How does an aspiring artist bridge the gap between distribution and commerce? We have to be very clever about those things. You have to remember that it’s only a few hundred years, if that much, that artists are working with money. Artists never got money. Artists had a patron, either the leader of the state or the duke of Weimar or somewhere, or the church, the pope. Or they had another job. I have another job. I make films. No one tells me what to do. But I make the money in the wine industry. You work another job and get up at five in the morning and write your script.
This idea of Metallica or some rock n’ roll singer being rich, that’s not necessarily going to happen anymore. Because, as we enter into a new age, maybe art will be free. Maybe the students are right. They should be able to download music and movies. I’m going to be shot for saying this. But who said art has to cost money? And therefore, who says artists have to make money?
In the old days, 200 years ago, if you were a composer, the only way you could make money was to travel with the orchestra and be the conductor, because then you’d be paid as a musician. There was no recording. There were no record royalties. So I would say, “Try to disconnect the idea of cinema with the idea of making a living and money.” Because there are ways around it.
Strange concept, but maybe interesting with the right mix of passenger and musician. A friend has gone one a Blues Cruise, with Delbert McClinton (she’s a big fan for some reason), and said she had a great time. I could see this being a disaster with the wrong mixture however…
Of course, this was a music cruise, a floating rock festival grafted onto a passenger ship, and a quietly thriving corner of the music and cruise industries. While the music business has been in decline for over a decade and traditional cruise lines have never quite figured out how to attract the cool crowd, music cruises are both profitable and proliferating.
Fans willing to pony up somewhere between $900 and $1,400 — not including airfare or bar tab — can rub shoulders with their favorite acts and enjoy three to five days of food, music, Caribbean sunshine and extras like a photo with the band (no autographs, please).
Everyone from oldies acts like Frankie Avalon to current artists like R. Kelly and Blake Shelton are taking to the seas. Did the fourth annual New Kids on the Block cruise really sell out in four hours? Of course it did! Can death-metal fans really enjoy Cannibal Corpse and 31 other doom merchants while sailing from Miami to the Grand Caymans? They don’t call it 70,000 Tons of Metal for nothing.
If there’s one thing metalheads know, though, it’s how to party. I was less certain about the Weezer Cruise. The headliners — Weezer and Dinosaur Jr. — were alt rock acts that had turned the sound of disconnection into an audience almost two decades ago. Exactly how that was going to mesh with blue skies and umbrella drinks wasn’t clear to me. But as has long been known by vacation planners, piña coladas are a universal solvent. As the sun set that first afternoon and the Carnival Destiny steamed out of Miami, Weezer took the stage outdoors on the Lido Deck to the ecstatic hoots and hollers of die-hard fans. I lingered with seven new friends from Chicago on a back balcony, where concert attendees waiting to be convinced traditionally congregate. The more we drank, the farther up front we gravitated. I finished the show a few feet from the stage.
They might sound like great song titles, but “21st Century Record Player,” “Earth Storage” and “Thanks for Listening” aren’t new Neil Young tunes. They’re trademarks that the rocker recently filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Rolling Stone has found, and they indicate that Young is developing a high-resolution audio alternative to the MP3 format.
According to the filed documents, Young applied for six trademarks last June: Ivanhoe, 21st Century Record Player, Earth Storage, Storage Shed, Thanks for Listening and SQS (Studio Quality Sound). Included in the filing is a description of the trademarks: “Online and retail store services featuring music and artistic performances; high resolution music downloadable from the internet; high resolutions discs featuring music and video; audio and video recording storage and playback.” The address on file corresponds to that of Vapor Records, Young’s label. (Young’s representatives declined Rolling Stone’s request for comment.)
Young faces about a year of paperwork before the government will register his trademarks. Last week, they were approved for publication in a public journal for 30 days, a step that allows competitors to challenge Young if they find his registration harmful. The journal is set to be published later this month; if the trademarks face no opposition or snags, Young must then file documents detailing how he intends to use the trademarks, which the government could register as early as the holidays, according to the filing schedule.
