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Tragic major label dealings....

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Tragic major label dealings....

Postby kevinhidden on Mon Feb 05, 2007 2:41 pm

This was written by my friend Jonah. It details his experiences when he sang for Only Living Witness and Miltown. He went on to sing in the phenomenal Milligram and Raw Radar War:


Okay, I'm going to make a long story as short as possible, and if I seem blunt, sorry about that. It's still pretty damn long.

Originally, I was in a band called Only Living Witness. We were stupid and signed a really bad "indie" contract that took our publishing
and European merch rights away. The label was Century Media. In return, we got some equipment, a couple of European tours, and two albums (of
a six album deal) before the band broke up. After that was over, they said we owed them 40,000 dollars. That's after selling what they
originally told us was 60,000 copies, worldwide, and a total of recording budgets that equalled $45,000. This is also after they told Derek
Schulman (Collision Records, a major-subsidiary) that they refused to let our contract be bought for less than 200,000 (yes, two hundred
thousand) dollars. Obviously he laughed at them, and walked away. We got stuck on a label we hated, even though a bunch of amazing people
worked there (and many of them still do)...we needed real tour support, real "creative control", real videos (they refused to pay for a 300
dollar video, then used it on a video compilation they relased, plus on German vdeo channels)...all things we'd originally agreed upon. It
was ultimately quite disappointing, but we learned a lot and got to record and travel, while keeping day jobs.

So, that band broke up, and I was playing with Darryl and Bob (Milligram) with no steady drummer, as well as some other guys in Miltown.
Miltown couldn't agree on a drummer...then we found one. That's a long story in and of itself, but I'll leave that out of the public domain,
thanks very much.

I had been contacted by a guy at Giant/Warner Brothers. He knew I was still signed...knew that CM would ask for a lot of money. He asked
me to "let" him sign my next band...he'd "take care of me"...promised the world. We were also approached by Lava/Atlantic, a meeting that was
arranged by a couple of guys in the band who'd obviously forgotten about my CM contract. At the meeting I raised the question of how we could
be signed if my contract still existed with CM. Lava lost interest. So, back to Giant we went. The guy was still being very cool. He said,
Jonah, call CM and try to get them to tell you how much they want for you. Don't tell them about the major label interest.

I called the guy who'd been the CM business man throughout our relationship. He was known to relish being a bastard. He originally
suggested that he could get a bunch of cash, AND keep my publishing. I said no way. He then agreed to 10,000 dollars plus a few songs in
publishing. No problem. I was free to record when he got the 10 grand.

Giant was cool with that, and I got it all on paper from CM, and started to talk with Giant for the actual record deal. They flew us out
there to LA, got us a nice hotel, arranged for a secret "showcase" (god that sucked...we had to play through combo amps to an audience of 2, in
the practice complex where Rage Against the Machine practiced...it was a humiliating experience...and entirely anti-climactic) Century Media
still didn't know about Giant.

So, we ask them what we can expect on Giant. The guy who'd been so cool to us tells us to ask for whatever it takes to not get other
labels involved...in other words...they didn't want a "bidding war". He literally said "whatever you want". We said great...then we want
whatever our lawyer recommends...he wrote up a proposal for a generous multi-million dollar contract (spread out over 5 releases) with total
artistic control, the producer of our choice, new gear, tour support for before and after the album, a royalty rate for digital distribution
(this was in 1996, btw) and basically all a band could need to survive, in a worst case scenario. It was quite generous in our favor, but not
unrealistic according to our lawyer, who worked for a major legal firm in LA. We agreed (internally) to focus on saving money in our recording
budgets by recording at our guitarist's studio, and then to not owe the label very much money. We agreed to record, and release an EP, then
tour for it, before the album, to get tight and meet some fans; then record a full length, and spend the next few years touring. It seemed
like a perfect plan.

