Big Name Musicians Threaten To Strike Over Parlophone Sell-Off After Discovering They're 'Just Assets'

from the should-have-read-that-contract dept

An interesting story over at Hypebot highlights how some “big name” musicians are threatening to “strike” and withhold new albums if they’re not happy with how the sale of the label Parlophone goes down. As you may recall, with Universal Music getting approval to buy EMI, it has to sell off Parlophone, the iconic label that’s home to a bunch of well known artists. And while Hypebot’s title says that they’re striking over the sale of EMI to UMG, that doesn’t appear to be the case at all. The concern has to do solely with the sale of Parlophone:

Many of the label’s artists are unhappy being viewed merely as “assets” or “pawns” in a game that is set to be in the best interest for the powers that be. To protest this move, the rockers of Blur have joined forces with a number of Parlophone label-mates to collectively lobby potential bidders for the company and calling on them to place the interests of artists first, as reported by The Independent. If the musicians don’t find the new Parlophone owners to their liking, they could withhold all future releases and effectively go on “strike”. 

“Artists are the only people currently being left out of the conversation, which is unfortunate,” said Blur drummer Dave Rowntree to The Independent. “If the staff at the label are unhappy with the new arrangements they are free to leave, but the artists are not.”

I’m sympathetic to the artists here, because it almost certainly does suck for them… but I’m not quite sure what they’re expecting here. For the labels, they are an asset and have always been just that. That’s why they signed a contract in the first place. If they didn’t like it, they shouldn’t have signed a contract. Threatening to void the contract because they don’t like some completely unrelated piece of business doesn’t seem like a particularly reasonable response.

To be honest, it seems like in selling off Parlophone, the label might actually wind up somewhere more progressive and open to a future that embraces what technology allows, rather than holds it back. Perhaps the artists shouldn’t make a big stink until they see what results. But, either way, if this was such a big concern, why didn’t they write into their contracts that the deals were null & void should the label be sold?

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Companies: emi, universal music

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Comments on “Big Name Musicians Threaten To Strike Over Parlophone Sell-Off After Discovering They're 'Just Assets'”

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Anonymous Coward says:

‘they are an asset and have always been just that. If they didn’t like it, they shouldn’t have signed a contract.’

exactly! they have only just realised what they are? must be as thick as fuck then! while they were getting the good bits, it was ok, then, was it? perhaps this will show up-and-coming artists what their future could be and convince them to give the ‘go it alone’ option a try!

Michael says:

Gee, did the artists just arrive at that revelation? Knowing is half the battle. Of course it would’ve been better had they known before they signed along the dotted line.

To whom it may concern, DON’T SIGN WITH A RECORD LABEL. Even if they’re a small label, DON’T SIGN because they might get bought out sometime later.

I can’t wait for the termination clauses to go into effect in 2013. Grab some popcorn and enjoy the show.

Killer_Tofu (profile) says:

Before the trolls

Before the trolls come in to point out and yell about how Mike is pointing out that the artists signed a contract and this in any way contradicts his previous statements, it does not.

The difference here is that there is no direct threat to the artists, just a little bit of sucktitude. What Mike usually rails against with the contracts and how they shouldn’t sign them is how the contracts are unfair when the labels use them to avoid paying the artists anything over extended periods of time. This article does not address this. It focuses simply on the fact that the contracts can be sold. In both this and other cases, Mike points out that the artists should go over the contracts in a very detailed manner to try to avoid such situations.

So, normally, direct harm done to artists by labels, which is bad. This case, no direct harm and possibly no harm by the time this is done anyways. So to all the Mike bashers, pay attention!

Lowestofthekeys (profile) says:


“They signed the contracts, and yes, as a result, they are assets.”

This is the same issue with a lot of actors, for example Mickey Rourke got butthurt because the studios wouldn’t allow him to develop his Ivan Vanko character from Iron Man 2. He forgot to realize it wasn’t in his contract to do so.

Frankly, a lot of musicians who don’t want to deal with this kind of crap start their own labels too. These guys should take a clue from that.


Michael says:


Yes, it absolutely is a matter of DON’T SIGN WITH A LABEL. I don’t know how it works in other countries but here in the US the deck is stacked against the artist no matter what. The labels would never agree to a contract which didn’t leave them in a position of control. Why do you think that many major label artists who’ve gone platinum are dropping their labels, suing labels for cooking the books in order to withhold on royalties and utilizing their termination clauses?

