00:16, September 05 360 0 theguardian.com

2017-09-05 00:16:03
From the Guardian archive  The great rock ‘n’ roll swindle – archive, 1986

Here are the two most important unwritten rules of the rock industry: one, where there’s a hit, there’s a writ; and two, almost all artists get done. Most find out about both of them too late.

This is nothing new, of course. The Beatles signed a rotten early recording contract that earned each member only one-fifth of a penny for every early single sold and a relative pittance for their first albums. The Who signed disastrous recording deals throughout the sixties – even their second, renegotiated, contract yielded each member a royalty of less than one per cent of retail sales.

The publishing side is seemingly, none too generous, either. Elton John and Gilbert O’Sullivan both appeared in court in recent years, striving to regain the copyright of their material after mean publishing deals and the unfair diversion of royalties had deprived them of millions they claimed should have been theirs.

Hasty management deals have also severely disrupted numerous careers. The machinations of Allen Klein, the man who succeeded Brian Epstein as manager of the Beatles, served as a vital catalyst in the Beatles’ break up, and led to furious financial and physical conflict with the Stones. In 1975, David Bowie entered into bitter litigation with his manager, Tony Defries. For five years he’d been paying him a massive 50 per cent of his earnings.”

These are just some of the artistes who survived to tell the tale. Many more signed deals so bad that they collapsed under the weight of exploitation and litigation, never to emerge creative again. In the opinion of George Michael, things haven’t improved very much. “The rip-off is the age-old story of middle-aged businessmen whose product comes from young boys and girls who don’t know what they’re doing.”

He should know. Wham! spent the best part of a year in court wriggling out of their first year’s contract with the CBS offshoot label, Innervision. It stipulated they would receive only a £500 advance each; very poor royalties for a chart-topping band (8 per cent on the sale of UK singles and albums when the norm was around 5 per cent higher), and no royalties at all on 12in sales or on album sales that had benefited directly from TV advertising.

Wham! weren’t alone. It seems that no one had learned anything from the past. Sting – in court in 1982 over his publishing deal with Virgin Music, claiming unfair exploitation of his Police Songs. Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart locked in lengthy litigation over their management deal in their Tourists days. The Sex Pistols – successfully wresting over £800,000 of receivership money from Malcolm McLaren’s management company in the High Court last January. Spandau Ballet suing their record company Chrysalis in 1985-86, claiming inadequate US promotion (they signed a new worldwide deal with CBS a few months ago).

So why does it continue to happen? Why do bands who know what happened to The Who or Wham! still spend more time in the courts than in the charts?

There are three main reasons; one, you want to be the next Beatles. That is, you’d kill to be like them. Your ego demands the glory, your bank manager demands the money, and your friends say you won’t do it. And you haven’t done it yet, after two years. After two years of cruddy gigs, muddy demo tapes, and too many people laughing at your band’s name. You’ve some great songs, but no real job, no security, and no respect, and when you are offered that dream deal the last thing you want is to wait any longer. You don’t wish to discover that the deal’s not quite all it could be. because not only is that a blow to your ego, but it could lead to no deal at all.

Worse, you don’t want some legal person explaining about things like foreign publishing deals at source when all you want to do is blow your advance on a new Fender. And if a lawyer says, “Don’t sign this!” you look for a new lawyer and sign while in transition.

The second reason is that as a young musician, your propensity to trust complete strangers almost inevitably assumes huge proportions. If someone champions your music, and appears genuinely concerned about your welfare, then why should that person also choose to exploit you?

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