A press release issued last September by Penguin Group imprint Blue Rider Press, which is publishing Young’s upcoming memoir, may have revealed the working title of Young’s entire project. In addition to the memoir, says the release, “Young is also personally spearheading the development of Pono, a revolutionary new audio music system presenting the highest digital resolution possible, the studio quality sound that artists and producers heard when they created their original recordings. Young wants consumers to be able to take full advantage of Pono’s cloud-based libraries of recordings by their favorite artists and, with Pono, enjoy a convenient music listening experience that is superior in sound quality to anything ever presented.”
Trademark is just one step on a long road to a technology being available by consumers, but it is a step.
Parenthetical note: I wonder how good one’s ears would be to be able to tell the difference. I had a modest stereo system back in the days of record players, and never had an audio-freak friend, so I’ve never heard really really good music reproduction. I rip CDs at 256 VBR, which sound decent enough, but I wonder.
Neil Young has long fulminated against the sound of digital music…
You know what the biggest problem with music today is? Sound quality. That’s Neil Young’s take on the issue, anyway.
For years, the musician has been obsessed with improving the way modern music sounds, sonically speaking. In an interview with Walt Mossberg and Peter Kafka at our D: Dive Into Media conference, Young, the perennial music purist, said that while modern music formats like MP3 are convenient, they sound lousy.
“My goal is to try and rescue the art form that I’ve been practicing for the past 50 years,” Young said. “We live in the digital age and, unfortunately, it’s degrading our music, not improving it.” While modern digital encoding schemes might sound clear on our iPods and smartphones, they only feature a small percentage of the musical data present in a master recording, and Young is on a crusade to correct that.
“It’s not that digital is bad or inferior, it’s that the way it’s being used isn’t doing justice to the art,” Young said. “The MP3 only has 5 percent of the data present in the original recording. … The convenience of the digital age has forced people to choose between quality and convenience, but they shouldn’t have to make that choice.”
So what’s the solution? New hardware capable of playing audio files that preserve more of the data present in original recordings, said Young. Ah. But who’s going to produce that?
Said Young, “Some rich guy.” And evidently some rich guy was working on such a device. The late Apple CEO Steve Jobs. “Steve Jobs as a pioneer of digital music, and his legacy is tremendous,” Young said. “But when he went home, he listened to vinyl. And you’ve got to believe that if he’d lived long enough, he would have done what I’m trying to do.”
The folklorist and ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax was a prodigious collector of traditional music from all over the world and a tireless missionary for that cause. Long before the Internet existed, he envisioned a “global jukebox” to disseminate and analyze the material he had gathered during decades of fieldwork.
A decade after his death technology has finally caught up to Lomax’s imagination. Just as he dreamed, his vast archive — some 5,000 hours of sound recordings, 400,000 feet of film, 3,000 videotapes, 5,000 photographs and piles of manuscripts, much of it tucked away in forgotten or inaccessible corners — is being digitized so that the collection can be accessed online. About 17,000 music tracks will be available for free streaming by the end of February, and later some of that music may be for sale as CDs or digital downloads.
On Tuesday, to commemorate what would have been Lomax’s 97th birthday, the Global Jukebox label is releasing “The Alan Lomax Collection From the American Folklife Center,” a digital download sampler of 16 field recordings from different locales and stages of Lomax’s career.
“As an archivist you kind of think like Johnny Appleseed,” said Don Fleming, a musician and record producer who is executive director of the Association for Cultural Equity and involved in the project. “You ask yourself, ‘How do I get digital copies of this everywhere?’ ”
Starting in the mid-1930s, when he made his first field recordings in the South, Lomax was the foremost music folklorist in the United States. He was the first to record Muddy Waters and Woody Guthrie, and much of what Americans have learned about folk and traditional music stems from his efforts, which were also directly responsible for the folk music and skiffle booms in the United States and Britain that shaped the pop-music revolution of the 1960s and beyond.
