Don't Eat Sand...
There are many hazards that can lie in wait for the artist that actually gets a record deal after
the roller coaster ride of paying dues. Exploitation and self abuse go hand in hand with contracts.
Every opportunity presented is also a chance to eat sand at the end of a long ride, which you thought
was the brass ring at the time.
The labels hold all the cards. When a label pays for the recording session, they owned the product.
If a band-owned tape is signed over to a label, a label or their agent/producer can use the tape forever
and almost for free, unless otherwise stated in the agreement, or they own the tapes outright.
Case In Point: The Surfaris
I relate here what I understand of the Surfaris
' story, which I learned from numerous conversations
with Surfaris Jim Pash
(sax/guitar) and Ron Wilson
(drums) many years ago, augmented
by considerable reading of various published accounts. It's worth noting that Jim and Ron didn't quite
tell the same story, in part due to being treated differently by their labels. Ron was viewed as the
persona of the Surfaris because he was the voice of "Surfer Joe
," and because
he was the legendary drummer of "Wipe Out
." I've tried to boil it down to
the probable truth. The facts may never be fully known. So, take it all with a grain of salt. The
story is here as an illustration of the larger point.
recorded their first single in classic DIY fashion for a small sum in December
of 1962 at Pal Studios
with Paul Buff
. The band on that day was Jim Fuller
lead guitar, Bob Berryhill
- rhythm guitar, Pat Connolly
- bass, and Ron Wilson
drums. Jim Pash
was not available for the session due to family commmitments. They only intended
to record "Surfer Joe
," which soaked up most of the session time. They warmed
up with two covers, "High Tide
" (the Lively Ones
) and "Hot
" (the Lively Ones
). "Wipe Out
" was recorded as
an afterthought. It's hard to believe, but they hadn't realized the need for a b-side.
The deal they struck with Buff included pressing a hundred copies of a resultant single. The label
was to be DFS Records
, named for Dale Francis Smallen
, their "manager" at
the time, and the guy who supplied the laugh and call at the beginning of "Wipe Out
Enter Richard Delvy
Richard Delvecchio (Delvy) had left the Belairs
early on to found his own band the Challengers
fellow Belair Jim Roberts
. Delvy was a savvy young aspiring music mogul. He knew where the
money in the business was. He picked up the rights to their single, and pressed a bunch of copies
on his own Princess
label. He gained enough radio action on KMEN
San Bernardino, KMAK
Stockton, to interest Dot
in picking up the single for national distribution.
Dot edited both tracks down for time-limited AM airplay, even then misrepresenting the time on the
label to an even shorter length. They removed two full verses of "Surfer Joe
did an early fade out on "Wipe Out
." Delvy made a bunch of money. "Surfer
" c/w "Wipe Out
" was a huge hit.
agreed to release an album to go with the hit. Delvy took the Surfaris
into a studio,
where they recorded a number of cover tunes from a list he gave them. When the album came out on Dot
were shocked to find out it wasn't them playing on the record. Ron Wilson
Delvy tried to convince them that it was them, but that he had to do a bit of overdubbing because
the tracks were rough. It turned out to actually be tracks recorded by Delvy's band The Challengers
with the exception of "Surfer Joe
" and "Wipe Out
can imagine the firestorm. labels and producers could do things like that then - still can.
A lot of wrangling through lawyers got the Surfaris
out of their contract with Delvy, though
he retained the rights to the existing tracks. Through several successive issues of the Dot
their settlements were accommodated by adding the line "...and other instrumental hits by
" to the cover, and eventually deleting the photo of the Surfaris
the back. It was forty years before some of the original Surfaris tracks from that session were issued,
and it took the death of two of the principles to make it safe enough.
negotiated a deal with Decca
. Again, with naive notions, they failed to
get the best deal for the whole band. Decca
only wanted Ron Wilson
. He was the Surfaris
their eyes. After all, it was his voice and his drums that had made the hit. Decca
usual A&R control over the sessions, and used studio musicians instead of band members on most
of the vocal tracks. Only Ron Wilson
's voice and drums were present much of the time. This
further stained already difficult internal band relations.
The instrumentals Decca recorded were often the whole band, but were sometimes not very well produced.
Ron said that producer Bud Dant
thought of the instrumentals as filler - throw aways - which
he did not spend much time on. Some sound like the tape just rolled. Mixes were sometimes demo-like,
and instruments distorted in some cases.
So, even after being burned the first time out, the Surfaris
still got hoodwinked on the second
go despite family lawyer oversight. This in itself is another lesson - use a repurable entertainment
lawyer when considering a contract, not your family layer.
