Record Companies

Trooper recorded their first seven albums while under contract to MCA Records. In December of 2006, Universal Music (formerly MCA) released five of those albums to the iTunes Music Store where they can now be purchased and downloaded.

Two albums remain conspicuously absent from the digital music store. Trooper’s first album was not part of the iTunes offering, nor was the seventh, and last, album released by MCA/Universal.

In the non-digital world, products with marginal sales are discontinued. Manufacturing, shipping and storage expenses eclipse potential income. For this reason, the first and last MCA Trooper albums (ironically, both titled “Trooper”) have not been available in stores for years. But digital replicas of those albums are not encumbered by the brick-and-mortar paradigm. They require no warehouse space, no shipping - and can be cloned, like magic, from the master recordings. The tracks from the missing albums could have been prepared and uploaded with minimal additional effort. I am cursed with a mind that cannot help but ask why they weren’t.

I’ve emailed the record company asking them to upload the additional albums, but I am obliged to accept whatever action, or inaction they choose to take. Notwithstanding the fact that I wrote and sang the songs, spent months in the studio recording the albums and months on the road promoting them - Universal owns all seven records and can do whatever they want with them. This can include, sadly, making them disappear off the face of the earth forever.

Very few people understand the relationship between a band (or singer, or musician - the contract refers to us all as “The Artist”) and their record company. Many still believe that the artist owns and controls the recordings they make. In most cases, nothing could be further from the truth.

Most record company contracts ‘loan’ the artist money to record an album. In exchange for this recoupable loan (and promises of promotion and distribution), the record company takes ownership of the resulting recordings. The artist is promised a royalty - a small percentage of the retail price of the finished ‘product’. BUT … before the artist receives any “artist royalties”, they must first PAY BACK the record company the total cost of the recording (and, usually, the video) - not from the total profit on the sales but from their artist royalty. If you have not paid off your first album debt by the time your second album is released, the difference is simply brought forward and you continue to pay back the accumulated amount.

Although it feels like dropping single grains of sand into an ever-enlarging beach bucket, Trooper eventually, with the help of a greatest hits album that required minimal recording costs, paid back all of their recoupable loans. Nonetheless, we still do not own those recordings.

Many people would ask why someone would sign on to a contract like that.

Because, for years and years, it was the only game in town.

In 1994, “The Artist (get it now?) Formerly Known as Prince” inked the word “SLAVE” onto his face. He told the press that he had become “merely a pawn used to produce more money for Warner Brothers” (his record company).

In 2000, Courtney Love delivered a scathing, landmark rant to the Digital Hollywood Online Entertainment Conference in New York. She began by saying:

“Piracy is the act of stealing an artist’s work without any intention of paying for it. I’m not talking about Napster-type software. I’m talking about major label recording contracts.”

She went on to say that:

“The system’s set up so that almost nobody gets paid.”

Most major recording artists rely on their major record labels for their major money, but, because Ms. Love had developed an income from films, she could afford to bite down hard on the hand that ostensibly fed her. Everyone with even a remote interest in the future of recorded music should take the time to read the transcript of her speech.

Prince and Courtney Love kicked open doors that have since been pinned wide open by a growing storm of discontent. The digital world now looms large and threatening over once arrogant and implacable RIAA executives. Not unlike Courtney Love, I have very little to lose by talking candidly about my former record companies. The royalties I receive have gone from pitiful to laughable and I haven’t had a new record hanging in the balance for many years. I have a list of grievances - real and possibly imagined - that could, no doubt, parallel hers. Like many of my peers, I believe that the reign of record company control over recorded music, and the artists who make that music, should and will end soon. I can say this with confidence and a reasonable certainty. But talk is cheap.

One way or another, Connor will be recording his first album this year. He’s been thinking a lot about how he’ll get it out to the world. Questions about the feasibility, morality, and, for that matter, longevity of record companies have become, suddenly, non-hypothetical.

As the old paradigm dies … what will rise to replace it?