According to LastFM, these are my most played songs for 2011. The caveat is that these are just the songs that played on my desktop computer/stereo; in other words, not including statistics on what I listened to on my iPhone, iPod, iPad, in my car, and so on. Just what was played on my Mac Pro in my office. So these are not absolute numbers, nevertheless, I did listen to these songs a lot in 2011.
Annotations as necessary:
Solomon Burke – Cry to Me – I added three versions to my library this year, originally released in 1963, 1968, and 1983, guess when you add all the play counts…
Bukka White – Parchman farm blues – tried to learn to play this song on guitar, but eventually gave up. I’m just not that good, nor dedicated enough to become good.
Bob Dylan – Buckets of Rain – made, and played repeatedly, a playlist consisting of “rain” songs since there was so much precipitation this year.
Bob Dylan – It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue
Willie Nelson – Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain – another rain song, and a great, favorite tune
Big Bill Broonzy – Key To The Highway – added a lot of Big Bill Broonzy songs to my library this year because he’s a genius, and an American institution
Ali Farka Touré & Toumani Diabaté – Sabu Yerkoy – Uncut Magazine featured this song twice on their ride-along disc, plus I already owned the album it was from. So, three versions in my library. Good song though, don’t get me wrong.
Dead Kennedys – California Über Alles – Jerry Brown is governor of California, of course. Again.
Bob Marley & The Wailers – Stop That Train
The Saints – Untitled – The Saints are a new to me band, so I bought several of their albums. Subsequently that means I have five versions of this track, including one called, Untitled (International Robot Session)
Beirut – O Leãozinho – Red Hot and Rio compilation.
Wanda Jackson – Thunder On The Mountain – Jack White,Bob Dylan, plus was also featured on an Uncut Magazine disk.
Joy Division – She’s Lost Control – including live versions, remixes, BBC versions, etc., I have 11 versions of this great tune.
The Stooges – Search and Destroy
Solomon Burke – Everybody Needs Somebody To Love
Blind Willie McTell – Broke Down Engine Blues – awesome song, impossible to play on guitar (for me at least)
Bert Jansch & John Renbourn – East Wind – unfortunately, Bert Jansch died this year. A stellar talent.
Elvis Costello – Watch Your Step – still love this bass guitar line even after hearing it hundreds of times since I owned Trust on vinyl back in the stone ages.
King Sunny Ade – E Ba Mi Dupe
Gil Scott-Heron –The Revolution Will Not Be Televised – another stellar talent who died this year. There are more than one version of this song, released on different albums.
Fela Anikulapo Kuti – complete works
And while I’m living in the past, also per LastFM, these are the most played artists in 2011, as of right now, with the same caveats as above. And one more caveat, LastFM, by its very nature, skews towards artists with deep catalogs. In other words, since Bob Dylan has so damn many albums, covering so many moods, the Dylan play count is higher than say, Kurt Vile or The Decemberists. I own multiple albums by all of these artists listed below. Are these my favorite artists? No, some are, some aren’t, but obviously I like these artists more than I skip over them from playing.
Fela Kuti – newbox set, plus Fela is genius
R.E.M. – Their career announced as over, of course I listened to their entire catalog a couple times
Bob Marley & The Wailers
Led Zeppelin – picked up some good bootlegs this year
Glenn Gould – we watched a good documentary about Glenn Gould this year. Intriguing dude.
The Rolling Stones
Pink Floyd – played their entire catalog in date order sometime this summer.
Big Bill Broonzy
Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band – an unusual talent who died this year
Captain Beefheart’s legendary and widely bootlegged record Bat Chain Puller is going to be officially released for the first time. The original tape was never mixed and released, but alternative versions of some of the tracks appeared on Beefheart’s Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller), and as bootlegs.
Wire contributor and Beefheart biographer Mike Barnes says “The tape is owned by the Zappa estate and although Don didn’t want it released they’ve been true to the work. Not only that, its availability was announced on the anniversary of Don’s death and will be released on his birthday.”
This release has been mixed by Magic Band members Denny Walley and John French, who also provide liner notes. It contains the 12 original album tracks plus three bonus tracks and is expected to arrive around the 15 January.
