Re: On Paper

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Click here to agree to the EULA and continue.


Posted by: Econolicious | Link to this comment | 12-17-08 11:26 PM
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You know what recent, acclaimed movie fails the Bechdel test? Milk.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 12-17-08 11:33 PM
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Not that I'm surprised, nor are the folks you negotiate with surprised when you point out these terms are absurd. But do other businesses work this way? With contracts no one reads? I'm given to presume that they do.

In my (very limited) experience, yes, they do. At least in book publishing, which is the only industry where I know anything about contracts, publishers often seem to include stuff in contracts that's very disadvantageous to authors, and probably not enforceable, on the assumption that most authors won't realize it.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 12-17-08 11:37 PM
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Also, it's premiere.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 12-17-08 11:40 PM
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on the assumption that most authors won't realize it.

Exactly. When we said no to certain parts, they seemed almost embarrassed. Of course, we're n00bs at this, but christ on a cross, we do read the stuff we're signing, you know.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 12-17-08 11:43 PM
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Also, it's premiere.

I actually looked that up and decided I was going with an accepted, if less common, spelling. Am I wrong?


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 12-17-08 11:45 PM
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My Shorter OED seems to vindicate me while also giving me opportunity to call you a prescriptivist.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 12-17-08 11:49 PM
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Maybe you can advise me on a music problem I've been having lately, Stanley: The third octave on my new oboe is giving me trouble.


Posted by: Armsmasher | Link to this comment | 12-17-08 11:56 PM
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8: Dude, I'm a drummer. Double-Reed instrument, to my ears, sounds like a collegiate scandal in Oregon. And even that's a stretch for my minuscule faculties.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 12:01 AM
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I actually looked that up and decided I was going with an accepted, if less common, spelling. Am I wrong?

Probably not, but, dude, look at the URL of the link.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 12:03 AM
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The boilerplate of book contracts are typically lousy with codicils that, if left in place, would bind an author to a press for several lifetimes of indentured servitude. Also, my viola seems to have a case of the shrieks. Can you help?


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 12:04 AM
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is typically lousy

One such codicil has to do with subject-verb agreement. Run afoul of that one, and you're in for some nasty business, I tell you.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 12:05 AM
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10: I'm a force for change, teo. It's, admittedly, a force of one, in this regard.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 12:07 AM
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Um, pretty much the whole mortgage industry? And I don't mean sketchy CDOs or whatever- I mean when a person buys a house there's no physical way they can read the amount of paper signed in front of them for 28 different signatures in the time allotted. If you did try to read everything I suspect the attorney fees would go up because of the time required. The only way to do it is to know which things to look for and make sure they're right- the total loan amount, the rate, penalties, etc.


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 12:10 AM
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2 gets it right.

Why should we care that it fails the 'Bechdel Test'?

It's not as funny as the Mighty Boosh, though.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 12:26 AM
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Upon further reflection, the auto industry is another glaring example.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 12:49 AM
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Also the payday loan industry, but I suppose that goes without saying.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 12:49 AM
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The payday loan industry can offer you an advance for when you read the contract. It requires it's own contract, but luckily for you, they offer special boilerplate consolidation rates.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 1:15 AM
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I corrected your to you're, then changed the comment to not include you're, then failed to change the it's to its.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 1:16 AM
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14: really? My agent had apparently warned the title guy that I liked to read everything, but I didn't really feel pressure, or even know there was a time limit.

A lot of employment agreements in California have shit in them that is explicitly unenforceable under state law (usually intellectual property related.

The music industry is different, though. Lots more people want to be rock stars than want to be musicians, and so the labels have a gigantic upper hand. Technology may change this by making production of rock stars unrofitable, but until then I don't see how anything different could happen.


Posted by: water moccasin | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 1:24 AM
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re: 20

Some friends of mine who are in a band deliberately went for a record deal that explicitly gave them a higher percentage of their own royalties, and much more say over their career. They did this at the expense of larger advances, and bigger promo budgets and so on. They also bought the rights to their first album back from the original label, so they get basically all of the royalties from that.

I think that's a hard choice to make, though, when you are starting out. You want money for recording, and promotion, and to get some decent instruments, and so on, and the record company offers it to you. It's hard to turn down, I suspect.

I have heard of people earning enough money that they could retire off of a single that goes big [where it's released on their own label, or where they own the full rights to the recording].


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 4:13 AM
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14: Really? I read everything I signed, both times I've bought a house, and both times when I sold a house. Also when I was renting I read the whole lease, and when I was a landlord I read everything I was handing my tenants to sign. No one's ever given me a time limit, or charged me more for the time I spent sitting reading before I signed (in one instance, when there was a lot of stuff, I think the lawyer was doing some other work at the same time). When I didn't understand something, I asked what it meant.

I read fast, but I also want to make damn sure I'm not signing something bizarre. I even read the software licence before I download software - skim-read through the boilerplate, but anything that looks new/different from the last time gets read more thoroughly.

Am I just freakishly paranoid? Well, freakish, obviously.


Posted by: Jesurgislac | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 4:58 AM
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Huh. I read fast, but it would have taken me literally an entire workday to read the papers at the closing on my apartment -- I don't do real estate work, so I couldn't have really profitably scanned the papers, I would have had to really read them with attention and with a lot of help from the lawyer. So I trusted my lawyer to have made sure there was nothing weird in there.