Zakida Paul says:


That’s where going into negotiations knowing all your options helps but I will also add that a willingness to walk away is also needed. Anyone who has ever done a business deal knows that being aware of all available options and being willing to walk away puts YOU in the position of strength.

That is much easier now than just 20 years ago.

Anonymous Coward says:

‘Artists are the only people currently being left out of the conversation, which is unfortunate’

now they know how the paying customer feels when they are the only ones left out of deals (but without them there would be nothing!) that are struck by the entertainment industries and whoever else they want involved, but are always, without exception, the only ones that are adversely affected!!

Michael says:


So how about instead of making artists sign long-term deals, commission them on a per-album basis? The label pays up-front to distribute (which today costs practically nothing) and make money on the album with the artist taking 40-50% share in the profits (it is his work, after all). That seems only fair. Why should the label/distributor take roughly 88-90%? That’s just absurd and you know it.

Nathan F (profile) says:

Only one side can change?

Usually contracts are entered and both sides agree to the terms. If one side suddenly up and changes the terms (Parlophone getting sold to another company) shouldn’t that make the contract null and void or at the least force a review of terms with the new contract holder? In this instance I am going to have to side with the artists.

PaulT (profile) says:


“So…..patents and copyrights should be distributed freely but people should have no rights whatsoever?”

You seem to have an active imagination. Nothing in the article suggests that its author supports their situation, only that it should not be a shock for them. They should have rights, of course, but if they chose the Faustian deal that enriched them in return for waiving those right, who do they have to blame?

PaulT (profile) says:


Yes. I’m certainly more sympathetic to Blur and other older bands who had little choice at the beginnings of their career.

But, Blur’s first album was in 1991 and they’ve experienced massive success since then. Were they really not able to renegotiate their contract to something more beneficial in the intervening 20 years?

For newer artists, I have less sympathy. Really, did Tinie Tempah not realise that this could be a bad deal when he signed in 2009? I could have told him that even if I wasn’t aware of the bad situation EMI was in at the time – and I did know that…

John (profile) says:

Union bashers

Interesting that a site and a group of people that claim to “stand up” for people’s rights suddenly come across as a bunch of union bashers when they don’t feel the people getting screwed over have a right to defend themselves.
Shouldn’t it be a level playing field for everyone?

I sincerely hope everyone working for a corporation commenting here has to go through a merger and gets canned. Then we can talk about how you’re just whiny and entitled.

Michael says:


A work-by-commission would be far more preferred to the standard record deal. Even though it would essentially be a work-for-hire, the artist would recoup far more in the long term. For starters, the artist wouldn’t need to be financed by the label and thus wouldn’t owe them anything out of their share. The artist would secure the rights to their work and not be dictated to. The artist would have leverage to pick and choose what, if anything, they wanted to have the label finance, be it studio overhead, working with X producer, MVs, etc. and then hammer out a seperate working agreement. This gives the artist much breathing room so that he can decide whether he wants to take the financial risk or go it alone, thereby negating any risk to either party.

As it stands, it’s unfair for a label to spend a million+ on one artist and then expect them to pay it all back via a 10-12% cut on album/song sales.

Anonymous Coward says:


The poroblem is the lenght of the contracts. I think the artists are worried about the quality of the postproduction, marketing and distribution. If the new owner decides to fire the regular employees it is almost guaranteed that there will be something to that fear. The question of what is in the contract should be a reminder of the weakness of binding yourself to a specific sequence of happenings in the future without knowing its obstacles.

Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased) (profile) says:

Union bashers

Slavery? C’mon! They could always break contract and deal with the consequences. It seems like so many don’t want to deal with the consequences of their decisions. Somebody works hard, is smart, and gets rich, he didn’t do the work, it was thanks to the government. If somebody takes the pointless, easy degree from the university and ends up un(der)employed it isn’t his fault either. Bailouts for the rich. Bailouts for the poor. Bailouts for the ignorant. When does it ever end? Are people ever going to take responsibility for their own screw-ups?

Cdaragorn (profile) says:


No one said anything about worrying who your company is getting sold to. Of course that is a perfectly legitimate concern.

What is not ok is fussing and whining like some 2 year old and throwing a tantrum because it’s not going how you want it to. The artists here are choosing to be dishonest by intentionally breaking a contract they willingly entered into.

Whether you agree with your employers decisions or not does not give you free license to be dishonest with them, or in any way make that kind of behavior justifiable.

Cdaragorn (profile) says:


While we all agree that the contracts record labels put out are incredibly one sided, the fact is, yes they did have an alternative. They could go get a different job. Make music on the side in their free time.