Sounds intriguing, especially since not much music was recorded during these years of the creation of bebop since the war effort curtailed the recording industry.
The historic live Town Hall sessions by Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker from 1945 have been discovered on an acetate pressing, and are transferred with digital enhancement to CD. Why this concert was not issued initially is understandable, but Ira Gitler’s informative and insightful liner notes suggest they likely were misplaced. What Gitler’s essential writing also reveals is that these dates were approximate by only weeks to the original studio recordings of these classics, and there was no small amount of controversy surrounding this revolutionary bebop. Clearly bop was a vehicle for intricate melodic invention followed by lengthy soloing, aspects of which Parker with Gillespie were perfectly suited for.
Fact is, the situation surrounding the sonic capture and extended neglected shelf life of this performance was far from optimal. Symphony Sid Torin is the M.C., rambling as always, making repeated references to Dizzy “Jillespie” and misidentifying Max Roach as Sid Catlett on “Salt Peanuts.” (Catlett does sit in on “Hot House” in a more supportive than demonstrative role.)
The tracks with the brilliant Roach are on fire, particularly the super-hot “Salt Peanuts,” with pianist Al Haig flying beside him. Haig is perhaps the most impressive musician. The rhythm section, especially Haig, is more present in the mix and up front, while the trumpet and alto sax are buried.
As the concert progresses, it gets better, with Gillespie’s muted trumpet clearer. Parker lays back on the mike, but not in spirit or bravado for “Interlude,” which is now known as “A Night in Tunisia,” and better balanced during “Groovin’ High,” which was originally titled “Whispering.” There seems to be an unplanned slight key chance in the bridge of “Groovin’ High.” A late-arriving Parker was in part replaced by tenor saxophonist Don Byas, who sounds terrific on the opener, “Bebop,” until Parker steps on-stage and ups the ante. At under 41 minutes in length, this can be looked upon as a historical document, likely appealing only to completists. But the overriding factor of previously undiscovered Diz and Bird makes the CD something all bebop fans should readily embrace, despite its audio deficiencies.
I’ve read1 that the reason Charlie Parker was late was because he was wandering the streets of New York looking to score some heroin, and then fixed before he started playing. This was the Bird’s typical routine apparently.
Shot with my Hipstamatic for iPhone
www.davidbyrne.com/film/TH_Chronology/index.php Chronology pulls together live performances from across Talking Heads’ career. It starts with their earliest days at CBGB and The Kitchen in New York City in the mid-seventies, through their breakthrough years in the late seventies and on to global success in the eighties. They completed their last tour in 1983 although they would continue to make very successful albums throughout the eighties before officially breaking up in 1991. The DVD concludes with their “reunion” performance of “Life During Wartime” on their induction into the Rock `n’ Roll Hall Of Fame in 2002.This deluxe version is packaged in a hardback cover with a 48 page book containing photographs and an unexpurgated Lester Bangs essay written as a review of the “Fear Of Music” album for The Village Voice in 1979 but only ever published in a heavily edited version.
Film makers at the Kennedy Center are nearly done with a documentary about cellist and raconteur Yo-Yo Ma to be shown this December at the Kennedy Center Honors, and simultaneously broadcasted on CBS. They contacted me last week to purchase the above photo of a musician biking on Wacker Drive 1 with a cello on his back to be shown in the film for a second or two…
Part of my payment is to receive a copy of the finished DVD, and a small honorarium. As a non-profit, they couldn’t pay my normal asking price, but we came to an agreement for One Time Use North America Standard TV Broadcast, after I wrote:
Your logic is a bit askew: the big guys like Corvis and Getty have thousands of license requests a week so can afford to have lower costs. I am self-employed, have to pay for health insurance and living expenses. $xxx is the lowest I would consider.
I am truly honored to be involved in a project like this – hope they do use the photo they paid for. Tell me if you see it! 2
Kennedy center honors
More about the show:
The 34th annual Kennedy Center Honors have announced this year’s honorees and as always, arts A-listers will share the evening with pop culture icons. The Dec. 4 ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts will celebrate singer Barbara Cook, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, saxophonist and composer Sonny Rollins, singer and songwriter Neil Diamond and actress Meryl Streep.
