You're So Vain… I Bet You Think Starbucks' Decision To Get Out Of The Music Biz Was All About You

from the singing-a-new-tune dept

Last year, we wrote about singer Carly Simon’s decision to sue Starbucks for not promoting her album enough. As you may recall, Starbucks, for a little while, tried to get into the music business by building on its success in selling a few CDs in stores and trying to start its own record label. The company invested heavily in its Hear Music subsidiary, but the results weren’t very good, and about a year later it dumped the plan. In the interim, however, it did release a few albums, including one by Paul McCartney. Carly Simon had also signed on, but the label shut down five days before her album came out. She claims that because of this, she suffered greatly, and went on to sue. Of course, there seemed to be a lot of holes in the argument. First of all, she still sold a ton of albums, and the company had given her a huge advance (over half a million). On top of that, this could have happened with any record label.

In April, the judge tossed out the dispute, pointing out that Simon’s actual deal was with Hear Music, the subsidiary, and not Starbucks. Unable to leave things alone, Simon has filed an amended suit, claiming that Starbucks misrepresented how much it would promote the album. But, once again, record labels change promotional strategies for albums all the time. On top of that, these days, it seems like any musician should realize that much of the promotional effort on new albums really falls on the artist themselves, rather than their labels. Blaming the label may seem like an easy target, but it’s a stretch to then claim they had some legal obligation in terms of how the album was promoted.

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Companies: starbucks

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Comments on “You're So Vain… I Bet You Think Starbucks' Decision To Get Out Of The Music Biz Was All About You”

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Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Agreed, they should have done the whole “Charmed” TV show type of music. One problem with big corporations is the “bet on what is know” attitude and dont risk money on the unknown. There is this “sameness” due to things like six sigma, and a lack of identifying creativity that is erroding the ability to compete from corporations in the US.

Karl (profile) says:


It’s a rare occasion when I take the side of a label against an artist, but I might do so here. Simon’s claims seem ridiculous.

On the other hand, it depends on the contract. It is entirely possible that Simon was prevented from promoting the album on her own – and given that Starbucks wanted to promote it in connection with their stores, that wouldn’t surprise me.

I’m also curious as to who owns the copyright at this point. It’s entirely possible that Concord Music Group controls it, and can sell it to the highest bidder, against Simon’s will. (Like what happened with the Beatles.) If that’s the case, she definitely has a right to be angry.

She still wouldn’t win, of course. Right or wrong, that’s the way the music biz works, and the law is on their side.

Cathy (user link) says:

This lawsuit actually sounds reasonable

I’m with Kyle. The complaint is not as far-fetched as I originally thought, and actually speaks to the assertion that she should have done her own promotion — it alleges she did, but ultimately there was nowhere to actually buy the album!

Even setting aside the issue on who may own the copyright for the record (meaning that even if her market for it wasn’t destroyed she might not even be able to try to distribute it through someone else), it does seem that she has not gotten the benefit of the bargain Starbucks convinced her to strike with them, and may have been materially damaged as a result, which would be potentially actionable.

I do agree that this sort of thing may be very common in the record business, of record companies signing artists and promising the world, and then not promoting their album, but that doesn’t make it right.

Jenni (profile) says:

NPR Music

It might be interesting to contrast Starbucks’ aborted attempt at the music biz with the piece on NPR Music in the Washington Post. They’re not directly selling, but they’ve become a new branding channel. One thing they’ve done better than Starbucks is allow for previewing: full albums streamed the week before they’re released and full-length concert podcasts. The other thing is their emphasis on new indie acts (LCD Soundsystem, Decemberists) instead of, well, overpriced has-beens (Paul McCartney, Carly Simon).

Here’s a personal example: the All Songs Considered podcast played “Airplanes” by Local Natives. I saw one of their SXSW sets, then bought their album on iTunes the next day and went to their next Austin show.

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