I did feel like a chump, but spending an entire day on the papers, with the other parties waiting, didn't seem reasonable. (Now, that is a fucked up way of setting up the transaction -- I don't understand why, in real estate purchases specifically, you don't get to see the final papers until the same day you have to sign them or your mortgage will fall through.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 5:33 AM
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I skimmed through most of the comments, but made sure that I read Jesurgislac's comment thoroughly.


Posted by: will | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 5:36 AM
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I can't believe it's left to me to say this, but Stanley, you've got no business signing contracts that haven't been reviewed by a lawyer.

Simply nonchalantly say, "Thanks for bringing these by, I'll just have my lawyer look them over, and once he's worked out any concerns he has with your lawyer, I'll get my trusty old fountain pen out and sign."

Now, granted, your Uncle Pete the probate lawyer in Spottsylvania county isn't likely to be much help with terms like ASCAP and BMI rights (though surely there is a site dedicated to this very topic somewhere out there in Blogland), but he can at least put the counterparty on notice that you're not going to take whatever shit they offer.

There's two additional advantages to playing the lawyer card:
1. If the other side comes back with, "Sorry, this is a standard contract, we're not authorized to make any changes to it," then you're dealing with a contract of adhesion, which gives you a whole host of additional possibilities to challenge its terms in court (even if there is a clause in the agreement claiming that the agreement is freely negotiated by both parties, you can turn this against them as evidence of bad faith).
2. If the other side says, "Whoah, sorry hoss, we've got to get these agreements signed right now or no deal. No time to get any shysters involved," then you have good grounds for a subsequent challenge to any of the terms; the counterparty tortiously coerced you into signing without benefit of counsel.

Really, dude, get yourself a lawyer.

[This has been a sponsored message from the American Bar Association.]


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 5:52 AM
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The advice to get a lawyer isn't bad, but I wouldn't rely on either unwillingness to negotiate the terms or pressure to sign quickly as giving you grounds to challenge the contract. In NY state, at least, if you sign a contract, you're presumed to have read and understood it, even if, for example, you're blind or illiterate (the idea is that a blind person who cared what was in the contract would have gotten someone to read it to her.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 5:59 AM
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I read fast, but it would have taken me literally an entire workday to read the papers at the closing on my apartment.... So I trusted my lawyer to have made sure there was nothing weird in there.

From what little I understand, about half of those documents are standard T's & C's that are either approved by either HUD or merely echo the laws of mortgage and conveyance of the relevant jurisdiction. My lawyer (for whom real estate conveyance is a bread & butter business) seemed to know exactly which ones he could leaf through and which ones he had to read.

I was amused by the flurry of agreements that had to be signed separately, such as the one that spelled out that the mortgage lender was not responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the property. My lawyer chuckled at this and said, "You know, every one of these papers represents a lesson learned after a lawsuit was settled."


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 6:03 AM
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In NY state, at least, if you sign a contract, you're presumed to have read and understood it.

Sure, but it's a rebuttable presumption, right? And credible testimony that the counterparty threatened to withdraw the agreement if the signatory availed himself of the advice of counsel is a good start on a rebuttal. I'm not suggesting you can rely on it, but if you're trying to challenge a contract, it's better than nothing, which is what you get if you just sign what they put in front of you.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 6:07 AM
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Also, IANAL, but my understanding of the doctrine of unconscionability is that, while it's generally a very high bar to clear, it's quite a bit higher if the agreement was freely negotiated versus in a contract of adherence.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 6:08 AM
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Since it's not appropriate to bring up the Simple Machines Records "Mechanic's Guide to Putting out Your Own Record", I'll throw out a link to this evergreen screed.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 6:25 AM
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a rebuttable presumption

I'm not sitting here doing legal research, and this isn't legal advice, but not as far as I recall in New York state. There's a real case with a blind guy. The idea is that no one cares if you did read and understand it, as long as you had an opportunity to(and that really means an opportunity at all, not an opportunity with no one pressuring or hustling you).


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 6:30 AM
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re: 30

The problem now in the UK is distribution, as one of the big distributors that got records from the various indies into the shops has gone bust.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 6:35 AM
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When I closed on my house I didn't read everything that I signed. Which isn't good, but like LB it would have taken all day. I think I initialed about 30 times and signed about 10 times. I asked the title agent if she had ever had anyone read the whole thing and she said it had happened once and took about 6hrs. She did make it clear that I had every right to do so if I chose and it wouldn't have cost any more.


Posted by: CJB | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 6:59 AM
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Ah, found it. Contra proferentem is the name of the doctrine I was trying to remember. Establishing the fact that the contract was not, in fact, freely negotiated between the parties is of some value in litigating a dispute under any of its terms.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 7:27 AM
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34: New York hates blind people, so it doesn't apply there. Fortunately, no one in New York pays attention to state politics.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 7:30 AM
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Sometimes Flight of the Conchords isn't funny, but when it's on, it's on. The quality of an episode is basically proportional to the number of musical numbers in it.

The Bechdel objection is a fair one. Most of the episodes are about the guys' clueless blunderings with women, and the women mostly figure in the show in terms of that. And then of course there's Mel.