President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will be seated with the honorees during the televised ceremony, traditionally a star-laden evening of colorful speeches and performances.
“This year, the Kennedy Center celebrates its 40th anniversary by selecting five extraordinary individuals whose collective artistry has contributed significantly to the cultural life of our nation and the world,” said Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein.
…”Yo-Yo Ma’s sterling musicianship makes him one of the most versatile and popular classical music performers in the world and his Silk Road Project has inspired students across the world to love and honor music. Saxophonist Sonny Rollins’ masterful improvisation and powerful presence have infused the truly American art form of jazz with passion and energy. The sheer brilliance and breadth of Meryl Streep’s performances count as one of the most exhilarating cultural spectacles of our time.”
Jimi Hendrix made an appearance at the Supreme Court on Wednesday in an argument over whether Congress acted constitutionally in 1994 by restoring copyright protection to foreign works that had once been in the public domain. The affected works included films by Alfred Hitchcock and Federico Fellini, books by C. S. Lewis and Virginia Woolf, symphonies by Prokofiev and Stravinsky and paintings by Picasso.
The suit challenging the law was brought by orchestra conductors, teachers and film archivists who say they had relied for years on the free availability of such works.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. posed the general question in the case this way: “One day I can perform Shostakovich. Congress does something. The next day I can’t. Doesn’t that present a serious First Amendment problem?”
Then the chief justice, a pioneer in the citation of popular music in legal discourse, asked the question slightly differently, invoking Hendrix, the great rock guitarist, to test the limits of the government’s position. “What about Jimi Hendrix, right? He has a distinctive rendition of the national anthem, and assuming the national anthem is suddenly entitled to copyright protection that it wasn’t before, he can’t do that, right?”
The solicitor general, Donald B. Verrilli Jr., making his debut in the post, said there were good reasons to allow Congress to restore copyright protection to works that had entered the public domain, even at some cost to free expression by performers and others. Responding to the chief justice’s hypothetical question, Mr. Verrilli said that “maybe Jimi Hendrix could claim fair use.”
fair use since the Jimi Hendrix version alters the anthem a bit, but unfortunately, even fair use is a tenuous legal foundation these days. Just ask Scott Baio, or Shepard Fairey
Near the end of his argument in the case, Golan v. Holder, No. 10-545, Mr. Falzone returned to the chief justice’s reference to performers like Hendrix.
“There can’t be any doubt, as I think Chief Justice Roberts got at, that the performance has a huge amount of original expression bound up in it,” Mr. Falzone said. “It’s the reason it’s different to see King Lear at the Royal Shakespeare Company; it’s the reason it’s different when John Coltrane plays a jazz standard.”
Gibson Guitar was raided by federal marshals for alleged violations of the Lacey Act of 19001 – the facts are not clear yet, but it seems as if the federal government suspects Gibson of using banned materials in their guitars.
NPR’s Craig Havighurst notes that not every guitar manufacturer is upset:
Chris Martin, Chairman and CEO of the C.F. Martin Guitar Co. in Nazareth, Pa., says that when he first heard guitars built from Madagascar rosewood, he dreamed it might be the long-sought substitute for Brazilian rosewood, whose trade was banned in the 1990s due to over-harvest. Then the situation in Madagascar changed.
“There was a coup,” Martin says. “What we heard was the international community has come to the conclusion that the coup created an illegitimate government. That’s when we said, ‘Okay, we can not buy any more of this wood.'”
And while some say the Lacey Act is burdensome, Martin supports it: “I think it’s a wonderful thing. I think illegal logging is appalling. It should stop. And if this is what it takes unfortunately to stop unscrupulous operators, I’m all for it. It’s tedious, but we’re getting through it.”
Others in the guitar world aren’t so upbeat. Attorney Ronald Bienstock says the Gibson raids have aroused the guitar builders he represents because the Lacey Act is retroactive. He says they’re worried they might be forced to prove the provenance of wood they acquired decades ago.
