Correction to "The Politics of Songwriting - Part Five"

Rolling Stone Magazine has run an online version of a Kurt Cobain interview from their January 27 1994 issue. In it, Cobain breaks down Nirvana's songwriting shares. I was wrong about him receiving all the royalties. If my math is correct, it appears he took a total of 87.5% while the other two band members shared the remaining 12.5%, for a total of 6.25% each. Here's how he put it:

Haven't there been any issues where there was at least heated discussion? Yeah, the songwriting royalties. I get all the lyrics. The music, I get 75 percent, and they get the rest. I think that's fair. But at the time, I was on drugs when that came up. And so they thought that I might start asking for more things. They were afraid that I was going to go out of my mind and start putting them on salary, stuff like that. But even then we didn't yell at each other. And we split everything else evenly.

The Politics of Songwriting - Part Four

So …

Let’s say you get together with a group of friends occasionally to have a few beers and jam. And let’s say that another friend brings along some recording gear one night and captures what turn out to be some impressive and only slightly beer-addled performances, which he, in turn, passes on to a record company president he knows. On the basis of the four completed songs he’s heard, the record company president offers to immediately sign the “band” to a multimillion dollar contract. In addition to the signing advance and artist royalties, shared by all band members, the record company will need to know who gets the songwriting royalties.


~ Brian Smith, Daryll Stelmaschuk, Me, Derek Solby in 1965

Since you and your mates have never had a reason to discuss songwriting, the subject suddenly becomes the elephant in the jam-room. Although the rhythm guitar player vaguely recalls someone calling out chord changes, and a beer being spilled on a notebook full of lyrics, he’s decided that songwriting credit should be split even-steven amongst the Beer Brothers (his choice for the new band’s name). Much of what you played on your Les Paul was extemporized … a lick here, a solo there … and your only clear memory of the evening was having to stop frequently because the drummer seemed to be having trouble catching the groove – so you’re feeling unwilling to share royalties with him. And although the lyrics for the songs seemed to come together surprisingly quickly, you’re considering changing some of the lame parts. This, you decide, will be your after-the-fact songwriting contribution, and justification for your share. The bass guitar parts were played by a friend who’d shown up late with a case of Red Stripe. This was his first jam. Some of the Beer Brothers privately resent his “Brother” status and question his right to any kind of royalties. The keyboard player is a big fan of the drummer and plays with him in another band. He’s the one who sang the lyrics and melody he’d learned from the drummer’s demos of the four songs. The drummer was the one calling out the chords and stopping the band when things got off track. He’s not happy with the sloppy playing on the recordings, and was considering taking his songs elsewhere – but now he’s stoked about the million dollar recording deal.

So what happens next? Politics, that’s what. At this juncture, with our imaginary record contract in the balance, anything could happen. At one extreme, the whole adventure could end in a Commitments-worthy stalemate, possibly concluding with a drunken Irish fist fight. More likely though, some kind of compromise will be hammered out. An acknowledgement of the drummer’s songwriting contribution would be a fair and just outcome, so let’s choose that hypothetical road for the Beer Brothers and consider what could happen next.

At the first official band meeting, the drummer’s demos are played and it’s unenthusiastically agreed that songwriting royalties for the four initial songs should go to him. In the following weeks though – after receiving advance money from the record company – the four other Brothers invest in recording setups not unlike the drummer’s. By the time you and your buddies meet up to jam some new tunes for the record, each player is packing a collection of freshly-written songs. There are 46 in all and only a dozen or so are required. To a layman, the solution might seem simple – just narrow it down to the best songs – but in this hypothetical scenario (and very often in real life) each player believes, not surprisingly, that his tunes are the best ones.

So what happens next? Politics again, of course.

With the musical direction of the band now at stake – further complicating the songwriting issue – tensions begin to mount. Your band’s overnight success has attracted press interest and your bass player, by virtue of his boyish charm and good looks, has been singled out. During interviews, he talks at length about his songs and the musical thrust of his band. The keyboard player, still tweaking mixes for his eleven tunes, now openly mocks the drummer’s “over-commercial” pop songs. The rhythm guitar player has increased his pot intake and tinkers constantly with a vintage Echoplex he’s borrowed to enhance his trippy dub songs. You’re confused. The drummer’s pissed …

Left to their own devices at this point, the BB’s could break-up, reshuffle personnel (“creative differences”) or work out another politically expedient compromise. As you can see from this admittedly accelerated and time-compressed scenario, these compromises come less easily as the potential for money and fame increases.