No matter how powerful the record labels might have been, there was always another choice.

Also, comparing what these artists are doing with a contract they signed that agreed to release albums, vs aggrieved employees who are almost always on a contract that openly allows either party to terminate in whenever they want without care or concern for the reasons, is mixing 2 completely different things.

These artists are breaking a contract they willingly entered into, and in doing so, breaking the law. Aggrieved employees would not be breaking any laws by choosing to break a contract that says they can terminate it anytime they want.

Karl (profile) says:

why didn’t they write into their contracts that the deals were null & void should the label be sold?

You’re assuming the artists actually have the power to write stuff into their contracts. Generally speaking, they do not.

In order to even start the negotiating process, artists have to sign a “deal memo” with the label. This means that, no matter what, the artist will sign with that label alone. If they want to sign with another, that other label will have to “buy out” their contract – something most labels aren’t willing to do with new talent, and if they do, it leaves the artists in an even worse bargaining position.

The only way concessions will be made by the label, is if they’re willing to give up those concessions in order to end the negotiation process sooner, so they can put out the album faster. This works with small stuff – a point here, a point there – but not with something as big as a “null & void” clause. The label would simply reject the clause, and wait until the artists were forced to accept it.

That’s the way it worked in the pre-360 days, at least (and I have no information that it’s gotten any better). I know that many of the artists on Parlophone (e.g. Blur) signed during this time.

Lord Binky says:

The label owns the music/group/image, not the people. I don’t know the specifics,but I would think that if a band truly hated this, they could just say fine, we’re disbanding and going to find new musical ventures. Then after they’ll all done with the paperwork saying they’re not part of _____. They suddenly form a new group, not under that label. Tada!

From what I understand, the contract with the label basically always reads, we own everything you make. So the worst part of quitting the label is you give up access to your former work, but hey, if your a good musician your fans follow you and not the label right?

Anonymous Coward says:


Pipe down a bit, sir. You are responsible for far too many comments in this section.
I, as part of the omnimind known as anonymous coward, am threatened in terms of having most comments on this piece.

You are far too consistent on this issue. Consistently deranged and estranged.
He writes that he is sympathetic to the bands, but point out that It is too early to pass a judgement on the new owner since they are not found yet!. Trying to accuse him of supporting slavery on that standpoint is not even close to intellegtually honest.

If Mike answered every strawman of this type in his comment-section, he would never be able to write new pieces…

Anonymous Coward says:

But, either way, if this was such a big concern, why didn’t they write into their contracts that the deals were null & void should the label be sold?

Geezz if I sign some slavery contract with some bullshit label I could get sold to another bullshit label if the label gets sold…


Anonymous Coward says:

I am quite surprised the argument of “if you don’t like it leave it, stop whining” type of argument is seriously considered in the article. Those who have signed are stuck, as many comments rightly pointed at.

The artists are legitimate to voice their worries on who will buy them out. It may change a lot to them. There’ll likely be new profitability studies and roster slashing/trading, a possibly more hostile context and financial control, and many other things effecting.

That’s exactly what happened when EMI bought Virgin out in the 90’s. The latter had a significantly more (though not unlimited) A&R and artistic respect for which artists came to sign to begin with. And the move to EMI and the tightening on budget-control had disastrous effects on the label quality and added value (from the artists’ perspective). The key manager re-created labels (V2 / Richard branson…), etc…

So I agree with the artists here that yes, even within the evil mega-major world there are differences, the new parent company they’ll end up will have a significant impact on the artists. Why wouldn’t they be vigilant and want to be taken into account in that situation ?

I find it hard to consider this to be wining, and quite legitimate for the artists to worry about not being screwed up any further in the process of this sale.

Actually the irony is that Parlophone will lose a lot of it’s value with artists leaving whenever they can, hence it’s even the buyer’s best interest to build such guaranties in the deal’s engineering.

Anonymous Coward says:


I other words I could easely side with an angle along the lines of “young artists, here’s another risk and good reason to seriously consider not signing a deal with majors or potetnitally bought out label”.

Much less so the “they should stop whining as they signed the contract, so they got what you deserve now” kind of punitive stance. I got more accustomed to see our trolling AC/AJ friends overuse that sickening “argument” all over these very site’s comments threads.

Cdaragorn (profile) says:

Union bashers

Of course we would, if that was in any way what we were saying.

The contract they entered into is not even remotely like an employment contract, so I have to tell you yet again, you’re mixing 2 completely different things.

