Frank Gutch Jr: That Stink You Smell…Or: The New Music Industry 101: A Primer.

Ten to one, you’ve not heard The Merry Minuet. It is a fun little ditty put together by one Sheldon Harnick and performed live by The Kingston Trio on their 1959 classic …from the Hungry i album and, man, is it prophetic! If not for the lyrics, it would be a happy-go-lucky romp through the tulips, skipping and all, but when you listen… Well, when you listen, it’s not. It’s funny. It’s extreme. It’s absurd. But mostly, it’s funny. Sung in basic Allan Sherman mode (Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh!), it layers tragedy (lyrics) over ditty (music) and tells us, between the lines, that there is a little bit of truth in all humor. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work the other way around.

Before I go further, let us define some terms. When I refer to “the new music industry”, I do not refer to indies (those who produce and promote their music for themselves), I am talking about the major labels and their henchmen. The corporate industry. The one we have known since before Springsteen and The Guess Who and even Elvis. I don’t know if anyone can yet define the independent side of the music equation to any specific certainty, anyway) because it has been in a constant state of morph since the walls started coming down around the major labels’ ears. But take note. As much as the major labels would like you to believe that they are not, the independents are major players, even if they play by different rules.

Rules. They are the things that hold the major labels together. Rules and regulations. If you want to know where many of the laws that govern the music industry came from, you have to look at the major labels. They have a lobbying group, the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America), for which they have bought a supposedly (in their minds) permanent place in Congress. Perhaps you have heard of them. They are the ones who filed suit against how many hundreds or thousands of people for illegal downloading of digital files. Kids. Single mothers. And people who probably deserve to be punished. Somehow, they convinced the powers that be that they were the ones to protect intellectual property rights, that they were the protectors of copyright laws— laws which, I might add, they helped write. Somehow, like Dog the Bounty Hunter, these clowns were unleashed with the backing of government upon unsuspecting “criminals” who had (horror of horrors!) downloaded music from the Internet. Stealing! That’s what they called it. Stealing! Your honor, the age is of no importance, nor is it important whether she knew what she was doing. The facts are that she did it, thirteen years old though she may be, and if we cannot sue her, we should be allowed to sue her mother. To prove this, we provide as evidence the thirteen-year-old’s laptop and the forensic evidence therein. WTF? Or to be more succinct, What the Fuck?! It happened. It’s in the records. Nothing like beating up the local kid. Now, before I get too far off track, let me say that whether downloading took place or not is not the point. The point is that the RIAA went not only after people regardless of age or circumstance, they went after them relentlessly. Well, not the rich Republican ones. And the damages they asked? Ridiculous.

And they’re still doing it. Maybe not with files anymore (though I wouldn’t bet on that), but with an actual law. The RIAA is challenging the revision of the copyright bill, which was passed by Congress in 1976. Specifically, that law states that if a recording was produced in 1978, the labels owned it until a 35 year lapse had passed, at which time the “creator” could file to have it returned to them. So if, say, Springsteen wants to regain the control over Darkness On the Edge of Town, he has two years to file a claim, which he has done. The magic 35-year mark is 2013. If the law is accepted as it was intended, at that time he will own those recordings.

But wait a minute! When it comes to law, things are never as they appear and guess what? The major labels and the RIAA are challenging that law. And we’ll get back to that. But first, here’s a little semi-humorous happening which should give you an idea how the corporate structure works. In 1999, it appears, “language that would have explicitly included sound recordings as works for hire was inserted into an omnibus bill and was approved virtually without debate. A few months later the congressional aide reported to be responsible for that action, Mitchell Glazier, then the copyright counsel to the Republican chairman of the Judiciary committee, moved to the recording industry association to become its chief lobbyist, and he continues to work for the group.” (N.Y. Times, August 28, 2011) Wait. So this clown who works for the Republican chairman of the Judiciary committee changes the law (or the wording of the law— it’s the same thing) and is rewarded with a cush job with the recording industry? Again. What the Fuck?! Well, evidently it happens all the time. Passing laws and changing them afterward is as common in Congress as changing a baby’s diapers. Ah, democracy. Eh? But hold on. Evidently “Congressional procedure allows for such changes, but only if they are merely technical matters,” according to one William F. Patry, a former law professor and expert on copyright, “and,” he stated, “’clearly this wasn’t technical.’” So you would think that Congress would right this, right? Evidently not without a battle. Legal bloodhounds spread the word and it took Don Henley and Sheryl Crow to take the fight to Congress, or at least give it credence. After a short skirmish, the wording was removed, to which Henley addressed this statement. “Work for hire was never intended to apply to sound recordings.”

Work for hire. It is the crux of the recording industry’s arguments. Basically, they are saying that when Springsteen recorded Darkness, he did it as an employee of CBS Records (now, Sony BMG). That he created it under their auspices and that they own the recording in perpetuity (I think that means forever, but it’s law and I am finding that I know very little about what the words say as opposed to what the words mean). Of course, the artists paid for those recordings out of earnings after the fact, something the RIAA is trying to negate, and never has Social Security or insurance taken out of their earnings. It looks like a last ditch effort to some, but the way the courts work it might be possible for the labels to keep it in the courts for years. Springsteen and Dylan and Mitchell and a whole plethora of artists might never see ownership revert to them in their lifetimes.