So who’s songs get on the album? Since I prefer happy endings, and because I’m making this up, I’ll predict that the record company introduces you all to a world-class producer who listens through the 46 songs and ultimately chooses to record only those written by the drummer. In fact, he likes those tunes no better than the others, but he’s learned that the record company president chose the four original drummer-composed songs – and the president signs his $50,000.00 cheque. To cover his ass professionally and creatively, though, he also insists that the band cover four songs that were hits in the sixties.

If I were in a malevolent mood, I could continue the story detailing how, after the release of the first hugely successful album, the producer sues the drummer/songwriter for a share of his royalties based on his contention that he contributed to the songs in the studio. Well-known songwriters might be called in for their expert testimony.

This isn’t particularly exaggerated. These kind of politics are more likely than not to arise. Some bands manage to co-exist longer before these issues begin to complicate things – and a few lucky crews, by virtue of some fortuitous alignment of the stars, sail through their entire careers with no significant political crises at all.

In a collaborative creative endeavour all things are possible and, as with creativity in general, breaking and bending rules and conventions keeps music interesting and alive. Any combination of input and talent can complete a successful creative project, but when money is injected into the equation, things can get complicated.

I’ll start working on part 5 now ...

The Politics of Songwriting - Part Three

I fell in love with popular music around the time Elvis showed up. I was only 6 years old when “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Don’t Be Cruel” topped the charts but I could probably still sing you all the songs on that year’s hit parade.

~ Me - Writing lyrics on the first US Trooper tour in 1975

With notable exceptions, most of those songs were written by professional songwriters. Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, for instance, wrote many of the seminal rock and roll classics that I believed Elvis, The Drifters, Dion and Ben E. King wrote. (In fact, Elvis never wrote a song.) Later on, many of my faves were crafted by the prolific Motown and Brill Building songwriting teams, and not by the talented singers and groups whose 45’s I was buying.

More and more though, the line between songwriter and performer was blurring. Singers like Sam Cooke, Johnny Cash, Little Richard, Marvin Gaye, Hank Williams, Smokey Robinson and Roy Orbison, to name a few, also wrote the songs they sang. Some, like Orbison, sang both originals and covers.

Regardless of where the songs came from, the music (or “backing tracks”) for the majority of these records was performed by musicians who remained mostly anonymous. As an example, the music you hear behind Motown artists like The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes and the Four Tops was performed by a group of unheralded and uncredited players nicknamed “The Funk Brothers”. The excellent 2002 documentary, 'Standing in the Shadows of Motown’, points out that, despite their anonymity, this group “played on more number-one hits than The Beatles, Elvis Presley, The Rolling Stones, and The Beach Boys combined.”

In the sixties, though, the players began to emerge from the shadows. With the arrival of The Beatles – and record production that mixed guitar-and-drum-heavy tracks almost equally with the vocals – the pop music audience began to acknowledge and appreciate the importance of the band members’ musical contributions. The traditional format of singer (or vocal group) and back-up band was breaking down. ‘Group’ or ‘Band’ more often referred to both the singers and the musicians who made the records. John, Paul, George and Ringo – Mick, Keith, Charlie and Bill were all members of seemingly democratic, one-for-all-and-all-for-one musical posses, and were, in the eyes of their fans at least, equal contributors to the records they made.*

The conventions of songwriting and arranging changed as well. Songs increasingly came from within the band and their arrangements were often constructed by the band members as a group effort.†

In those bands where no clear division of roles was agreed upon, the difference between “songwriting” and “arranging,” and who should get credit for what, often became a contentious matter of opinion - as did the answer to the question “whose songs should end up on the album?” To this day, the fundamental issues of authorship and creative voice can be a divisive undercurrent that can weaken or destroy an otherwise healthy band or artist.

Although the Beatles popularized the idea of an autonomous band of equals - John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote the lion’s share of the songs that fuelled the band’s astonishing career. They divided all their songwriting credits 50/50, which in their case meant that if one of them showed up with 90% of a song, the other would still receive 50% for helping to finish it. In fact, based on an agreement made in their teens, they also split credit equally on songs they’d written independently.