WB came back at us with their canned, standard contract. I will let you find out what that is...but our lawyer said "f u c k you" to
them...and we started to negotiate. It got up to almost a half million dollars for the first album, and then 450 thousand, plus overages from
prior recording budgets for the next, then then incremental increases based on sales...We were to get 1000 dollars each per month to live
on...and they said that they had the last word on art, producer, promotion, etc...pretty standard stuff. The contract was 80+ pages, the same
length as my Century Media contract. All told, we were "guaranteed" well over a couple of million dollars in budgets over 6 albums, if they
opted to keep us. If not, they had to let us go after two, for almost a million dollars in "recording" money. As for digital distribution,
they said "no one will ever download songs over the internet, so don't waste our time with that." They even told us (in 1996) that CDs were a
"new technology" and therefore they'd only give us HALF the royalty rate for that media. We had them change that before we signed, of course.
They have that in every standard contract, though.

We got it all wrapped up, eventually, they wrote the check to CM, and I got my publishing back and we headed into the practice space.

Then we started "meeting producer(s)". My choices for producers were disregarded, for some reason, and we met with a guy named Toby
Wright. He refused to tell us what he'd done except for the bass drum sound on "And Justice for All"...No way did I want that guy anywhere
near my music. I was out-voted.

We started pre-production. He had been told that I was difficult to work with, so he started fights with me in pre-production to establish
his control over the situation. When I was eventually the only one who spoke to him, he thought it was because I wanted control. It was, in
fact because no one else talked when he was around, except the drummer. Needless to say, he forced the drummer to play with a click track, and
to start taking lessons. He told us were were embarassingly bad musicians, and yelled a lot. I think this was supposed to motivate us.

We hated him, and realized that he knew nothing about rock and roll, never mind punk rock. He told us (now that we were bound by contract
to him) that he had worked on Motley Crue and Dokken albums. My heart sank. Then he started trying to implement the song changes which were
"suggested" by the record label. Again, I was accused of being the person who was being obstinate...because no one else would say TO him "hey
man, these are our songs...if you didn't like them, why are you doing this?...it's 2 minutes and three minutes punk and rock and roll...leave
it alone." The other band members pretty much complained in private, and waited for me to argue with him. Then, once, the guitarist with the
studio spoke up to defend our songs, and the producer barged out of the practice space, saying that we were impossible to work with. He
stopped pre-production a couple of days later, saying to the label that we "were ready to record."

We went into the studio at Long View Farms. If you ever get the chance, go there! It's pastoral, peaceful, the staff is incredible, and
it couldn't be more perfect to record an album there. The Bad Brains recorded "I Against I" there...so I was particularly happy to be there.

