The Universal Music Mystery

During my protracted ‘Trooper compilation album’ negotiations with a Universal Music representative (let’s call him Chuck) ten years ago, I would often wait for months for a response to my faxes. Occasionally, Chuck would offer an excuse for the gap; a holiday, for instance. More often than not, though, he would pick up communication as though only a day or two had passed. This glib pretense was usually belied by the fact that he seemed to have completely lost the plot in the intervening months.

In those instances where his memory appeared to have failed him, I would attempt to bring him back up to speed on what had already transpired. Then I would wait, for weeks or months, for his response. It was like trying to walk up an icy hill. Sometimes I would take two steps upward and slide back one. Sometimes, momentum would propel me down the slippery hill and back across level ground, leaving me helplessly looking up at the place I thought I was.

This went on for an unbelievable twenty-seven months.

And nothing was accomplished. No contract was finalized and no explanation was given as to why. At the end of Chuck’s final communications gap, I wrote, in exasperation, to the company president, who had originally conceived the project. He replied that Chuck was no longer with the company. Although the compilation was ostensibly passed on to another, communication from Universal simply stopped in 1998.

While negotiating with Chuck, I researched Trooper’s contracts with as many Universal representatives as would talk to me. It soon became clear that nobody at the company wanted to discuss royalties. Royalties also seemed to be a stumbling block with Chuck. My clear and pointed questions about what we would be paid, per unit, for the supposedly imminent compilation were side-tracked, ignored or, during the above described gaps, seemingly forgotten.

I have just experienced my first month-long communications gap with Universal in what is an uncannily similar engagement. Instead of championing the release of a two disk collection of the best Trooper songs, I am now simply trying to solve the mystery of why Trooper recordings can not be legally downloaded.

During the ‘Trooper compilation’ negotiations, packaging, pressing, album art, distribution and other old school “brick and mortar” sales issues offered significant - but by no means insurmountable - contractual challenges. Ten years later, though, in preparation for digital sales, all that seems necessary is the creation of the MP3s.

‘iTunes’ was launched in Canada on December 1st, 2004. ‘Puretracks’ went online exactly a year before that. Since Universal owns the copyright on these recordings they do not have to ask our permission to proceed, they merely need to pay us royalties on the sales. They can charge ninety-nine cents a pop for Trooper recordings that will cost them virtually nothing.

So why haven’t they?