"I want to thank all the people at my label..."
So last night I and another buddy of mine went to call on an old guitar player friend that we hadn’t seen in years. We were like the three Musketeers during our marauding singles days spending what little money we had on lost weekends of partying and recording music. While me and my buddy had gotten married, had kids, and slid in line along side millions of our peers in the white collar career world, our friend sort of faded from view. We’d receive some intel on him from time to time while he worked a few bartending gigs and set up a local wing joint for the owners, but never much beyond that. Then not too long ago, we heard that he and his brother had opened up a club in the Little Five Points section of Atlanta (Atlanta’s mini East Village type area).
We had dinner at a place across the street from his club and enjoyed a great time together recalling the silliness of our joint escapades only fifteen short years ago. It was when the conversation turned to the in’s and out’s of starting up and running a club in the city of Atlanta that our friend quickly became awash with frustration and anxiety as he filled us in on his trials and tribulations over the past five years. Starting a small business in a city as corrupt as ours can do that. If it’s not one city agency or another extorting his hard earned cash, it’s lazy no show employees that let him down on a semi-regular basis, but the biggest frustration of late comes from another direction entirely. A source that I have tacitly defended on another somewhat related issue. After hearing my friends tale, I have changed my mind. The source of my nightclub owning friend’s frustration? Record labels. Record labels and ASCAP.
Yes, it appears that what Bob Lefsetz has been telling us for a long time actually has more than a ring of truth to it. The labels are losing money so bad that they have resorted to sending out their legal goons to (no, not go after illegal file traders, I support their efforts there) go after night clubs that play live music and pinch owners for unpaid points allegedly owed to them for licensed music being played by bands performing in said club. That’s right, they want a piece for cover bands playing licensed music. They sent my friend an invoice for $3000 threatening legal action if he didn’t “settle” this account. The three words that come immediately to mind; WHAT THE FUCK?!
First of all, my friends club caters to real players. He gets some residual bookings from a larger venue down the street of up and coming talent and fills the rest of the stage time with other young unsigned incubating locals and other seasoned musicians. You won’t catch a cover band playing Maroon 5 songs anywhere near his place. He himself is quite an accomplished player and would never pour his heart and soul into a place that catered to drunken frat boys howling top 40 hits. Jeff Sipe, Jimmy Herring, Col. Bruce, Derek Trucks, and others have sat in on jam sessions at his club for cripes sake. There’s no ‘Louie, Louie” being played here trust me.
Second and unbeknownst to the dickheads at ASCAP and BMI, our buddy also happens to be an avid recording enthusiast and when he installed his clubs’ system he was sure to put in both multi-track and two track digital recording devices. He exclaimed to the two of us as he showed off his impressive setup, “I’ve recorded every show that’s ever played here”. When I put the two together I said to him, “Dude, tell those fuckers at BMI to go though all those recordings and let you know what you own them, it can’t be more than fifty bucks tops”, and it was then that the pure evilness of these asshole record labels becomes crystal clear. It’s all about scaring you into folding. It’s all about the small club owner having to decide what’s going to cost him more: letting the civil action play out for which he’ll have to pony up for his own legal expenses, or just paying the invoice (i.e. fine) and getting on with his life. This is what’s called being mother fucked.
He certainly doesn’t need my advice, but if I were him and had those recordings in my pocket I’d shurely be telling BMI to go fuck themselves. If they decide to persue legal action, bring the tapes to the hearing with a per hour attorney at your side and ask the court to demand BMI show how they came up with their figure of three grand. At the same time, offer BMI, the court, an arbitrator, etc… the tapes of all the shows. My friend is certain that a BMI rep has NEVER stepped foot in his club, nor an ASCAP agent for that matter. They are simply betting that because he hosts live music, the acts that have performed have played licensed music without permission. A scorched earth tactic used indiscriminately to see if they can make a quick buck.
While I still firmly believe in protection of intellectual property and remain steadfast in my opposition to illegally downloading music, I will never again stick up for the labels on any issue and now strongly wish for their hastened demise. Yes, it’s jihad on the big labels. Although I held them in contempt for years for their historical artist exploitation and indentured servitude, I’ve also thought they were a necessity from a filtering and artist incubation perspective. Now they can just fuck off into the air entirely.
First they go after guitar tab sites, now their extorting money from small business owners who support working musicians. The labels understand nothing about musicians, their fans, and the music they create and I hope their days are numbered.
KH, good luck my friend and give’em hell.