Unfortunately, less than a week into it, the studio-owning guitar player started to hate the producer as well. He completely stopped
communicating with the guy, and told our label that he couldn't work with him. They said "stick to it, he'll loosen up, have fun...enjoy
LongView". Slowly, the rest of the band stopped communicating with him, and would basically only record, then disappear to the pool table, the
playstation, the hot tub, the sauna, or whatever other distractions existed. Oh yeah, did I mention that this place was 1600 dollars per day,
with two meals a day, plus snacks and leftovers? And that the producer's fee was 60,000 dollars?
So, every song's recording was scrapped at least twice. Then we started "over" with each song, and he huffed and complained about how bad were were as musicians...he talked to the label and to me about getting a new drummer, and confessed that he had been told to "watch out for me". This, now as I was the only one communicating with him, trying to help him to understand our sound and simplicity...that "we just wanted to record in our basement, and release it on a friend's label"...that "we weren't READY to be in the middle of a major label studio album".(The label had convinced the rest of the band to cancel our pre-recording tour plans, and the EP, so that we could focus on recording our
"major label debut"...starry eyed newbies said "yeah!") He replied that I should find a new band..."you're too good for this band"...blah
blah...just blowing smoke, bulls h i t t i n g. He made me record the vocals to every song (18 of them) five times EACH. Then he insisted
that we use ProTools to compile a "performance" from each grouping. This for songs that I had recorded in one or two takes every time before
at our guitarist's studio. It was excruciating. No one in the rest of the band was talking to me, nor me to them.
Except for a few times...like this one time when we all sat around playing on the instruments scattered around...it was like a healing
moment...we started talking and joking again, and almost wrote a new song, spontaneously. The label guy had come to the recording session, and had been talking to the producer while we were hanging out. He interrupted our new song.
He had come out of the meeting to tell us that we had been wasting our time, and the producer's time, and his time and money (we had spent well over 150,000 dollars). He asked us what we wanted to do. I said "leave LongView and record the album for free". The rest of the band said (for whatever reason) "stay and finish". Again, I was out-voted. I freaked out, and screamed about what we could be doing for FREE, instead of at this place wasting time and money. I said a bunch more shitty things, and left. I couldn't believe that what I perceived as a
no-brainer could have been convoluted into a descent back into our own "No Exit".
So, I quit the band before we finished recording. The producer (or his manager) called the label (we found out later that he had gotten the "strong recommendation" because of a close friend at the label) to threaten that if he lost his 60,000 dollars because he couldn't deliver the album, his management company wouldn't work with our label again. The label called me to explain that if I went back in and it didn't work out, we could record at our guitar player's studio. I said I wanted it in writing, and then they said "no."
They guy who'd been our A&R guy called me about a week later to say that he wanted me to go back in as a favor. He'd "named his son after me, and he really wanted all of this to work out..." I was a sucker for his guilt trip.
I went back in and finished my tracks. For the only period of time in my life, I took valium.
As soon as we were done with the vocals, the producer proceeded to do rough mixes, alone, played them for us, and then announced that hehad to leave. The project was done. He "had to go work on the next Korn record." No joke. We were told by the label that we were not to be trusted in the studio, and would not be allowed to finish without him, even through we had the studio booked, with an engineer. The recording had been done on a 32-track board, so there were only a few places where we could have mixed it, even if we had stolen the reels and finished it on the sly.
So, the label said that they hated the (unmixed) record, and told us to record it again, with another producer. We were a couple of
hundred throusand dollars in the hole to them. For some reason, we were back together. Probably because we didn't want it to end so soon.
We got a business manager (finally) to help us sort out all of the problems, and ready us for tax season. I had been witholding taxes for most of us in the band account. It meant that our monthly income was a whopping 600 dollars per month, per person. We were told by the label that if we got jobs, they'd freeze our contract, and suspend all future budgets. They told us that if we tried to deliver an album from our
guitarist's studio, they would automaticlaly reject it and hold us in breach for not allowing them "final say on the producer".
We went to talk to a few producers who were much cooler this time...but problems in the band had become unmanageable. Our creative
differences, financial problems, and power struggles had been fast-forwarded past the point for any potential for healing.
One day at practice, after arguing about money, cover songs, new songs, old songs, and writing in general, a few of us got into a fist
fight, and I loaded my PA into the van and drove home.
A few weeks later, the only other band member with access to our bank account emptied it out, leaving me to pay taxes for the band without any money. They said they were sticking together as a band without me. They believed that a friend from another band would sing for them. He didn't want to.
I slunk back to my day job, after being a "full time rock musician" for three months.
They broke up soon after.
Our A&R guy signed DISTURBED, and they sold like crazy, multiplatinum.
The label was eventually dissolved by Warner Brothers, and Disturbed, and Kenny-Wayne Shepard, and Steely Dan got moved up to WB, while the rest the bands, including us, were dropped.
Thank goodness. Now I play music, have a killer job, I'm happy, and have no contractual obligations. I've never felt so good about being a musician. It doesn't hurt to have friends (without contracts, or at least contracts less than 5 pages long) putting out your records,
either...in fact, I highly recommend it.

-jonah miltown@macconnect.com
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Postby zom-zom on Mon Feb 05, 2007 2:45 pm

I stopped reading after the "humiliation" of having to play through "combo amps".
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Postby Mark Hansen on Mon Feb 05, 2007 2:47 pm

This is why.....you actually read and have a lawyer look over a contract BEFORE signing it.

Also, don't believe what pathological liars say.