Posted by: Matt McIrvin | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 7:37 AM
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re: 36

But I don't see why a show about the clueless bumblings of two guys has any obligation to address the Bechdel objection.

It's like asking why Steptoe and Son doesn't address it.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 7:39 AM
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The point of the Bechdel objection is not that any particular movie violates it, but that 95% of them do.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 7:40 AM
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I'm pretty sure the title agent, my real estate agent, the seller's agent, and the mortgage guy were all a bit befuddled by my insistence on reviewing what I was signing at closing. It probably would have taken 6 hours if I had read every word; as it was, it was about an hour. And they still made a mistake on the math and had to send me a check later. (I decided as a point of etiquette not to double-check them on the dollars-and-cents level. So much for good manners.)

As far as being a musician or an author signing contracts, I don't exactly disagree with what KR or the lawyers are saying in this thread, but in my experience contracts are more significant as pawns in the negotiation of power than for their actual content.

Sure, the content becomes super-important if you get to the point of trying to enforce them, but a lot of contractual relationships never get to the threatening point, much less the litigation point.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 7:41 AM
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38: Yeah, it's not really a reason to reject any particular item of entertainment, more a reason to sigh and mutter "what are you gonna do?"


Posted by: Matt McIrvin | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 7:43 AM
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re: 40

Even that regretful sigh seems misplaced. The 'Bechdel' objection has bite as a critique of mainstream media as a whole and 'why don't more movies feature women talking to other women, etc?' is a good question. It functions as a 'type' level objection.

It shouldn't be a criteria that we expect every creative work to live up to. It's stupid. 'Why doesn't this comedy about male homosociality and inadequacy have more women talking to other women?' is daft.

Why doesn't Father Ted have more dialogue between strong male characters? Because it's a fucking comedy about celibate priests, etc.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 7:50 AM
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34: Ah. Yeah, any ambiguity in the contract will be construed against the drafter, but that depends on the existence of an ambiguity. If the contract says, unambiguously, the record company gets the soul of your firstborn, then that's binding (so long as it's not in violation of law or public policy in itself) regardless of who drafted it or how hard they hustled you to sign quickly.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 7:59 AM
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As far as not reading the contract goes - how many people actually read through all the terms and conditions on their software licenses?

Also, my brain has real trouble with "tortiously" because what the hell does a tortoise have to do with contract law? Sign here or I will hit you. With this tortoise.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 8:00 AM
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30: and I to this evergreen screed.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 8:05 AM
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re: 44

I bought that when it came out. On paper.

Some fucker borrowed it and never gave it back.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 8:08 AM
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45: they learned its lessons well, apparently.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 8:11 AM
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that depends on the existence of an ambiguity

Isn't the whole essence of being a good litigator the ability to make a persuasive case for ambiguity where none exists? No wonder LB washed out of the private sector!*

*All in good fun, L.B. You know I worship at your altar.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 8:11 AM
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re: 46

Yes. It was someone I was in a band with at the time, so I suppose it serves me right. Never trust a musician.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 8:12 AM
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Even worse than that, the same guy still has [or has sold] my 1970s monophonic synth.

http://www.vintagesynth.com/misc/jensx1000.shtml


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 8:13 AM
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I'm pondering selling a couple of my synths. I really shouldn't, should I?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 8:16 AM
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50: It will only lead to regret. During my brief tenure at the NC School of Science and Math in 1984, I took a class they offered in electronic music. The lab had a Buchla 400 that we got to use, which was very cool.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 8:19 AM
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Well, I'm thinking it might leave me room to replace them with cooler synths down the road; I just don't use them that much, although I would if I ever played in your "band" type of scenario. I would keep one synth, and my drum machine. Nobody can take my drum machine away!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 8:22 AM
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re: 50

They can probably all be replicated by VSTs now. Although '(old) physical stuff' is much nicer than 'virtual stuff'.

I should probably sell more of my cameras but I never quite get round to it [I'm selling some but I still probably have more than I need/use].


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 8:25 AM
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What really happens is I build up chords just using the one (mono)synth because I like how it sounds much better than the other two. I still can't get behind using virtual synths for basslines.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 8:27 AM
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I carefully read anything at closing that had numbers on it- some of the closing costs were different from the GFE and I made them lower it to what they had said they would charge. All the text about covenants refusal blah blah blah I just trusted my lawyer's 10 second description.
The way to rip me off- spell out all the numbers as words.


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 8:28 AM
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in my experience contracts are more significant as pawns in the negotiation of power than for their actual content

I pretty much agree, except that the content can be an important part of the power negotiation.

Also, it is NO FUN to go back through the contract you worked on a couple of years ago to figure out whether it adequately addresses whatever weird set of circumstances your client and the other part find themselves fighting about.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 8:29 AM
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Supposedly in the individual health insurance market no one even sees their actual insurance contract, let alone gets to read it. You just buy based on the brightly colored brochure from the company, or their web site FAQ page.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 8:30 AM
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34: contra proferentem is distinct from the consideration whether the contract was freely negotiated (though, as the wikipedia article linked suggests, both appear to stem from concerns about unequal bargaining power). But 29 is right, whether the contract was freely negotiated is a factor in most states' doctrine of unconsionability. Most states require both substantive unconscionability (i.e., terms no one in their right mind would agree to, which is as slippery as it sounds) and procedural (something fishy about the formation of the contract, such as one party refusing to let the other read it; though except in a very few states an adhesion contract is not in itself procedurally unconscionable without more).