George Harrison also wrote songs for the group but had difficulties in getting The Beatles to record his music. Only one of his songs appeared on the Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album (considered one of the most important albums in the history of popular music) and, tellingly, no other Beatle played on that track. Soon after the release of their next album (The White Album), Harrison quit the band. Although he later returned, the White Album sessions – during which the band’s songwriting became increasingly insular and individualized – marked the first serious tensions within the group, from which they never fully recovered.


~ Brian Smith & Ra McGuire in 1976

My partner and I also split our Trooper songwriting 50/50, although the songs I write independently are credited to me alone. Like George Harrison, I would have preferred to have had more of my songs on the albums, but I, also, had difficulties in getting them recorded. Frank Ludwig, who sang and played keyboards on four of Trooper’s nine studio albums was likewise keen to have more of his songwriting included, and his eventual departure from the band was directly related to his lack of success in that regard.

Like The Beatles’ White album sessions, Trooper’s month-and-a-half sojourn at Sundown Studios, recording the Flying Colors album, was also, arguably, the beginning of the end for the group that recorded the band’s biggest hits. The overarching tensions of those sessions, and the paths we all took as a result, were the result of songwriting politics the likes of which I had never previously encountered.

Part Four coming soon. ††

*Note that in the jazz world, musicians had already been acknowledged and appreciated for years – my references to anonymous backing tracks are specific to popular music.

† Please note the word “often” here. Professional songwriters continued to flourish during this period, as they do today.

†† This is all seeming a bit too scholarly and preachy to me overall, for which I apologize. If I didn’t think the historical detail might be illuminating for some of you, I wouldn’t be boring you with it … and I hope to soon get on with something more entertaining.

The Politics of Songwriting - Part Two

Any song you hear – live, online, on the radio or TV, on a computer playlist, CD, record or tape – is referred to in the music biz as either an “original” – a song written by the performer or performers you’re hearing – or a “cover” - a song written by someone else. Nazareth’s powerful 1975 version of “Love Hurts” was a cover, as was another of their hits; “This Flight Tonight”.


Joni Mitchell wrote “This Flight Tonight” and recorded it on her album “Blue” in 1971. The sparse recording features just Joni and her open-tuned guitar with a brief addition of extra voices and a slide guitar in the bridge. The focus, though, is on Joni’s urgent vocal delivery and introspective and regretful lyrics.


Joni Mitchell

Nazareth’s version of the song could not be more different. Manny Charlton’s driving electric guitar groove rocks hard and Dan McCafferty’s vocal adds a swaggering tension to the lyrics. This is one of the rare cover versions I like better than the original.

Nazareth’s reworking of “This Flight Tonight” is a radical but classic example of what's called an "arrangement" – the changing of the presentation of a song in a way that stamps it with a new musical personality. Transforming a Joni Mitchell song into a rock anthem is no mean feat, and the band's unique arrangement – the parts invented by the musicians (or an arranger or producer), the phrasing of the singer, the sequence of verses, choruses and bridge – was fundamental to the success of their recording. Nonetheless, the basic integrity of the song itself – the lyrics and the melody – remained the same.

In the case of all "cover" versions, the relationship between a song and it's arrangement is simple: there can be no arrangement, without there first being a song to arrange. As a result, the recipient of the songwriting credits, and royalties, is equally clear and uncomplicated.

The members of Nazareth receive none of the songwriting royalties generated by "This Flight Tonight" or their version of "Love Hurts" – but their recordings of those songs have brought them other, significant, rewards.

For one thing, additional royalties are also paid by the record company to the artists themselves when copies of their records are sold or downloaded. A cover that becomes a hit can propel record sales – and those royalties – dramatically. Hits also make touring more likely. Live shows create additional income and help develop an audience that will buy the artist’s recordings and so on ...

Covers have also been seen as a good way to attract and win over new fans. If someone already knows the song, the thinking goes, they’re half way to liking your recording of it. As an example, six of the fourteen songs on the Beatles' first album were cover versions.

The other eight songs, though, were written by two members of the band – John Lennon and Paul McCartney - and this idea of the self-contained rock band, writing their own songs and playing their own instruments, arguably marked a turning point in the history of popular music – and of songwriting.

