Aloe Blacc: FAIR Is Fair (Guest Op-Ed)
Artist, singer-songwriter and producer Aloe Blacc argues in favor of California's FAIR Act bill.
I am a Californian. My state has a proud history of standing up to big corporations and preventing them from abusing their power against individuals. One example of this is the Seven Year Statute, formally known as Labor Code 2855. With its roots in the 1800s, this law protected all Californians from being held hostage in protracted contracts with large companies. By limiting the length of any contract to a maximum of seven years, the Seven Year Statute shielded every individual — actors, artists, athletes, engineers, executives — from being trapped in unfair contracts for extended periods of time.
Sadly, and wrongly, something changed in 1987. That year, the major record labels lobbied to amend the law, effectively depriving one group of Californians from its protection: recording artists.
The time has come to restore the original intent of the Seven Year Statute — to protect all Californians — with the FAIR Act.
The FAIR Act will remove the recording artist exclusion from the Seven Year Statute. The FAIR Act will allow artists — like every other Californian — to end a contract after seven years if it is unfair, or if their A&R person is gone, or if they want to work with a new label, or if they want to distribute music directly to their fans.
Artists are not products. We are people.
Artists need to be treated like people in record contracts. Holding an artist to an indefinite contract, with terms that are disproportionately skewed to the benefit of the labels, is not fair treatment. Artists should stay with a label because they want to, not because they are forced to stay. Artists should remain with a label because the terms of the contracts are balanced and because the label does a good job.
The FAIR Act doesn’t mean that an artist will necessarily leave their label after seven years. There are many examples of artists who continue to work with their label when their contract ends. It does mean that the labels are going to have to work a little harder to maintain an artist’s trust. But that is the way it should be.
Now is the time to level the playing field — at least a little. Of all the labels around the world, there are three that wield tremendous power. Unfortunately, their heavy-handed contracts set the standard for many others. If a new artist plans to sign with a label, they have to agree to the label’s lopsided terms: the labels own the copyrights, the labels get to decide whether to keep the relationship going or to “drop” an artist, the labels always keep the majority of the profits, the labels recover all costs “off the top” while recording artists recoup at their much smaller royalty rate, and the labels take a percentage of touring income, T-shirts sales and endorsement money through 360 deals.
Seven years is certainly enough time to repay the investment made in a recording artist. And if it so happens that the investment is not repaid, seven years is certainly a fair amount of time to acknowledge that the partnership is not working and the artist should be allowed to move on. For an artist, seven years can be their entire career. The Beatles recorded their whole catalog in seven years! In today’s world with streaming and social media, there is even less justification for a contract to last longer than seven years: artists have success earlier in their careers and artists come to the labels with an existing fanbase, giving the labels a head start.
Streaming has saved the labels — their revenue has exploded and the traditional costs of physical albums have vanished. That is why labels are going public to be traded on the stock exchange, and investors are lining up.
It is now time to invest in the people who actually make the music — the recording artists.
Along with many of my industry peers, I am speaking up in support of The FAIR Act for all artists. We are speaking for the artist whose label delayed her release for two years and then dropped her. We are speaking for the artist who has released multiple tracks that have been streamed by millions of fans, but whose label doesn’t accept these tracks as fulfilling the contractual “album” requirement. We are speaking for the artist who delivered hugely successful collaboration albums that were owned and exploited by the label, but didn’t satisfy her delivery obligation. We are speaking for the artist who is stuck in a contract with outdated terms that leave her with less than a dime for every dollar earned by her label outside of the United States.
We are speaking up for all the artists who are afraid to speak up because they are afraid of retribution from their labels.
We are speaking up because now is the time for all music creators, their managers, agents and everyone with a vested interest, to come together to support The FAIR Act.
We are asking labels to join us, instead of fighting us. We live in a world of transparency. Let’s have an open discussion and not leave this to the hallways of Sacramento.
Together, we can make it FAIR.
Aloe Blacc is a Grammy-nominated, multi-platinum recording artist and activist best known for hit songs “Wake Me Up,” “The Man” and “I Need a Dollar.” He is a member of the Music Artists Coalition (MAC).