The contract they signed was along the lines of one a contractor would sign. Once signed, they are bound by it’s terms until they’ve fulfilled them, period. This is not the same thing as signing a contract for a job where you get paid for showing up every day.

Cdaragorn (profile) says:

Union bashers

Quit pretending that signing a contract where you are bound to accomplish something in some set period of time is even remotely the same as signing a contract for a job that says either party can terminate it at any time for any reason and maybe we’ll care what you have to say.

Until then, I’m beginning to think that obvious troll is obvious.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Contracts should not be transferrable

This is a pet peeve of mine. I think it should be illegal to transfer contracts to third parties without the explicit approval of everyone who entered into the original contract.

This case is a little tangential to the point, as it’s not the contract being sold, but the company, but we see this issue arise time and again: selling mortgages to other companies, etc.

When I make a deal, a big factor in my decision is who I’m making the deal with. When my contract is sold to someone else, it completely voids that part of the decision-making process, and I can find myself doing business with an entity that I don’t want to touch with a ten-foot pole.

John Fenderson (profile) says:


It is a matter of enter negotiations with open eyes, know your options and ALWAYS read the fine print.

No, it’s not. The record labels are not honest brokers, and it is essentially impossible to understand the contracts they want the artists to sign, whether you read them or not.

If you enter into a contract with these companies, you will almost certainly get screwed no matter how conscientious you are.

Don’t sign with the mainstream record labels. They’ll eat you alive.

gorehound (profile) says:

I have no sympathy at all towards any Artist who is stupid enough to be signed to the RIAA/Big Label Scene.
Do that and you already crossed the line and you are now just a Sell-Out.
That is how I live and I have the same attitude I have had since around 1975.I am a 56 year old original punk rocker and I care about Small Label Music and say Screw Big Labels.
Last Big Label Vinyl LP I bought must of been the 3RD or 4TH Ramones LP.I have been a great supporter of the Obscure.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Union bashers

Slavery? C’mon! They could always break contract and deal with the consequences.

And slaves could always run away and deal with the consequences. What’s your point?

Somebody works hard, is smart, and gets rich, he didn’t do the work, it was thanks to the government.

You do realize that nobody ever said that, right? Not even the President.

Are people ever going to take responsibility for their own screw-ups?

Most people do. It tends to be the big corporations that do not.

Rick Smith (profile) says:

Union bashers

I have been through a merger before. I had no say in anything about who the new owners would be or about my position within the company after it was sold. Just like nearly everyone else at the company.

So sounds like a normal situation. What’s your point? Why should musicians be any different from any other non-executive level employee?

You go with it or quit. Several of the higher level employees for my company had non-compete clauses in their employment contracts, so they couldn’t quit unless they wanted to find a new industry. Sounds pretty much like these musicians to me. Stay and deal or quit and do something else.

So again, what are you looking for? No one?s treating these guys any different than millions of other employees are treated every day of the year.

Anonymous Coward says:

I simply don’t understand why musicians who are generally young enough when signing contracts with labels to have immense legal experience combined with complete prescience did not force the inclusion in the contracts of stipulations for completely unforeseen events that should render the contract void. They have only themselves to blame and to complain about it only now when the event is happening, just because they happen to now be aware of it, is clearly ludicrous.

John (profile) says:


“I have no sympathy at all towards any Artist who is stupid enough to be signed to the RIAA/Big Label Scene.
Do that and you already crossed the line and you are now just a Sell-Out.
That is how I live and I have the same attitude I have had since around 1975″

Wow. You’re so hardcore. You’re right.
*No one* should be able to make a living off of what they want to do! /sarcasm

Violated (profile) says:

The meaty one

In this case they can only bend over and take UMG’s meaty wedge into a very sensitive place. It is true that they once signed a contract and now they have to live through a painful part of that.

This is not to say that I am not sorry for musicians when such sales can leave so many of them f**ked over. Keep in mind that the labels own the copyright on the music and artists are only left with a contract that tends to end when the music label company ends.

UMG are certainly the biggest and badest of the group where free music income is of course tempting to them should they want to shut down a label and to sell the assets (the copyrights)… to themselves. They get all the music income and the musicians now don’t.

At least active and profitable labels are more likely to survive but if UMG can modernize them is a good question. In any case just not a happy or pain-free time.

Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased) (profile) says:

Union bashers

And slaves could always run away and deal with the consequences. What’s your point?

Of course, slaves didn’t voluntarily sign into a contract.

You do realize that nobody ever said that, right? Not even the President.