As song creation began taking place within autonomous bands, the traditional view of what a songwriter was – and what constituted songwriting – began to become less clear. The question of who was entitled to the songwriting credits – and royalties –began to come up more often.

I’ll start on Part Three now ...

Joni Mitchell’s version of “This Fight Tonight”

Nazareth’s version of “This Flight Tonight”

The Politics of Songwriting - Part One

Felice and Boudleaux Bryant were a hugely successful American husband-and-wife songwriting team. I've invoked their names hundreds of times over the years when asked about songwriting and songwriting royalties.

Felice & Boudleaux Bryant

They wrote 6000 songs and sold over 200 million records. Their list of hits includes “Bye Bye Love,” “All I Have to Do Is Dream,” “Wake Up Little Susie,” “Love Hurts” and “Rocky Top.” The one I wave around while giving my songwriting speech is "Love Hurts”, a song I first heard in 1961.

I would never have imagined at the time - I was 11 - that those words and that melody came from anywhere other than Roy Orbison’s own tortured heart. He sang every word with conviction and sincerity and delivered every note of the melody as though it was occurring to him as he sang, there in front of the microphone in that mysterious non-place where I imagined hit records were created back then.

I suppose I believed, in an unquestioning and not very thorough way, that all the songs I heard on the radio were emotional communiques that originated with the singers performing them. It wasn’t till I started writing songs myself that I began to learn more, and think more seriously, about the song writer’s art.

By 1975, I’d co-written the eight songs on the first Trooper album. Two of those songs, “Baby Woncha Please Come Home” and “Good Ol’ General Hand Grenade” shared the Canadian charts that summer with another version of “Love Hurts” – this one recorded by a Scottish group called Nazareth.

Dan McCafferty sang the song with a ferocity not present in Orbison’s version. Roy’s “Love Hurts” was sad but resigned. Dan’s added anger (especially in the soaring middle eight) and a lick of righteous self pity. The “hurt” is overall more searing than Roy’s. I continue to love both, to this day.*

Most people are familiar with the Nazareth version and some will remember the earlier Orbison track, but fewer will have heard the very first recording of the song, by the Everly Brothers in 1960, or Jim Capaldi’s hit UK version, from 1975. For many, Jacob Lusk’s recent American Idol performance may be their only exposure to the song.†

Regardless, while all five of these strikingly different performances showcase the unique singers and musicians that created them, one important thread remains consistent throughout: the lyrics and melody wedded together by Felice and Boudleaux over fifty years ago.

The songwriting royalties generated by the record sales and airplay of all the versions of “Love Hurts” went to the Bryants and, now, to their heirs. This will be the case with the iTunes track released last week by Jacob Lusk and will continue to be the case if another talented artist or group chooses to record the song in the future.

I'll return to another Nazareth hit, "This Flight Tonight" in part two - once I write it.

Roy Orbison's cover of "Love Hurts"

Nazareth's cover of "Love Hurts"

Jacob Lusk's American Idol performance of "Love Hurts"

*I was honoured to have the opportunity to sing a verse of “Love Hurts” onstage with Dan McCafferty and Nazareth on my birthday in 2004.

† These are not the only covers of the song. To see a full list, containing over 40 versions (!), click here.

Trooper and the Cracker Company

In the last few weeks, friends, fans and a couple of people on the street have brought up the ‘Raise a Little Hell’ Cracker commercial. Some have congratulated me. Others have joked about lifetime supplies of saltines. Others, knowing that I don’t watch TV, simply wanted to be sure that I’d heard about it. As it turns out, I found out about it the way they did. I heard the familiar ‘A’ chord ring out from the living room as I worked at my computer here in the den. I jumped up, and Debbie and I watched, fascinated, as the slow motion crackers dropped into the waiting bowls of exploding tomato soup.

I’ve explained Trooper’s relationship with the Premium Plus cracker company to many people, and now would like to explain it to you. We don’t have a relationship with the Premium Plus cracker company. They don’t send crackers for our dressing room rider and we played no part in the choice of soup used in their commercial. The entire deal was done not only without our involvement, but also, without our knowledge.

Here’s how it works.

Universal Music owns the recording of ‘Raise a Little Hell’. Sony Music Publishing administers the use of the song. In both cases we are supposed to see royalties from the deal that’s struck, but we have no involvement in or control over it. No one even asked.

