Many upcoming musicians dreamt of being in the music industry— with the famous lifestyle, heavy pockets, and the rest of the pizzazz. However, behind all these shiny things, there can be a negative side filled with cutthroats, frauds, and sometimes selfish music magnates lurking in the dark, hoping to take advantage of any talented musician’s naivety.
“The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men d*e like dogs. There’s also a negative side,” said Hunter S. Thompson.
Several 360 deals have been doled out to unsuspecting stars that ripped them of potential future earnings. Sadly, when the musician later discovers the truth, he or she is too steep a contract mess to escape. Marc DeMarco once dropped some veritas on such deals revealing its veiled drawbacks.
“Do not sign a 360 deal. I don’t care how much money they’re offering you, don’t [take it]. It’s an awful, awful idea. It’s a long time, a really long time. And they own your image. They take money from your merch on tour — nobody should touch that. I didn’t know that some bands don’t own their merch, which to me is like — straight up, you’re being robbed. You can make money selling merch at shows, so it’s good if you own it. Thumbs up, bonus for you. Do not give anybody that merch money, or your show money. They’re not on the stage, and they’re probably not even in the city [you’re playing]. Forget about it.”
Below is a list of musicians who warned fans about record labels that took advantage of them.
Courtney Love Vs. Universal Music
Right off the bat is Courteney Love‘s strained relationship with Universal music. One of these scenarios was Love’s refusal to record any more music for the label after her contract was unscrupulously obtained by Vivendi, Universal’s parent company in 1999.
Universal started legal proceedings against the singer, seeking compensation for five undelivered albums, and Love countersued by invoking California’s “seven-year rule,” which limits personal-services contracts to seven years.
This was not the only time Love had battled the music house, as she struck again on another occasion when she filed a lawsuit for control of Nirvana’s master recordings, her late husband’s rock band.
After a series of legal setbacks, Love agreed to a settlement that released her from her contract and earned her a lot of money for both cases. Love’s case helped inspire several musicians to speak up against the ills they faced at the hands of music labels.
A Day to Remember vs. Victory Records
Another notable musician vs label dispute was A Day To Remember (ADTR)’s clash with Victory Records, a record label that was already embroiled in several previous lawsuits. The rock band sued against a breach of contract, accusing the label of withholding their digital royalty and not fulfilling the terms of their contract.
After a five-year battle, ADTR bagged a total of $4.02 million in 2016, one of the biggest amounts won by a band against a label. The icing on the cake was when a judge granted the band permission to release an independent record titled Common Courtesy in 2013 while their case was still ongoing.
In ADTR’s statement after the court granted them clemency, they said; “In May of 2011, we joined the long list of bands that have filed suit against Victory Records. Although our case is still ongoing, we are very pleased with the judge’s decision to allow us to release our next record.”
With these many cases in the past, it’s safe to assume that the record label has been slammed with more lawsuits since 2011.
Prince vs. Warner Records
Perhaps, the granddaddy of all label-artist feuds would be Prince severing ties with Warner after almost 20 years of partnership.
The journey to their divorce was slow but sure as tension grew right from the label’s unneeded suggestions in his 1977 album “For you,” down to their refusal to allow him release as much music as he wanted to.
It all came to a head-butt when Warner/Chappell music offered Prince a huge contract in 1992 with several incentives, but this was insufficient for the singer, and he filed to terminate his contract in 1995.
Prince would later return to the label in 2014 for the release of his album “Plectrumelectrum,” but he insisted that he would keep his masters for himself.
This act of controlling his music inspired artists like Chance The Rapper and Radiohead to follow in his footsteps by releasing their songs without the aid of a record label. The up-side was that they were not given restrictions on how or when they would record or release their song, and in turn keep most of the profits for themselves.
Trent Reznor Vs Universal Music
Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails is another musician who had a dust-up with Universal music– joining a list of artists who tussled with the music label in the past.
Their conflict was borne from Universal’s decision to jack up the prices of NIN’s fifth studio album “Year Zero” in international markets. Although there was no legal battle, this act made Reznor take some unanticipated actions against the label.
In a video widely circulated online Reznor said; “Last time I was here, I was doing a lot of complaining about the ridiculous prices of CDs down here…now my record label all around the world hates me, because I yelled at them, I called them out for being greedy f***g as***les. I didn’t get a chance to check, has the price come down at all? I see a no, a no, a no… Has anyone seen the price come down? Okay, well, you know what that means — STEAL IT. Steal away. Steal and steal and steal some more and give it to all your friends and keep on stealing. Because one way or another these motherf***kers will get it through their head that they’re ripping people off and that that’s not right.”
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This clearly left a bad taste in the label’s mouth, as they released him from the shackles of this contract in 2007. He has since gone solo soaring on the wings of his new-found free will.