That said, you really don't want to be in a position where you're relying on an unconscionability defense, except in a few narrow areas where things have been clearly staked out.


Posted by: potchkeh | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 8:33 AM
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57: there's at least some protection there, if you're in a plan that falls under ERISA, which requires that the required "summary plan descriptions" (with certain content requirements) control if they conflict with the more detailed documents nobody sees.


Posted by: potchkeh | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 8:39 AM
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30: What is sad is that I remember buying that issue of MRR.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 8:54 AM
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Ari plays the viola?


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 9:10 AM
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59: PGD's post refers to the individual health care market, where state level regs (rather than ERISA) apply.

At some level, it doesn't matter much what's in the contract, because the typical individual policy will give you no more than state law requires and no less than it permits.


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 9:25 AM
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What? I don't have a contract for health insurance, I just have it! They pay my bills out of a sense of fairness because my employer and I send them money each month to do so!


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 10:30 AM
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Why aren't the big record labels obsolete yet? I thought that by now the internet would have killed off their high overhead, centralized distribution business model by now.

Is the bright shiny future where every band is their own label going the way of moon colonies and jetpacks and other things that we were promised but will never get?


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 10:38 AM
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Is the bright shiny future where every band is their own label going the way of moon colonies and jetpacks and other things that we were promised but will never get?

Ask Jetpack over there.


Posted by: washerdreyer | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 10:45 AM
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Is the bright shiny future where every band is their own label going the way of moon colonies and jetpacks and other things that we were promised but will never get?


Maybe. Distribution and promotion are the problem here. The labels are at a disadvantage globally in that their business model is pretty much bullshit (afaics the natural market for this would be a service market + venture capital(ish) aspects). However, they're big companies with good lawyers negotiating with small bands who may be very naive, very young, very stoned, or a combination. So they can effectively drag this out quite well.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 10:45 AM
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Yeah, distribution is the key thing, I think. Getting your CDs pressed and into the shops is non-trivial.

The all-download future is still a way away [thank feck].


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 10:47 AM
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Why aren't the big record labels obsolete yet?

It's not that they are destined for obsolescence as such; it's that they will never again enjoy the easy profits of the past.

I thought that by now the internet would have killed off their high overhead, centralized distribution business model by now.

I can think of several reasons why they are likely to survive, some cynical, some sincere.

1. (cynical) You need someone to organize the payola to the broadcasters to get the music on the air. As broadcast radio becomes consolidated, you need suppliers on a similar scale who can feed the fresh hits to the machine. Something similar applies to the retail channel for CD sales.

2. (cynical) The labels don't make music, they make stars. The atomized system of "every musician has her own label" is not a reliable enough supply chain for creating celebrity recording artists, which are after all what drives the business.

3. (sincere) Branding matters. The bulk of the music-listening public doesn't want to put the effort into seeking out new music that corresponds to their taste. The imprimatur of a record label is a sort of seal of approval. In this sense, you would expect to see a proliferation of smaller labels with distinct "personalities" (even if those smaller labels belong to a major distribution company). And indeed, this seems to be happening.


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 10:50 AM
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68:

4) momentum

5) networking effects


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 10:53 AM
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68
The bulk of the music-listening public doesn't want to put the effort into seeking out new music that corresponds to their taste. The imprimatur of a record label is a sort of seal of approval.

This seems dubious to me. I mean, I admit I don't pay much attention to music myself, but I have a hard time believing anyone pays that much attention to music labels. Which company had good punk until management decided to diversify into hip-hop and their punk has sucked ever since? I don't know, and I'd be amazed if anybody outside the industry does either. (Well, maybe "amazed" and "anybody" is putting it too strongly, because there's always somebody, but still, I can't imagine it's common.)

On the other hand, if by "seal of approval" you merely that getting signed to a record label demonstrates a certain minimum of level of competence, showmanship, etc., independent of what the particular style is, then that may be true, but it's setting a very low bar.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 11:27 AM
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As soon as the big major labels figure out the value of giving their product away for free (they're starting to) they'll be fine. The new future simply rewards people who don't have their heads up their ass.

On the other hand, making money as a band by selling your own crap at shows is still the better way to make money. Unless you can crack the lucrative ringtone duets with T-Pain market.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 11:30 AM
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To go back to the original post a bit, I have a little experience in this area from the litigation side, and I would tell anyone who is in the music business the same thing: get a MUSIC INDUSTRY lawyer. This isn't because of the generic contract law reasons KR raises (which, btw, range between kindasorta and not really right), but because contracts in the music biz are highly specialized, and you can get enormous benefit from talking to someone who knows what you need to include and what you don't, and who knows where the labels will compromise and where they won't. A very good agent can do some of this but an experienced lawyer is better and safer, and generally well worth the cost if you're at the point where you and a label are really thinking about making each other some money. But make sure its someone who knows and works in the industry -- your uncle Stan won't do you any good, and neither will the senior partner at Cravath, Swaine & Moore who works only on corporate m+a transactions.

