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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.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 4th, 2010 @ 2:45pm

    People still purchase full albums?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 4th, 2010 @ 2:50pm

    techdirt going to save carly simon now? of course, the techdirt way is always better!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    DocMenach (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 2:58pm


    Lower case idiot: What the heck are you talking about?

    You have degenerated into a worthless troll.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Pixelation, Jun 4th, 2010 @ 3:16pm


    From the NY Times article...
    "“All of a sudden you’re the ugliest girl at the prom, and you’re not picked,” "

    So sue Starbucks to make up for it. Nice!

    Let's see the contract.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 4th, 2010 @ 3:20pm

    Re: Re:

    if i keep degenerating long enough, i will finally reach your level and we can have a discussion. perhaps by christmas?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    Ima Fish (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 3:24pm

    Starbuck's problem was in signing established artists at the end of their careers. They should have been more organic and tried to grow the careers of up and coming artists.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    DocMenach (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 3:24pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Actually, I've got to give you credit. That was a pretty good comeback.

    Maybe you should stick with the comedy instead of your usual stuff.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 4th, 2010 @ 3:37pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    it is a classic, like pie in the face. except we can no longer do pie in the face, because we have to worry about the poor starving orphans in Detroit.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 4th, 2010 @ 4:11pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    That's not true. Why not substitute pie filling for shaving cream? Then no one has to worry about the poor starving orphans in the same way that no one really worries about the poor starving artists, like Carly Simon.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 4:17pm

    I'm torn

    On the one hand, this is ridiculous. On the other hand, any time I see artists suing distributors I get a case of the warm fuzzies.

    Win/win, I guess.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    Karl (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 5:03pm


    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    Hephaestus (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 7:22pm


    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Cathy, Jun 5th, 2010 @ 5:31pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Jenni, Jun 6th, 2010 @ 12:58pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Peterson, Jun 7th, 2010 @ 2:34am

    I really enjoyed the article. It proved to be Very helpful to me and I am sure to all the commentters here!Keep writing.Thanks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 7th, 2010 @ 6:33am

    Best headline ever...!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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