I say this as someone who doesn't play an instrument, and has never been in a band. It's just obvious. There are a million stories like this out there. It's kind of why the while DIY thing started in the first place.
Last edited by Mark Hansen on Mon Feb 05, 2007 2:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby kevinhidden on Mon Feb 05, 2007 2:50 pm

Mark Hansen wrote:This is why.....you actually read and have a lawyer look over a contract BEFORE signing it.

Also, don't believe what pathological liars say.


They did. It got them out of some of the legal jams, but in the long term it proved to be irrelevant.
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Postby Mark Hansen on Mon Feb 05, 2007 3:08 pm

They read it, AND HAD AN ENTERTAINMENT LAWYER LOOK OVER THE CONTRACT? This lawyer said it was a good deal? KILL THE LAWYER. Preferably by being roasted over a fire of worthless contracts.
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Postby sleepkid on Mon Feb 05, 2007 3:09 pm

I'm sure everyone has already read this, but on the off chance that someone hasn't, the whole experience is kerbled.
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Postby Pure L on Mon Feb 05, 2007 3:12 pm

My favorite parts were:

Jonah wrote:Oh yeah, did I mention that this place was 1600 dollars per day,
with two meals a day, plus snacks and leftovers?"


Plus leftovers?


Jonah wrote:He refused to tell us what he'd done except for the bass drum sound on "And Justice for All"...No way did I want that guy anywhere
near my music. I was out-voted.


That hurts. About as bad as it gets.


Jonah wrote:They guy who'd been our A&R guy called me about a week later to say that he wanted me to go back in as a favor. He'd "named his son after me, and he really wanted all of this to work out..." I was a sucker for his guilt trip.


Wow.

But who's got the kid named, "Dumbass" now, eh?



;-) (I kid. I do.)


Jonah wrote:For the only period of time in my life, I took valium.


No one blames you for that.


Jonah wrote:We were a couple of
hundred throusand dollars in the hole to them. For some reason, we were back together. Probably because we didn't want it to end so soon.


The band that prays together.......


Jonah wrote: We got a business manager (finally) to help us sort out all of the problems, and ready us for tax season. I had been witholding taxes for most of us in the band account. It meant that our monthly income was a whopping 600 dollars per month, per person.



What about them leftovers?


Jonah wrote: One day at practice, after arguing about money, cover songs, new songs, old songs, and writing in general, a few of us got into a fist
fight, and I loaded my PA into the van and drove home.



Jonah wrote:Thank goodness. Now I play music, have a killer job, I'm happy, and have no contractual obligations. I've never felt so good about being a musician. It doesn't hurt to have friends (without contracts, or at least contracts less than 5 pages long) putting out your records,
either...in fact, I highly recommend it.


At least it ended well.
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Postby Pure L on Mon Feb 05, 2007 3:13 pm

Mark Hansen wrote:This is why.....you actually read and have a lawyer look over a contract BEFORE urinating on it.


Exactly.
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Postby motorbike guy on Mon Feb 05, 2007 3:13 pm

Mark Hansen wrote:This is why.....you actually read and have a lawyer look over a contract BEFORE signing it.

Also, don't believe what pathological liars say.

I say this as someone who doesn't play an instrument, and has never been in a band. It's just obvious. There are a million stories like this out there. It's kind of why the while DIY thing started in the first place.


well if you've never been in a band, you don't know what it is like to go completely out of your mind when a major label says that you are great and they want to put out your record. you go completely unhinged and become an irrationally trusting over optimistic not-just-wannabe-but-dammit-im-gonnabe a rockstar.

you have no idea how tempting it is, after years of clubs and broken down vans and busted guitars and shithole practice spaces, to be offered the chance to leapfrog all that and *arrive*.

by contrast, the sane, sober, albini approved indy method of slowly building a national fan base and releasing medium budget records that sell 30,000 copies seems like much of the same, only harder. Because it is.

I can't blame the bands for being excited and tempted. I blame the stupid lawyers they hire for not explaining how bad it can be. I blame the lables for taking advantage of the band's naivite, and I blame the "producers" for being righteous pricks.