The industry does rely on a lot of dumb musicians who simply don't read the contract, but it also has some very industry-specific and thorny contractual and legal issues, that are the product of decades and decades of people fucking each other over in creative ways and then litigating about it. These are hard to figure out even if you are smart and even if you do read every word of your contract. Not to mention all of the internet issues, which are kind of a legal wild west right now.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 11:32 AM
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I don't think anyone cares about the label branding per se, but you have to note that a lot of marketing and distribution channels are difficult-to-nearly-impossible to access from outside the label system.

So if you think of `branding' and `seal of approval' as more: I heard them in the right places, it's written up in the `right' places, they did a guest appearance on X, critic Y wrote about it, etc. etc., then sure, branding matters.

People sometimes look at this the wrong way, that massive pop acts are somehow made by the labels, which is mosty bass ackward. The labels are very, very good about recognizing and developing talent for this sort of thing (part of which is a willingness to play along). For the artists involved, it's also a path of least resistance, particularly at first.

There is no real need for the labels in this particular role. However, they do hold most of the cards though (less so than in the past) and will milk it for what it's worth. They operate somewhat as gatekeepers to the marketing and top production help you'll almost certainly need to make it out of obscurity.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 11:34 AM
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These are hard to figure out even if you are smart and even if you do read every word of your contract.

This is a point that generalizes well. Even if you do read every line of everything you sign, and believe you understand it ok, this language is specialized. If you're the wrong sort of lawyer you can miss what is really going on, let alone a random non-lawyer who is just trying to do the right thing.

Much as it may suck, I think if there is real money or commitments on the line, you're always better to consult with someone who does whatever particular area.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 11:37 AM
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They operate somewhat as gatekeepers to the marketing and top production help you'll almost certainly need to make it out of obscurity.

In both these cases, but especially the latter, definitely less so than in the past.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 11:38 AM
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They hold most of the cards and milk them for what they're worth?


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 11:38 AM
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76: the cards have already been soaked. Think of french toast.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 11:39 AM
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In both these cases, but especially the latter, definitely less so than in the past.

Yeah, this is changing. Although most bands do suck at production, the tools at least are much more available, which reduces the artificial shortage of experienced people. Sound engineering is similar.


They hold most of the cards and milk them for what they're worth?

I told you they were tricky buggers.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 11:40 AM
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I have a hard time believing anyone pays that much attention to music labels.

Majors? Not so much. Indie and minor labels? Totally. Back in the early '90s Lookout! was the go-to label for pop-punk. Sub Pop was where you went for up-and-coming grunge bands; then they turned into the label for smart melodic pop. I could go on and on and on.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 11:42 AM
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78.1: right. The fact that it's (mostly) all software is having the same approximate effect is it has in the world of design; lots more people who are bad at it, but the pool of people who are good at it is bigger, too.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 11:43 AM
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72, 74: I meant to make this point and didn't. I'm a commercial litigator, and I'm pretty good at what I do. Just as Halford and Soup suggest, I can't look at most contracts and figure out what all the moving parts do without a whole lot of work, and I certainly don't know what industry norms are in most industries.

Joe Non-Lawyer who works with contracts in a particular industry is going to be more sophisticated and helpful about a particular contract and its reasonableness or onesidedness than Jane Lawyer-But-Not-A-Specialist-In-The-Right-Area. Lawyering up is more useful as a signal that you're paying attention and don't intend to be taken advantage of than as a source of practical advice about your particular contract unless you get a specialist.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 11:44 AM
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79 is true, in smallish markets there is a lot of label recognition. It's not really what we're talking about I think (e.g. 'pop' successes) but people will certainly buy an unknown acts first release on a known label out of trust, sometimes.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 11:45 AM
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They operate somewhat as gatekeepers to the marketing and top production help you'll almost certainly need to make it out of obscurity.

This is why Simon Cowell is a rich man. And I don't think he is particularly mean on his show. He tells people, even some talented singers, that they won't make it as a "pop" star. Others might take advantage, but he says "Go home".


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 11:46 AM
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The minor label/indie/whatever approach is different, but there is also a reason they are minor. The entire marketing approach is different, but the acts also tend to be people who are aiming at being able to support their own particular music habit without working in a restaurant, not people who have dreams of arena shows.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 11:48 AM
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Lawyering up is more useful as a signal that you're paying attention and don't intend to be taken advantage of than as a source of practical advice about your particular contract unless you get a specialist.

But if you don't have a specialist, then maybe you don't intend to be taken advantage of, but you will be taken advantage of. Unless those who draw up the exploitative contracts are impressed by the presence of any lawyer at all, without any evidence that he's a specialist.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 11:48 AM
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the generic contract law reasons KR raises (which, btw, range between kindasorta and not really right)

This can be generalized to my comments on other topics.

FWIW, I concur with your point about the superiority of a lawyer with experience in the music industry. My encouragement to Stanley was based more on the belief that having a lawyer--any lawyer--by his side is better than facing the bastards alone, although obviously it would be easy for Uncle Stan to get taken to the cleaners by the hotshot entertainment lawyers from Beverly Hills.


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 11:49 AM
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people who are aiming at being able to support their own particular music habit without working in a restaurant

An extremely high bar to clear when you're talking about making music by performing and selling music.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 11:50 AM
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An extremely high bar to clear when you're talking about making music by performing and selling music.