My share of the royalties won't be a lot of money considering the song I co-wrote will be repeatedly played on TV - in a cracker commercial - until next March, but not bad considering it just fell out of the sky onto me.

Thing is though, I’d prefer the song be covered by a kick-ass rock band and become a huge international hit. Hopefully said rock band will not see the cracker commercial.

The First and Last

On March 28th 2007, after a bizarre month-long exchange of email, LP jacket information and two CDs - one from Japan and one a bootleg - Suzan from Universal Music assured me that, once the “metadata entry process” was completed and the “Digital Scheduling process” had “moved ahead”, she would give me a “targeted release date” for the first and last Trooper albums released on MCA/Universal. Counting the two months that have passed since then, it’s been three since I asked Trooper’s first record company to complete the seven-album MCA portion of Trooper’s iTunes catalogue. I emailed Suzan about this, again, today. I received an “out of the office” automated reply.

Back in February, Universal Canada quickly determined that the two albums in question were “not in the system”. They wrote and asked me if I had “finished CDs” of the albums that I could send to them. And the front and back cover artwork. And, uh … could you copy some information off your vinyl versions of the records and send us that too.

Fortunately, The last MCA album (the one that had no name - or any other information - on the cover) was re-released, in Japan only, on CD, and I had ordered one in the nineties. I sent it to Universal. The first “LP” - the orange one featuring the hideous seventies plexiglas construction - was never ‘officially’ released on CD. So I sent them a bootleg made by a fan.

Universal wasn’t hoarding these albums in a vault somewhere, refusing (or simply neglecting) to make them available. No one at the company knew they existed. It is brutally ironic, and fundamentally sad, that it is against the law to copy and share this collection of songs that cannot currently be purchased anywhere, from anyone.

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?

Tentative and Tenacious

The longer I leave it, the more I have to write about, and the harder it is to begin again. I’ll start by trying to pick up where I left off.

‘Lee’ from Universal Music Canada came through with digital downloads. Half of our recorded output is now legally available online. There are still two unreleased albums that Universal owns but seems to be unable or unwilling to offer to the public. Once I muster the appropriate energy, I may bring this up.

‘Lee’ worked hard for us. He was friendly, positive and professional. He was a pleasure to work with and I told him so in an email at Christmas time. I wrote to him again this week, asking about download-related royalties and how they compare to our non-digital penny-rate. I also asked if he could look into our royalties for 2003 - which we have not received. Occasionally, I morph into a jaw-locked, mouth-foaming dog, tenaciously dragging behind a leg I’ve bitten into. It’s embarrassing sometimes.

Both my mothers have been to the hospital and have returned to us healthy. My Mother has moved from her house in Langley to a much smaller place here in White Rock. Her house sold last night. Our families have all weathered a series of emotional, worrisome, physically and mentally taxing, stressful, but ultimately positive sea changes lately. Those seas appear to be calming as the days begin to lengthen and grow warmer.

Today, Connor and I bought an Apex 460 tube condenser microphone and a ‘Groovetube’ vacuum tube so we could perform the mod that, according to a panel of audio engineers at a prominent Vancouver studio, will make the 460 the rough equivalent of a Neumann U87 - a revered, and much more expensive, mic. Connor’s downstairs now, using it. I can hear him singing.

Release Date

“Lee” from Universal responded within a day of my last correspondence with the company, describing a four week Trooper-on-iTunes timeline. This “should put us at Nov 21 for a release date”, he wrote. He went on to say that “everyone is on the alert to get this done”. This seems like a clear assertion that Trooper downloads will be available in about a month.

Back in the eighties, Chuck from Universal sent me “finished” recording contracts with release dates on the front page. Much of what those contracts contained was different from the terms we had agreed upon, so I reluctantly returned them, requesting the necessary changes. The compilation project passed through at least three promised release dates before disappearing forever from Universal’s agenda.

I manage to maintain a reasonably hopeful and positive approach to the world. I’m not fond, or proud, of the cynical doubt that Lee’s promise has engendered in me. Regardless, a month must pass before I can know for sure what will happen next.