I have seen it several times. When you sign with a Major, it is not the end of your troubles, it is the beginning of your troubles.
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Postby kevinhidden on Mon Feb 05, 2007 3:17 pm

I can't overemphasize enough that Jonah is a very intelligent and ethical guy himself. He was just a naiive kid who got suckered--- the typical story.

He ended up spending 10 years under contract to three major labels. During this time only two albums actually saw the light of day.
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Postby Mark Hansen on Mon Feb 05, 2007 3:20 pm

Pure L wrote:
Mark Hansen wrote:This is why.....you actually read and have a lawyer look over a contract BEFORE urinating on it.


Exactly.


Thank you for correcting my statement.
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Postby Pure L on Mon Feb 05, 2007 3:34 pm

kevinhidden wrote:I can't overemphasize enough that Jonah is a very intelligent and ethical guy himself. He was just a naiive kid who got suckered--- the typical story.

He ended up spending 10 years under contract to three major labels. During this time only two albums actually saw the light of day.


I only speak from nearly-similar circumstances. Things never got as far, thankfully.

(For the record, I don't think Jonah is a "dumbass". Yust a yoke!)

I think one real, tangible benefit from this board is the fact that these stories can actually help people who might be in similar circumstances. The music-business seems to run on blood-sucking.

And unfortunately, it's rare that desparation leads to anything better than more despair.
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Postby El Protoolio on Mon Feb 05, 2007 3:36 pm

I knew Jonah when I lived in Boston and remember Miltown. Sorry to hear of his troubles. Tell him Graham from The Gersch says hello.
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Postby kevinhidden on Mon Feb 05, 2007 3:37 pm

Pure L wrote:
kevinhidden wrote:I can't overemphasize enough that Jonah is a very intelligent and ethical guy himself. He was just a naiive kid who got suckered--- the typical story.

He ended up spending 10 years under contract to three major labels. During this time only two albums actually saw the light of day.


I only speak from nearly-similar circumstances. Things never got as far, thankfully.

I think one real, tangible benefit from this board is the fact that these stories can actually help people who might be in similar circumstances. The music-business seems to run on blood-sucking.

And unfortunately, it's rare that desparation leads to anything better than more despair.


This is why I'm passing it along. I often keep a printed copy of this along with a copy of Steve's article and hand them to people who keep asking me when my band will get "signed" and "make it". Your average Joe is completely in the dark about this stuff.
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Postby DrAwkward on Mon Feb 05, 2007 3:56 pm

BadComrade wrote:The best part of all this is that I've never heard of this guy's bands, and as "I'm sure you all know", I've been working in record stores since 1989...

60,000 copies eh?


Haha. I heard "Miltown" and my brain automatically went here:

Image

Image

Major labels can't rape the willing, and you can't tell me these guys don't look willing.
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Postby kevinhidden on Mon Feb 05, 2007 3:58 pm

Here's a couple of links. The first band, Raw Radar War is his current thing. The second is the band he had after Miltown.
www.myspace.com/septicyouthcommand
www.myspace.com/milligram
Last edited by kevinhidden on Mon Feb 05, 2007 4:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby tommydski on Mon Feb 05, 2007 3:59 pm

the$inmusicisallmine wrote:indy method


Like...hating snakes?
run joe run wrote:Kerble your enthusiasm
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Postby DrAwkward on Mon Feb 05, 2007 4:09 pm

kevinhidden wrote:Here's a couple of links. The first band, Raw Radar War is his current thing.


This palindrome band name thing is getting way out of hand.
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Postby kevinhidden on Mon Feb 05, 2007 4:52 pm

El Protoolio wrote:I knew Jonah when I lived in Boston and remember Miltown. Sorry to hear of his troubles. Tell him Graham from The Gersch says hello.


Sure thing. It's all water under the bridge now, he's doing fine.
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Postby steve on Mon Feb 05, 2007 6:47 pm

Here's where I mention that contracts are of no value to a rock band.

Contracts can only be enforced by the party with enough money to go to war. Such a contract is a liability to the weaker party and a weapon for the stronger party. A contract offers no protection without enforcement, and a band has no means to effect enforcement.

Contracts are of no value to a rock band, and in fact they are a liability.
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