Yes, this is not at all easy to do. Particularly if you aren't happy indefinitely living out of a ford econoline and cheap motels.

I chose not to try, but some of the people I knew from back then gave it their best shot. Rough outcomes, mostly. One friend toured almost continuously for over fifteen years (with multiple bands, sometimes in the same year). At the end of it all he was tired and broke, mostly.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 11:54 AM
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85: It signals that someone's going to read the contract suspiciously, and they might catch something egregious -- someone taking advantage is going to act differently toward people saying "Golly, this is so great, where do I sign" and "I'll have my lawyer look at it". The chance that there'll be something really ridiculously bad in the contract is higher if you do the first than if you do the second. A non-specialist lawyer isn't a whole lot of use, but it's at least a suspicious set of eyes.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 11:54 AM
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I chose not to try, but some of the people I knew from back then gave it their best shot. Rough outcomes, mostly.

I had friends who (at the peak) topped the european dance singles charts for a few weeks. Still didn't buy 'em enough to quit their day jobs for more than six months.

On the other hand, if you'd like to e.g. tour europe for a month, have your expenses (minus plane tickets) pretty well paid for (and you don't mind sleeping in hovels), and maybe accumulate the odd (really odd) groupie, having a noise-ish band and the right kind of contacts isn't a bad way to do it.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 11:56 AM
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I actually know some very good and pretty cheap music industry lawyers, if anyone's looking.

As for the music industry, as far as I can tell from what I overhear from my few friends still left in the business, no one in the music business is doing as well as 20 years ago, but the majors are still profitable and are likely to be so well into the future. Of course, they went through huge reorganization in the 90s-00s and laid off tons of people. The minors, on the other hand, have been mostly getting killed, as have a lot of more marginal industry types. As KR points out, you still need a major label (or some kind of a deal with one) to become a "star" or make a large amount of money in the industry, even if its much easier to get national recognition or decent production without a major label contract than it was in the past.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 12:01 PM
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On the other hand...

Right. I know loads of people who did this for a while because it was a lot of fun for a couple of years, they were young, it was fun, and nobody took it too too seriously. One day you come home from tour and decide, ok, time to get a trade or whatever. Good for them, and probably got more useful out of it than banging round austrialia or europe for a year with a backpack.

On the other hand, slogging it out for decades looking for your big break is a very different thing.

This friend I mentioned has an amazing scrapbook, and bunch of fun and not so fun memories, and is a really, really solid drummer. But he left it in his thirties having no assets and never had a proper job. Not the easiest time starting anew. Most of his friends had dropped out along the way (kids/jobs/houses) and I'm sure he wonders sometimes if he would've been better off doing that earlier.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 12:06 PM
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The only people I know who make a career from music are in local bands. Like, four local bands each. This guy will be in a local cover band, a local country band, and a local funk band. If you're only in one of those bands, you're just doing it as a hobby.

That is, the only people I know who make good music don't make any money at all.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 12:09 PM
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92: yeah, I have a friend who's got to be almost forty who is still pretty much plugging along dirt poor, making records and touring. On the other hand, he thinks of himself as an artist more generally (the band's instruments are all made by hand), and I think being broke and marginal for his whole life is pretty much what he had imagined for himself. He did recently move into an actual apartment (as opposed to a half-converted warehouse-y space) for the first time.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 12:10 PM
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I've heard (God knows where) that it's hard to find music industry lawyers who aren't buddy-buddy with the labels.

I think the labels really are doomed, and this is a case of Cringely's law: "People overestimate change in the short run, and underestimate change in the long run." If the labels seem doomed, and then don't disappear within five years, it's tempting to think that you got it wrong. You didn't. The labels are fucked.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 12:15 PM
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I am friends with people who were friends with the people in Harvey Danger. I have no idea how much money they made.

They are also friends with the people who run Barsuk Records (which had Death Cab for Cutie through Transatlantacism) and I think it makes enough money to pay a few people's salaries.

I've even met Barsuk.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 12:32 PM
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Apologies for the random name-dropping, but I so rarely get the chance, and it was on topic.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 12:32 PM
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I knew a guy who was the accountant for Sub Pop. They didn't invite him to parties.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 12:34 PM
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I knew a guy who was the accountant for Sub Pop. They didn't invite him to parties.

They will regret this decision when he ends up in the Caymans with all of the money.


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 12:36 PM
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99: I think they'd be pleasantly surprised to find out they had enough money to steal.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 12:39 PM
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Maybe he's already stealing it. Maddow started small, too.


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 12:41 PM
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You know what era depicted in a recent, acclaimed movie fails the Bechdel test? Milk The 1970s in San Francisco.


Posted by: Sir Kraab | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 12:42 PM
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You mean Madoff? Or Rachel Maddow?


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 12:43 PM
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103: the hidden connection revealed!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 12:45 PM
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Madoff, Maddow, Madden. Ever see them in the same place? I didn't think so!


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 12:46 PM
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Hopefully Maddow will incorporate the telestrator into her commentaries.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 12:48 PM
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I haven't watched the episode yet, but the contracts legendarily are that bad. Go read the evergreen screed linked in 30 if you haven't yet, and for good measure here are a few cautionary tales:

Andy Partridge of XTC: "We were on the label 19 years before we went into the black."

Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails: Interscope Records, determined to get NIN on their label, negotiated a joint venture with TVT. (I remember reading an article about this at the time, with choice quote from somebody at Interscope wondering why he was in court with a company that was small enough for him just to buy outright).

The Stone Roses and their legal battle with Silvertone (they eventually won and moved to Geffen, but the strain caused the band to break up almost before their second album was even finished).

Aimee Mann got shafted by Interscope, and then (as referred to in the article) she bought her master recordings back and released the album herself. She's been on her own label since then.


Posted by: fedward | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 12:52 PM
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Somebody or other just put an album online that they'd recorded years ago, which had been sold to a label that refused to release it. I tried to google it, but failed.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 12:56 PM
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but I have a hard time believing anyone pays that much attention to music labels.

Foolish. Small labels with a fairly distinct roster (or in some cases small sets of rosters) are a valuable way to find new music. I can think of several labels worth paying attention to offhand! Cuneiform, Recommended, Ad Hoc, Carbon 7, Victo, Tzadik (which has a much wider reach than anything else on this list), Clean Feed, Mike Patton's label whose name I can't remember, etc.

I mean, I don't think anyone would say that the fact that record X came out on Rastascan instead of Emanem means that it's better/worse, but you might plausibly pay attention to label rosters.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 12:59 PM
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There are definitely some labels that I regarda as presumptively interesting. Hyperdub and Soul Jazz come immediately to mind.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 1:01 PM
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Robbie Fulks, one of my favorite folk/alt-country guys, gives a musical explanation of the career of an alternative musician. Near the end, he estimates his income at $40,000, and he's a super talented guy who writes/performs/records and tours constantly.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 3:33 PM
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Some of the people I know are [no disrespect intended] quite a bit more successful or higher profile than some of the names mentioned [I don't say this in a name-dropping way]. Even there, while I don't know exact numbers, the numbers really aren't large by any means.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 4:54 PM
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I knew MMG was friends with Travis, Garbage, and Belle & Sebastian. Just knew it.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 5:14 PM
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re: 113

That's sort of semi-true, actually. [Not Garbage]


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 5:20 PM
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112: That matches my limited experience too. People get what seems like an awful lot of exposure and recognition before getting anything more than an ok income after all is told. Much worse if they got suckered into bad contract; someone (acquaintance, could have been puffing the numbers up) I was talking to about that described it as: millions come in, millions go out, and I'm left with ten grand and a stupid look on my face. Seems the general consensus that this isn't out of the question.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 5:25 PM
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Jacob Slichter of Semisonic wrote a book about the problems with doing business as a musician that I believe we've discussed here, though I haven't read it. Even if you do get on pop radio and have quite a bit of success, you can get screwed pretty badly.

I can't remember if I read a chapter or saw an interview, but he tells the story of how these corporate guys would take the band out for lunch at a really fancy place, and they felt all fancy and wooed, until, much later, they saw that the bill for lunch came out of the band's account. Apparently it's quite hard to avoid being nickel-and-dimed out of any possible profit, especially if you're naive about the business and don't ask a ton of questions.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 5:57 PM
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116: Jen Trynin also wrote a book about the whole experience of getting signed to a label and becoming a rock star (for a little while anyway). Her experience sounds almost identical to Slichter's.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 6:02 PM
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From totally different parts of my of life, I have two acquaintances who were in very successful groups, one big in the 1970s and one big (mostly in the EU/UK, but huge there) in the 1990s. The 1970s guy has done quite well through residuals and some work in commercials/film composing, and is what I'd describe as rich but not filthy rich -- about the level of a senior partner at a good law firm. The 1990s guy got into huge fights over money but emerged well enough, and is rich enough to live very comfortably but not spectacuarly well (nice upper middle class apartments in London and LA) on residuals without working at all. Both of them must have taken in only a tiny fraction -- 1-2% at absolute most -- of the profits produced by their career work. Given that they got to do what they wanted and get famous (and, the chicks were free), a pretty good life, but they aren't exactly competing with the hedge fund managers for income.

With that said, the bands/acts that are able to cross-market and cross-license themselves these days into phenomenons are getting truly, deeply, genuinely rich -- the sad thing is that these days this means basically Britney, the Jonas Brothers, and Hannah Montana.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 6:17 PM
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Britney, the Jonas Brothers, and Hannah Montana

Thanks Uncle Walt!


Posted by: Annette Funicello's bikini | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 6:20 PM
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I'd be much obliged, ttaM, if you put Isobel Campbell in touch with me.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 6:25 PM
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You can wish, Ben, because she's not here to fool around.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 6:34 PM
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The Bechdel objection is a fair one. Most of the episodes are about the guys' clueless blunderings with women, and the women mostly figure in the show in terms of that.

I have to agree with nattarGcM ttaM that it's not a fair objection in this case. I don't see how it could meet the requirements of the Bechdel Test while still being a show about clueless, blundering guys who don't know anything about women.

That said, I find it only intermittently funny (though some of the scenes with the manager are hilarious). The guys are just too idiotic to be of interest for very long, even if their idiocy is meant to be the joke.


Posted by: Mary Catherine | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 8:07 PM
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Actually I thought Isobel Campbell's first solo album really sucked.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 8:15 PM
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So wait, which band of Stanley's has a recording contract? The good one or the bad one?