“There hasn’t been that moment where people have quote tested the case. ‘What is compliance? What is actual compliance? How have I complied?’ We’re lacking that.”
It isn’t the first time that agents of the Fish and Wildlife Service have come knocking at the storied maker of such iconic instruments as the Les Paul electric guitar, the J-160E acoustic-electric John Lennon played, and essential jazz-boxes such as Charlie Christian’s ES-150. In 2009 the Feds seized several guitars and pallets of wood from a Gibson factory, and both sides have been wrangling over the goods in a case with the delightful name “United States of America v. Ebony Wood in Various Forms.”
The question in the first raid seemed to be whether Gibson had been buying illegally harvested hardwoods from protected forests, such as the Madagascar ebony that makes for such lovely fretboards. And if Gibson did knowingly import illegally harvested ebony from Madagascar, that wouldn’t be a negligible offense. Pete Lowry, ebony and rosewood expert at the Missouri Botanical Garden, calls the Madagascar wood trade the “equivalent of Africa’s blood diamonds.” But with the new raid, the government seems to be questioning whether some wood sourced from India met every regulatory jot and tittle.
It isn’t just Gibson that is sweating. Musicians who play vintage guitars and other instruments made of environmentally protected materials are worried the authorities may be coming for them next.
If you are the lucky owner of a 1920s Martin guitar, it may well be made, in part, of Brazilian rosewood. Cross an international border with an instrument made of that now-restricted wood, and you better have correct and complete documentation proving the age of the instrument. Otherwise, you could lose it to a zealous customs agent—not to mention face fines and prosecution.
John Thomas, a law professor at Quinnipiac University and a blues and ragtime guitarist, says “there’s a lot of anxiety, and it’s well justified.” Once upon a time, he would have taken one of his vintage guitars on his travels. Now, “I don’t go out of the country with a wooden guitar.”
The tangled intersection of international laws is enforced through a thicket of paperwork. Recent revisions to 1900’s Lacey Act require that anyone crossing the U.S. border declare every bit of flora or fauna being brought into the country. One is under “strict liability” to fill out the paperwork—and without any mistakes.
Which is all well and good, but this last sentence with its slam towards tree-huggers is out of place in any newspaper, except for a Rupert Murdoch joint, of course. Read:
You could mark that up to hypocrisy—artsy do-gooders only too eager to tell others what kind of light bulbs they have to buy won’t make sacrifices when it comes to their own passions. Then again, maybe it isn’t hypocrisy to recognize that art makes claims significant enough to compete with environmentalists’ agendas.
So even though the Lacey Act has been on the books since 1900, Eric Felten wants you to equate it with Michele Bachman’s anti-CFL lightbulb crusade. Whatever dude.
Wikipedia; The Lacey Act of 1900, or more commonly The Lacey Act (16 U.S.C. §§ 3371–3378) is a conservation law introduced by Iowa Rep. John F. Lacey. Protecting both plants and wildlife by creating civil and criminal penalties for a wide array of violations, the Act most notably prohibits trade in wildlife, fish, and plants that have been illegally taken, transported or sold. The law was signed into law by President William McKinley on May 25, 1900, and is still in effect, although it has been amended several times [↩]
I just got my copy of Tinariwen’s Tassili today, as a matter of fact. I’ve listened to the CD once, so far, but like it a lot1. If you have a chance, pick up a copy. There is no “Auto-Tune” in use on this desert blues…
In the language of the Tuareg nomads, who for centuries have roamed the most remote reaches of the southern Sahara, “tinariwen” means “deserts.” But ever since the musical group of that name released its first CD in 2001, its members have recorded not on their home turf but in much the same way that American and European bands do: in the artificial environment of a recording studio, in cities like Paris and Bamako, Mali.
With “Tassili,” released on Tuesday, Tinariwen, whose music is a hard-rocking hybrid of Berber, Arab, Western and black African styles, has sought to return to its beginnings. Named for a spectacular area of canyons and sandstone arches near Algeria’s border with Libya, the CD was rehearsed and recorded out of doors there, in tents and around campfires much like those where the group’s founding members, political exiles then living in refugee settlements, first came together to play.