Their songs have been reproduced ad infinitum with little artist control for 40 years. The masters
belonged lock, stock, and barrel to Delvy
and to Decca
Among the side affects was the deep rift between Ron Wilson
and the rest of the band, particularly Jim
, and the complete anonymity of Pat Connolly
. Another side affect was several working
versions of the Surfaris
in the eighties and onward, with Jim Pash
and Jim Fuller
by Paul Johnson
) and Don Murray
), and Ron Wilson's
with late sixties Surfari guitarist Dale Beckner
and bassist Andy Lagomarsino
and a Bob Berryhill
version that is essentially a family affair. There were bitter disputes
over ownership and use of the name, and some booking conflicts.
The Record Bizz: Do Unto Others Before They Do Unto You!
The way the business used to run, and still does in many segments, is with total record company control.
It is, after all, their money the line.
Tales abound among big names and nobodys. The Rolling Stones
gave Decca & London
album of unreleaseable obscene songs to complete their contract, and Van Morrison
album of made-up nonsense songs, some about the label, to complete his obligation to he could move
on to WEA
. Morrison's title for the album was very fitting, "Music Is Spiritual
(The Music Business Is Not)
Examples: A&R and Staff Producers
The label assigned a staff A&R person to tell the artist what songs to record. Hence, a million
versions of "Moon River
." You see, there are all these other contracts about
publsihng and royalties that are part of the label's revenue stream. The label or producer decides
who actually plays on sessions, hence only Dick Dale
and occasionally Art Munson
his band are on the Capitol
A staff producer is assigned to a project. He may have no idea at all what the band sounds like, wants
to sound like, or even what Rock 'n Roll is. Mitch Miller
produced the early Paul Revere & The
Mitch bloody Miller!
At least it wasn't Lawrence Welk
Engineers In Lab Coats
Engineers often ran sixties sessions technically, insisting musicians play quietly and pristinely,
telling them they would make it come out loud later. As the Syndicate of Sound were told
at Golden State Recorders, you play softly in there, and I make it come out loud here. Not
true, of course, since the distortion and other characteristics of pushed limits is just not there.
Musicians are better off today, in part because of a revolution started by the Grateful Dead
They were upset at the butcher job RCA Hollywood staff producer Dave Hassinger
did on their
first album. Hassinger had likewise damaged The Rolling Stones
and Electric Prunes
there, and countless others with HIS
formula sound. The Dead refused to go back
into the studio unless they could control the situation. While they were on strike, Warner
issued an interim album Anthem of the Sun
, culled from live tapes
recorded in Seattle, Portland, and LA, badly edited, and poorly mixed by Hassinger. So the story goes,
Warner Brothers sent an ace contract lawyer to their Haight-Ashbury house to convince the boys to
come back into the fold. He found them sitting on the stoop of their band house, and began his pitch.
They generally ignored and verbally abused him. Exasperated, he exclaims "How do you ever expect
to become rich and famous if you don't make another album?" to which Pig Pen
in true Dead fashion "Buffalo Bill didn't make no album and he was rich and famous!" The
Warner Brothers representative left in frustration. Soon the label gave in, and they got artistic
Now What: Don't Take That Advance, You'll Live To Repay It!
The biggest risk continues to be the advance game. Bands tend to think of an advance as a signing
bonus, and believe in themselves so much that they have no doubt of their eventual multi-platinum
future. The trouble is, advances are essentially loans to the artist, with the royalties held as collateral.
When sales volumes don't materialize, the band must pay the money back. Even when it does, it is usually
years before the royalties overcome the advance amounts, and unless the band has been very careful,
they often never see any further money at all.
Label expenses can include everything from that limo ride they "gave" you to fees paid to
merchandisers, tour bus companies, producer percentages, cash-per-record-placed independent radio
promotions lizards, CD-of-the-month clubs, video producers if you get that far, music publishing if
you let them do it for you, and tour support. Some big hit makers have ended their careers owing the
labels big bucks.
It's also not just dollars for sales volume. It's dollars for sales volume after returns, promotional
copies and costs, expenses ad infinitum, and so on. If a band is foolish enough to let the label pay
for the recording sessions, they can find themselves in the hole for a hundred grand in no time at
all while the label owns the tapes.
Even if you DIY it, you have to get distribution, and collecting from that segment of the business
is easily as hard as anything you'll ever do. Some of them run on today's money paying off yesterday's
debt, and can't pay if they don't collect from the chain stores who pay really slowly, or the mom-and-pops
who often don't pay at all. And then there's the international market, where it can take years to
get just part of your funds out of the deal, if ever any at all.
DIY Your Way To The Top!
DIY your first disc, distribute by on the web, through online companies like CD Baby and Amazon,
by mail, and especially at shows. If you create a buzz, someone will sign you. If you don't, you have
nothing to worry about. Play for fun, and you might make it. Be careful if you do.
Oh, and good luck. Send me your releases, it's all part of your costs, and it's tax deductible as
a business expense. See, you're learning already.