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 8:16 PM
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Actually, I rather like the Isobel Campbell / Mark Lanegan album. The first one, that is; I think there's another that I've never heard.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 9:15 PM
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Hmm. Upon listening to bits of it again, it seems that actually I rather like only half or so of the Isobel Campbell / Mark Lanegan, and moreso the Mark Lanegan bits. Perhaps I like the platonic ideal of Isobel Campbell, but not so much the reality. (She is ever so cute, though.)


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 9:30 PM
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I was referring to Amorino, which I guess is not actually her first solo venture.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 9:32 PM
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Music thread:I'll sneak this in.

In my exploration of 60s jazz/psych band I discovered they made a soundtrack for a movie, said soundtrack not getting released in like thirty years. And I became interested in the movie.

Currently watching Model Shop 1969 with Gary Lockwood & Anouk Aimee directed by Jacques Demy. Demy signature color schemes, extreme use of ambient sounds like cars, passing radios. Great daylight scenes of LA. Not quite a hippie film, Lockwood has a modernist early beat sensibility, think Miller or Burroughs (Burkowski?) that contrasts with 60s LA.

Jay Ferguson just loaned Gary Lockwood $100.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 10:32 PM
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Damn, I forgot to mention the band.

Spirit.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 10:33 PM
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||
So I just received a new memento of our vacation back in June: a speeding ticket from the Polizei Basel-Landschaft. One of the resident Deutschophones (Blume? KR?) wanna give me a hand figuring out what the hell it says?
|>


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 12-18-08 10:57 PM
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So wait, which band of Stanley's has a recording contract? The good one or the bad one?

Without getting into details, it was a very minor recording contract of sorts turned down by the bad one.

And thanks for all the links and advice on lawyering up. We're in the market for a lawyer (and possibly an accountant? not sure), and if Halford reads this and would like to e-mail me at stanleysparks at the google mail service, that'd be swell.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 12-19-08 12:12 AM
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re: 120

Heheh. I haven't seen her since she left the band.

re: 118

Yeah. Some of the people I know [a bit, via friends] were doing OK via residuals and licensing for movies and things. I knew one person who had a couple of songs covered by Nirvana. I assume he does OK out of residuals but he certainly wasn't living the high life.

Ditto some of the other more successful bands I knew [again, partly via friends]. Their life style wasn't radically different to my own at the time. Marginally nicer flats at best, maybe, but they weren't living a life that anyone even a couple of years out of university would have struggled to afford. Lots of foreign travel and nicer guitars, though.

I'm out of touch with that whole scene now, so it's always possible that there's been a sudden influx of cash and all the Glasgow musos are driving about in Bentleys dressed in furs but I doubt it.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 12-19-08 12:31 AM
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What was a "more successful band you knew via friends"? How successful?

Close Lobsters?
Trash Can Sinatras?
Teenage Fanclub?
Soup Dragons?


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 12-19-08 12:34 AM
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(maybe I'm implying you are older than you are)


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 12-19-08 12:36 AM
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The third of those. A couple of members of whom were good friends with my then room-mate [who was/is in B & S].


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 12-19-08 12:39 AM
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Good, I was afraid it was the Soup Dragons.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 12-19-08 12:39 AM
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Oh, actually, come to think of it, I did know [very very slightly, via my room-mate] one member of them, too.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Future_Pilot_AKA

His stuff was pretty good.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 12-19-08 12:41 AM
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re: 134

All of those people are older than me, yeah, but Glasgow at the time [90s] had fairly overlapping scenes. People from earlier bands [TF, etc] were often friendly with people in 'younger' bands. People actually were [at least it seemed to me as a partial outsider] sickeningly nice and helpful.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 12-19-08 12:44 AM
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People actually were [at least it seemed to me as a partial outsider] sickeningly nice and helpful.

People still are, I think. Perhaps it's more rarely. I once got Sh/aron J/ones' cell phone number, after sharing some tunes from a R&B/rock project I was a part of. She said to call her directly the next time she booked in town, so we could possibly open the show. Go over the promoter's head and quickly, she said, because he wouldn't be helpful. Didn't pan out, as it turned out. But still.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 12-19-08 12:50 AM
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more rarely s/b rarely done


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 12-19-08 12:51 AM
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re: 139

People still are, I think.

Yeah, I can believe that. It certainly always seemed to me that most of the people I knew i) really really loved music [even the ones who had had a bit of a hard time with the business side of the industry] and ii) wanted to help other people or be involved creatively if they could.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 12-19-08 12:55 AM
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141: It didn't hurt to fall into a spot bartending at a large local venue. One band I was in actually lucked into a spot opening for Mogwai when something fell through, since we're on about bands from Scotland ttaM might now. (Crew were dicks; band was quite nice; they had a lot of fucking amps.)


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 12-19-08 1:00 AM
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re: 142

Yeah, Glasgow doesn't have that many venues, so the [club-sized] venue that one week will host some really well known band on tour will host some local band no-one has heard of. So I think people make a lot of contacts that way or get the odd support slot or whatever.

Even in my band days [and I was just a sideman for a friends band that had, essentially, no success at all] I played most of the best known venues.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 12-19-08 1:07 AM
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