piece of anecdotal evidence?

Brian (profile) says:

Re: Re:

This is one phone call, there are several other articles written by musicians about similar treatments especially when the industry declares them “unrecouped” and then fails to track their earnings properly because they feel early on they won’t be able to make it back. Of course you don’t care about that or anything else that is against the “good will and faith” of your precious failing industry.

Anonymous Howard, Cowering says:

Re: #1

Where did you get the “prove” part? There’s nothing in the OP that indicates Mike’s intent to prove anything with the anecdote. It’s just a link to a recording of a bygone star done wrong by the record label he was then dealing with. No “proof” claimed, just a fact that highlights a still-ongoing trend.

But by all means, let’s see the link(s) to your anecdote(s). We like having both sides of an argument presented and supported.

Thomas (profile) says:

The point: You missed it

The point of the post is that there is something wrong with copyright law. This anecdotal evidence supports that assertion. If you have evidence that supports an opposing, or even only slightly different assertion, we would love to see it and discuss it. If you simply want to post negative comments because you somehow benefit from the current system and can’t grasp why or how people can have the opinions expressed on blogs like this, maybe your time would be better spent doing other things.

Brad Eleven (profile) says:

It is well known that ...

… recording artists have been taken advantage of–by management, fellow artists, even spouses and birth families–since the beginning of the recording industry.

Sure, the audio from the phone call is anecdotal. It’s also hearsay, and hasn’t been authenticated.

However, Buddy Holly’s legal troubles with Decca is well documented–as are the myriad attempts by content publishers to claim more and more of the revenue, profits, and rights to the art.

The video’s purpose is not to prove anything. It’s all been proven.

It’s a reminder to us that the present tactics are different, but the record companies’ aims remain the same.

davidf says:

Re: Re:

Copyright is intended to protect the copyright holder.

The problem is that avaricious recording companies screw the artists contractually, maybe claiming rights that they don’t actually have. If an artist wants to record then the company has them over a barrel.

In those days artists _had_ to deal with recording companies because they had the studios and the distribution channels. These days artists do have the ability to record and distribute themselves. More power to the ones that do…

brokeastunes says:

Gangsters and thieves

You should hear about the terrible story of Arthur Big Boy Crudup who wrote “That Alright Mama.” After years of getting squat while Colonel Tom etc. raked it in, apparently the publishers up in New York decided to cut him a big cheque. He bought a new suit and went up all excited-at the last minute they changed their mind and told him no-you’re not getting anything. Heartbroken he went back down south and died shortly after. (This is what I recall from reading about this-I may have some details wrong…)A particularly galling example of something that has been all too common.

catullusrl says:

Technology companies screwing artists

The way technology companies screw artists make record labels look like amateurs eg Napster, Kazaa, Limewire,Gnutella, Youtube, Apple, Google. Of course Masnick never mentions this.

“Napster, on the other hand, is no solution. So far, it’s even worse than the labels. On the way to making millions for its owners and investors, Napster has yet to give anything to artists other than the chance to spread their music, for free, and whether they like it or not. Its supporters hide behind claims that labels misuse artists and consumers, as if that entitled them to take everything they want absolutely free. Excuse me, but just because record executives give artists a bad deal doesn’t mean that everyone else can then go and do worse. Although the appeal to consumers is obvious-who wouldn’t want free music?-the law, and common morality, forbids stealing.” Herbie Hancock

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Technology companies screwing artists

I’d start with this:

“Napster has yet to give anything to artists other than the chance to spread their music, for free, and whether they like it or not.”

Erm, most artists love to have their music spread. No true artist would be happy with creating a work and only have it heard by a select group of individuals. Besides, *every* artist has their music shared with and heard by individuals who didn’t pay for it, online or offline.

Ironically, back in the Napster days before I found decent legal alternatives, I used it to find music I liked. A download of Rockit led to me buying the full album on CD. Hancock directly profited from the system he decries.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Technology companies screwing artists

“The way technology companies screw artists make record labels look like amateurs eg Napster, Kazaa, Limewire,Gnutella, Youtube, Apple, Google.”

You forget that but for technology companies – starting from Gutenberg onwards there would be no revenue for artists from mechanical reproduction. Almost all the wealth that authors and musicians have made in the last 200 years is down to technology companies. Musicians in particular have benefited from multiple purchases of their work as technology companies invented LPs Compact cassettes and CD’s.

Without technology companies musicians would never have had any revenue from anything but live performance.

Maybe the technology has now taken away what it once gave – but no-one should forget where the money came from in the first place.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Technology companies screwing artists

Wassat? Show me again where Napster prevented a musician from playing, accessing, or marketing their own music like Decca did Holly?

Or explain to me why musicians historically PAID radio stations to play/promote their music (payola), but now YouTube and Limewire do that for free – and they are thieves.

Also, please educate Herbie on the definition of stealing.

ECA (profile) says:

AT THIS TIME.

Lets look at something interesting.
There have been a few that Started recording and editing their own music, for along time.
The GREAT part, is that in the last 15 years it has become easier. the problem was distribution..GETTING your music out to the public. With the internet, THAT ISNT A PROBLEM.
The fun part NOW, is to get your NAME around and a few samples.. SAMPLES were the record industry PAID radio stations to PLAY certain music or LIVE concerts and word of mouth.
NOW you have to find a way to get PEOPLE to play your music to see if they like it.

John B says:

Buddy's Blues

Not all record companies are decent and honourable, but some are. Likewise not all artists are a pleasure to deal with, although some are.

Buddyś problem related to a clause in the contract he signed with Decca and which was countersigned by his parents. The clause stated that he would not record a title made for Decca with any other label within 5 years of the recording date for Decca. The reason for that is simple; an artist could have a hit record at the end of his time with a label and walk away and re-record it for his next label. This would be deemed to be unfair. Buddy chose to deceive Decca and record under the name of The Crickets when he found that Decca would not give him the rights to his songs recorded for them. Paul Cohen was reportedly a miserable man without a heart and would not even consider letting them go. He later described Holly as “the biggest no-talent I have ever worked with”. But in 1957 he was guided by the contract which both parties had signed, and he probably guessed what Buddy was up to when he made that phone call.

Eventually Decca discovered that they had been deceived by Holly and demanded a financial settlement even though the label that had released The Crickets version of That’ll Be The Day was a subsidiary of Decca. They then released their version and did pretty well with an album named after the hit. Holly was disgusted with them but by then had his own solo successes on Coral. The bigger crime was the way his labels dealt with his legacy after he died. The dissatisfaction of Holly’s Estate and those who shared his recordings and rights have long been the subject of legal action in the LA Superior Court. So far MCA-Universal have shown little eagerness to settle the action, preferring to defend the indefensible by using bigger lawyers than those acting against them, with inevitable drawn-out and expensive results. And still they treat Holly’s recorded legacy without proper consideration and love. But that’s the record biz….

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