Labels, Artists Spar Over Labor Code
Label representatives yesterday (Sept. 5) delivered a doomsday scenario of what could occur if the California senate repeals a subdivision of the state's labor code that exempts recording artists fromLabel representatives yesterday (Sept. 5) delivered a doomsday scenario of what could occur if the California senate repeals a subdivision of the state's labor code that exempts recording artists from the "seven-year personal services contract." "Record companies would have to give very serious consideration to moving many of our operations out of state," said Roy Lott, deputy president, EMI Recorded Music, North America.
Artist representatives argued that the statue's subdivision, which allows labels to recover damages for contractually undelivered albums, was discriminatory and should be repealed. "I was always taught that Lincoln freed the slaves, I didn't realize that he excluded recording artists," said Patti Austin, testifying on behalf of AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists).
Citing the volatility of the record industry, Eagles drummer and solo artist Don Henley, who estimates he's recorded for half a dozen labels in his 35 years as a recording artist, said, "If a company wants long-term stability from an artist then the company ought to be able to [guarantee] some stability to the artist."
Fellow advocate Courtney Love, who fronts the rock band Hole as well as being an award-winning actress, was typically outspoken. She said artists are obligated to a certain number of albums but then are pushed into touring schedules that do not permit enough time to record those albums. "In seven years, I cannot make seven albums, because they won't let me," she said, adding that record labels can then sue for the undelivered product.
"I have a swimming pool. I have nice shoes," Love said. "Nobody's sitting here saying, 'I'm so poor.' I made more for Universal than 'Titanic.' But are they nice to me? No."
Keeping artists under contract for an indefinite amount of time does not permit the act to discover his or her true market value, argues attorney Don Engel, who represents the Dixie Chicks and spoke on behalf of the artists. "Once every seven years, an artist should be able to go into the marketplace and get his full worth," he said. However, he admitted that should the statute be repealed labels will have to restructure their way of doing business.
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) also took exception to the idea that artists are kept out of the studio, saying that many choose to seek film and television work that limits the time they spend on their music. Artists who take multimillion-dollar advances cannot simply walk away from their obligations, the RIAA said.
"These are the people who are making the most money," RIAA senior executive VP and general counsel Cary Sherman said of the artists who gave testimony. "Ninety percent of all the artists signed to record companies fail. They don't achieve any commercial success, and then of the remaining 10%, a very small fraction become superstars."
State senator Kevin Murray (D-Los Angeles), who chaired the committee, told Billboard Bulletin he anticipates discussions to continue when the senate resumes in January. The current session closes Sept. 15.