I get a headache every time I research anything like this. Must be methane. It seems so simple and yet they make it so hard. Some legal eagles think this could go all the way to the Supreme Court. See, there are details which need to be worked out before any of this can happen. Like, for instance, deciding who is a “creator” of a work. Artist? Sideman? Producer? Engineer? I swear to God, it is never ending.

Funny thing. I started this thinking it would answer some questions for us all. I think I’ve ended up confusing myself as much as you. Still want to be a lawyer or a politician? I didn’t think so.

By the way, Mitchell Glazier, the clown who changed that law? He’s still employed by the record industry. Still making big bucks. Still slipping it to anyone he has a chance to. Kinda makes you proud, don’t it?

Perry Jordan don’t live here no more…..

I had to wait to write this. I had to separate myself from it because Perry Jordan and his legendary band, Heartsfield, were bigger than life to me. I discovered them in the early seventies when their self-titled first album appeared in the racks at The House of Records in Eugene, Oregon. Gary Haller, the owner, said I’d like it. I bought it. He was right. See, I was a country-rockin’ freak back then. I was all for heading back to the land, legalizing marijuana and freeing political prisoners. Before Rodney King, I was saying “Can’t we all just get along?”. It took one song to make me a Heartsfield fan: Music Eyes. I have played that song hundreds and maybe thousands of times over the years. I have played their first four albums that many times as well. I am not one for writing eulogies, but Perry deserves one— for being a crazy, whacked out guy; for loving dogs to the point of distraction (he named one album Rescue the Dog for good reason); for loving his music and his fans maybe a little too much (but that was the kind of guy he was)…I hate it when good people die, but at least he left us the music. Thanks, Perry.

Notes: It’s official. Bright Giant‘s Kings & Queens of Air will be released on 11/11/11. More crunch, more bite, more more. Expect a lot of feedback, a lot of attitude and the same great BG sound. If you want to hear a few of the new songs and tracks from their first EP, click here….. The new CD on the block this week is, again, out of British Columbia (how the hell are they getting all these musicians to move there, for chrissakes?)—Our Ghosts Will Fill These Walls by Jesse Dee & Jacquie B. I’ve been listening for a few days solid now and still don’t quite know how to describe it. It’s kind of Americana (Canadiana?) on steroids with sidetrips that make my eyes twitch and my head spin. This is an album which has too much to absorb in ten listens, let alone one. Another freakin’ killer. Listen to this one, then buy it. Stream a couple of tracks from the new album and a few from the past here….. Turns out that Nick Holmes, legendary vocalist for that lost experiment in music White Elephant, didn’t stop after his excellent Soulful Crooner album. He has recorded more than a few albums’ worth, two of which (alongside Soulful Crooner) are available: The King of 26th Street (1998) and Low Ball (2010). I’ve heard them both and can say that while they are quite different than Crooner, they are of equal quality. The guy has a touch…Speaking of Perry not living here anymore, neither does Devon Sproule or Paul Curreri. They gave up the lap of Charlottesville luxury for the confines of German. Paul is currently touring supporting his brand spanking new The Big Shitty album and Devon is doing the same for her I Love You, Go Easy project. Two incredibly unique musicians who follow their own paths. What I’ve heard thus far is excellent…I’ve been previewing Charlottesville’s Keith Morris‘s new album love wounds & mars and it gets better with each listen. Production is topnotch and the songwriting outstanding. Morris pulled in some of C-ville’s best to work on the album including a clutch of the best background vocalists I’ve heard for awhile. Keep it in mind….

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Frank Gutch Jr. looks like Cary Grant, writes like Hemingway and smells like Pepe Le Pew. He has been thrown out of more hotels than Keith Moon, is only slightly less pompous than Garth Brooks and at one time got laid at least once a year (one year in a row). He has written for various publications, all of which have threatened to sue if mentioned in any of his columns, and takes pride in the fact that he has never been quoted. Read at your own peril.”

3 Responses to “Frank Gutch Jr: That Stink You Smell…Or: The New Music Industry 101: A Primer.”

  1. Great read, as usual, Frank. The term ‘in perpetuity’ is the length for which copyright can be sustained. Recently, there was a battle that has been won in Europe by Sirs Paul McCartney and Cliff Richards to have the 50 year copyrights extended on their own works (which includes that of The Beatles) from becoming ‘public domain’…in other words…perpetuity equaled 50 years. It’s unknown how this will play out in the US as the time line is a bit longer. Many of Elvis Presley’s albums are about to go public domain as well. We’ll see who fights harder for that…RCA Records or the Presley estate.

    By the way, Sony and BMG are currently divorced (happened earlier this year)

  2. […] dime— not after the initial expense.  Meanwhile, the labels hold them in virtual serfdom.  The Copyright Act of 1976 was instituted to correct that, returning copyrights to the artists after a fair amount of time […]

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