“We wanted to go back to our origins, to the experience of ishumar,” a word in the Tamashek language referring to exile or being adrift, explained Eyadou ag Leche, the band’s bass player, speaking in French during an interview in New York in July. “Those were times when we would sit around a campfire, singing songs and passing around a guitar. Tinariwen was born in that movement, in that atmosphere, so what you hear on ‘Tassili’ is the feeling of ishumar.”
“Theirs is music that at the same time seems very familiar, starting with the guitars and the call and response element in the vocals, but also sounds exotic to the ear,” said the guitarist Nels Cline of Wilco, who supplies an eerily swirling guitar background on “Imidiwan Ma Tennam,” the new CD’s opening track. “You’re listening to stuff that really rocks, but is also very stripped down. There is an air of mystery and longing, and that creates a mood that is palpable, very compelling and attractive for all kinds of people. It’s wonderful music, and not just for guitarists.” Tinariwen’s music has sometimes been called “desert blues,” and the group’s penchant for writing songs in minor key modes certainly creates a sound that has a blue feeling. But the band’s members prefer to talk about “asuf,” a sentiment from their own culture that describes both a sense of spiritual pain, yearning or nostalgia and the emptiness of the desert itself. That, they acknowledge, creates a certain kinship with the bluesmen of Mississippi and Chicago.
“We didn’t know about these people at first because we were in our own universe,” Mr. ag Leche explained. “But when we first started hearing Hendrix, just to name someone, we felt something immediately. It was almost as if I had known that music from the day I was born. I’m told that a lot of the Africans who went to North America came from West Africa, from our part of the world. So it’s all the same connection. I think that any people who have lived through something that is very hard, feel this asuf, this pain, this longing. That is what will make their music sound similar to each other.”
Margaret Cone read that innocuous-sounding legislative language and her heart skipped a beat. The time was last November, during the closing days of last year’s congressional session. Cone was a veteran Washington lobbyist.
She’d been tipped off that an amendment to a pending bill — quietly inserted without debate — would reclassify under the nation’s copyright laws all sound recordings, like cassettes and CDs, as “work made for hire.”
If true, that slight change would mean musicians would never again be able to own their recordings. Instead, record companies would become the sole legal owners of a record over its legally copyrightable life, currently 95 years.
Talking to a friend on the phone as she sifted through pending legislative bills, Cone recalls having “a sinking feeling that something wasn’t on the level.” She checked one bill that dealt with copyright; no mention of work for hire. She sifted through another, Title I of the Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act, and found nothing.
Then, “on a fluke,” she went to the buried “definitions” section of that second bill and there she found this:
“(e) WORK MADE FOR HIRE-Section 101 of title 17, United State Code is amended in the definition relating to work for hire in paragraph (2) by inserting “as a sound recording.”
“My knees literally gave way,” says Cone, who often represents artists on Capitol Hill and instantly understood the ramifications of the proposed copyright change. “I told my friend on the phone, ‘I gotta go! I gotta go!'”
She dashed to the offices of the Courts and Intellectual Property Subcommittee to try to get some answers. “I wanted to find out how bad it was,” she recalls.
That was Nov 16. Two days later, despite Cone’s frantic back-room protests and pleas, the work-for-hire amendment, attached to a massive 1,740-page omnibus spending bill, passed the House and Senate. President Clinton signed it into law Nov. 29.
Early this August1, after months of public and often hostile debate, the record companies, lead by the Recording Industry Association of America, finally agreed to ask Congress to essentially repeal the work-for-hire amendment Cone discovered that day.
The battle represented a rare victory for musicians on both Capitol Hill and in the business arena.
I bet some record label execs are gnashing their teeth as these Termination Rights become more widely known…
Since their release in 1978, hit albums like Bruce Springsteen’s “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” Billy Joel’s “52nd Street,” the Doobie Brothers’ “Minute by Minute,” Kenny Rogers’s “Gambler” and Funkadelic’s “One Nation Under a Groove” have generated tens of millions of dollars for record companies. But thanks to a little-noted provision in United States copyright law, those artists — and thousands more — now have the right to reclaim ownership of their recordings, potentially leaving the labels out in the cold.