An ironic and unintentionally funny email followed a few days later. It was from a Universal employee responsible for the iTunes upload. Although he was writing from the Universal building, from which seven Trooper albums have emanated, he was asking if I had hi-res copies of the CD cover art work - presumably because he didn’t know where else to find them.

Legal Downloads - So It Begins Again

Three and a half weeks ago, the President of Universal Music Canada passed me on to someone in the company who could answer my questions about why Trooper tracks weren’t available on iTunes and Puretracks. Let’s say his name was Brad.

Brad responded to me the same day promising that he would do a few preliminary things that would determine the next steps to get Trooper up and running in the digital world. Three and a half weeks passed. I emailed him today. The email bounced back. Since it was a ‘reply’ to his email, I knew the address was correct. I called Universal and found out that his mailbox was full. I asked the receptionist to alert him to this fact and gave her my email address so that he could let me know when he was once again operational. A few minutes later I got an email from the receptionist informing me that Brad’s “last day” was September 29th.

So for the last two weeks, I’ve been waiting for a response from nobody. Maybe worse, it turns out that Brad promised to get back to me knowing that he only had ten more days with the company. Maybe worse yet, The President of the company directed me, and my questions, to Brad knowing that he was already cleaning out his desk.

I did actually laugh.

This is good, really. I recall trying to explain to my partner the lunacy I was experiencing while dealing with this company ten years ago. Often I wondered if he believed me. Staying with this in real time will be good for me as well. By documenting it, I can be sure, later, that it really happened.

So I have written back to the President:

Hi _______,

I’ve just learned that _________ left Universal Music Canada ten days after his promising email to me. That would account for why I’ve heard nothing from him for over three weeks.

I’d like to see Trooper tracks available for legal download. Who do I talk to about this?



The President wrote right back saying that Brad had promised he’d do this. His email then asked another person in the company (who was cc’d) to contact Brad at his new job and find out “where this is at”. The email ends with the assertion that they’ll get this done for me.

Legal Downloads

Recently, I was asked by a Toronto magazine writer about the record industry’s assertion that they are opposing peer-to-peer downloading partly in order to “protect their artists”. This led to a short rant by yours truly that ended with the words;

“… our old record company doesn’t give a shit about Trooper.”

After I’d hung up the phone, I recalled the blunt, and possibly ill-advised, pronouncement - blurted out in a moment of impassioned interview-flow. It’s the kind of juicy quote that magazines like to use as headlines, and I wondered, in quiet post-interview introspection, if what I had said was accurate.

From the spring of 1996 to the summer of 1998, I logged countless hundreds of hours working with representatives of Universal Music Canada on a proposed two disk compilation of Trooper songs. The project, originally suggested by the then president of the company, was contractually complicated, professionally frustrating, endlessly mystifying and, ultimately, a complete waste of time. I have never received a satisfactory explanation as to why it didn’t go forward.

While working on that compilation, I communicated at length with record company executives, lawyers and accountants in both Canada and the US and, as an unintended consequence, I had brief glimpses of what may have been big-time record company evil. In 1998 I backed away from Universal; bone-tired and beaten, depressed and unwilling to ever again invest the time and energy required to penetrate their well-maintained corporate force-field.

Eight years later, and only weeks after the Toronto interview, I learned that Trooper songs were still not available for legal downloading on either iTunes or Puretracks. Days later I received a royalty cheque from Universal for $32.00. Debbie pointed out that Trooper had sold hundreds, if not thousands, of Universal CDs at shows. We discussed the fact that, despite months of pointed enquiries made at the time of the compilation talks, no one at Universal would tell me what our royalty “penny-rate” was. I still do not know how much we are supposed to be paid when a CD is sold. She became understandably angry - a state I was numbly unable to muster in response to the topic - and, in her best soul-mate form, helped me to break through my self-protective Universal disconnect. In a spasm of irony, i thought back to the interview quote …

… and wrote to Universal’s new president to ask him what was up with Trooper downloads.

He wrote back the same day. In his friendly and upbeat email he thanked me for pointing out the omission and passed me on to someone else in the company who, in another email, assured me that “a few preliminary things” needed to be done to “determine our next steps to get Trooper up and running in the digital world!”. He promised to get back to me when he got “those answers”. I received these emails on September 18th. Two and a half weeks ago.

I am determined to follow this down. I think I’m stronger now than last time.

I’ll keep you posted.