Well, no the President did say that exactly. This is what he said in full context:

“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business?you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

Which was surely twisted to say something he didn’t mean. Unless, of course, your business was road and bridge construction. =]

Although my statement was more based on what many believe that the rich don’t deserve what they worked for. That is the main point of OWS. I don’t disagree that there are problems with the system of corruption allowed by the government/corporate partnership. On the flip side, all the people who took out $40k in student loans to get a graphic art degree shouldn’t expect an engineering salary straight out of college. OWS opposes government bailout of the rich while asking for a bailout from their student loans.

Whoa! This is way off topic and probably better for some other website.

Violated (profile) says:


I would not be uncaring to the musicians and bands involved but this is really the era of the lawyers and accountants now where those said musicians really are an assert to be bought, sold, traded or reworked as their new masters see fit.

Having UMG buy your label is enough to make anyone very concerned and just maybe a strike threat can win them a few concessions. They do need to be very careful though when if they give UMG too many headaches then they may decide to just close Parlophone and sell off the assets. You can also bet the lawyers already have all the tools they need to goad these musicians into their new roles.

I am also doubting that UMG would want to appear soft early on by giving away concessions when if they do other labels may want to get strike ideas as well. Better for them to pick out the trouble maker in order to punish them harshly so the rest are fearful, respectful and compliant. UMG can get away with being nasty as well when they are the Devil of the music world.

So good luck to them but their best hope is to show to UMG how valuable Parlophone can be to them if correctly nurtured but they would be lucky to even get that voice.

anon says:


The artists have been reaping in a few dollars here and there while the labels have been making billions, and they do not understand that it is them and there music that created all of that money, where did they think the money came from to send them on tours and pay themselves tens of thousands to record an album,charging that to the artist.

Artists are assets just as a shop has goods on a shelf, they are sold and used to create profit, nothing more, if they think the execs are interested in them as people I think they need to go back to school.

I would also treat my assets well if I was making billions off them, but they are just assets. nothing more, they lost the right to call there music there own the moment they signed on the dotted line.The assets of any business are bought and sold all the time, artists are no different.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Union bashers

That is the main point of OWS.

I think very few people believe that rich people don’t deserve what they worked for, and that is most definitely not the main point of OWS. The issue of wealth disparity is not an issue of envy or people thinking that the honest rich don’t deserve their riches. It’s more about the strong tendency of the rich to shirk the societal responsibilities that come with being rich.

But you’re right, this is pretty far off-topic. 🙂

Gwiz (profile) says:

Union bashers

I sincerely hope everyone working for a corporation commenting here has to go through a merger and gets canned. Then we can talk about how you’re just whiny and entitled.

Been there, done that. After investing 16 years of my career into that company – here’s your severance pay, have a nice life.

On top of that, the corporation that took over made some really stupid decisions and devalued my 401k by 90% when their stock prices tanked and never recovered.

Anonymous Coward says:


They should have already realised this when they never received cuts from settlement letters. The RIAA, IFPI and other alphabet organisations have already made it clear that all profit from settlement letters is going into more enforcement and lobbying efforts, not to the artists that were allegedly robbed from.

Either the artists are too stupid to notice, or they have enough money to blow such that piracy was never a problem.

Anonymous Coward says:


Now you are just trolling. Contracts are the key, here. The artists are not being treated as slaves. Their contracts are being sold. (contract, NOT the musician). You can object to your contract being sold, but they are under no obligation to take your worries about it into account. Put another way, I own half stake in a property, and our agreement says nothing about you having any say whatsoever in how I dispose of my half of the title, then I can sell my stake to anyone without concern for how you feel about it. These artists do not have a voice because (surprise!) that isn’t in the contract. Calling this slavery is about as dishonest as you can get.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Union bashers

Oh complaining about your 401k losing value?
You’re just entitled.

Not complaining at all. Just stating fact. Mergers and corporate decisions that impact employee’s wellbeing happen all the time. It’s business. Shit happens. Not sure how a merger that impacts artists with signed, binding contracts is any different.

See how that works?
It’s not very nice, is it?

It really doesn’t matter how I feel about it. It is what it is.

Nick Ashton-Hart says:

A bit simplistic

I guess it is my night to be contrary.

The idea that artists have the bargaining power to insert clauses about what happens to them if a major label is sold is absolutely a total non-starter. This is just never, ever possible.

People need to realise that labels have all the bargaining power when signing an artist that isn’t already a massive success; even the most succesful spend many years trying to negotiate even the most rudimentary elements of fairness into any part of their contracts. This is why so many artists are not going with the majors any more.

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