When copyright law was revised in the mid-1970s, musicians, like creators of other works of art, were granted “termination rights,” which allow them to regain control of their work after 35 years, so long as they apply at least two years in advance. Recordings from 1978 are the first to fall under the purview of the law, but in a matter of months, hits from 1979, like “The Long Run” by the Eagles and “Bad Girls” by Donna Summer, will be in the same situation — and then, as the calendar advances, every other master recording once it reaches the 35-year mark.
The provision also permits songwriters to reclaim ownership of qualifying songs. Bob Dylan has already filed to regain some of his compositions, as have other rock, pop and country performers like Tom Petty, Bryan Adams, Loretta Lynn, Kris Kristofferson, Tom Waits and Charlie Daniels, according to records on file at the United States Copyright Office.
“In terms of all those big acts you name, the recording industry has made a gazillion dollars on those masters, more than the artists have,” said Don Henley, a founder both of the Eagles and the Recording Artists Coalition, which seeks to protect performers’ legal rights. “So there’s an issue of parity here, of fairness. This is a bone of contention, and it’s going to get more contentious in the next couple of years.”
Seriously, this will severely impact the bottom line of corporate behemoths, and they won’t walk away without a legal battle. They’ve already lost the PR battle, especially with comments like Steven Marks of the RIAA:
“This is a life-threatening change for them, the legal equivalent of Internet technology,” said Kenneth J. Abdo, a lawyer who leads a termination rights working group for the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences and has filed claims for some of his clients, who include Kool and the Gang. As a result the four major record companies — Universal, Sony BMG, EMI and Warner — have made it clear that they will not relinquish recordings they consider their property without a fight.
“We believe the termination right doesn’t apply to most sound recordings,” said Steven Marks, general counsel for the Recording Industry Association of America, a lobbying group in Washington that represents the interests of record labels. As the record companies see it, the master recordings belong to them in perpetuity, rather than to the artists who wrote and recorded the songs, because, the labels argue, the records are “works for hire,” compilations created not by independent performers but by musicians who are, in essence, their employees.
Right, because when consumers purchase 1978 albums like The Jam’s All Mod Cons; Bob Dylan’s Street Legal; Elvis Costello’s Armed Forces; The Clash’s Give ‘Em Enough Rope; Talking Heads More Songs About Building and Food; Tom Waits Blue Valentine; Willie Nelson’s Stardust; or even The Rolling Stones Some Girls: listeners are really concerned about paying salaries for corporate label morons like Steven Marks. The label is more important than the work of the artists in his view. Uh, huh. Could you tell me, without looking, what label each of these albums was released on? I’m a music nerd, and even I could only guess two of these correctly.
Vintage Vinyl Records
Also, the law has yet to be honed in court, there are several still unanswered questions about details:
The legislation, however, fails to address several important issues. Do record producers, session musicians and studio engineers also qualify as “authors” of a recording, entitled to a share of the rights after they revert? Can British groups like Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, and Dire Straits exercise termination rights on their American recordings, even if their original contract was signed in Britain? These issues too are also an important part of the quiet, behind-the-scenes struggle that is now going on.
Given the potentially huge amounts of money at stake and the delicacy of the issues, both record companies, and recording artists and their managers have been reticent in talking about termination rights. The four major record companies either declined to discuss the issue or did not respond to requests for comment, referring the matter to the industry association.
But a recording industry executive involved in the issue, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak for the labels, said that significant differences of opinion exist not only between the majors and smaller independent companies, but also among the big four, which has prevented them from taking a unified position. Some of the major labels, he said, favor a court battle, no matter how long or costly it might be, while others worry that taking an unyielding position could backfire if the case is lost, since musicians and songwriters would be so deeply alienated that they would refuse to negotiate new deals and insist on total control of all their recordings.