Contracts in Music, and What's Wrong with Them
I'm a Black Sabbath fan, and always will be. They were the band that introduced to me a sense of eagerness in listening to music. They're also amongst the pioneers of "amplified blues rock", or heavy metal in other words, and that's easily something to be respected. With news of the band's decades-long awaited reunion still in the works, I'm amongst the people to hear about new, negative developments in this endeavor. Bill Ward, one of two of the original members of the band before they even called themselves Black Sabbath - along with Tony Iommi, has left the effort for reasons of his own.
Yet what is his reason? As I have done some digging, I found a menacing detail: a contract is involved in the entire ordeal. And, going on Ward's word, it is an unreasonable one. That just seems so typical of contracts, doesn't it? Yet I'm baffled as to why contracts should even be present in music at all. This story, amongst many I am sure, rouses my frustration with this harsh reality the most. Most of all because this is one of my favorite bands, and the reunion effort was meant to reunite the original members of Black Sabbath in the first place.
Bill Ward has had problems with the management of the band before, which involves the infamously manipulative Sharon Osbourne—Wife of Ozzy Osbourne. However, the 2004 mishap was rectified and Bill Ward did play with the rest of the band members in good faith. Yet on February 2, 2012, Bill Ward wrote an open letter to his fans and to the band as well. You can the article at Rolling Stone magazine, from which the following piece was derived, but I'll supply you all with a snippet to take right here:
"Dear Sabbath Fans, Fellow Musicians and Interested Parties,
At this time, I would love nothing more than to be able to proceed with the Black Sabbath album and tour. However, I am unable to continue unless a "signable" contract is drawn up; a contract that reflects some dignity and respect toward me as an original member of the band. Last year, I worked diligently in good faith with Tony, Ozzy and Geezer. And on 11/11/11, again in good faith, I participated in the L.A. press conference. Several days ago, after nearly a year of trying to negotiate, another "unsignable" contract was handed to me.
Let me say that although this has put me in some kind of holding pattern, I am packed and ready to leave the U.S. for England. More importantly, I definitely want to play on the album, and I definitely want to tour with Black Sabbath.
Since the news of Tony's illness, and the understanding that the band would move production to the U.K., I've spent every day getting to or living in a place of readiness to leave. That involves something of a task, and as I've tried to find out what's going on with the U.K. sessions, I've realized that I've been getting "the cold shoulder" (and, I might add, not for the first time). Feeling somewhat ostracized, my guess is as of today, I will know nothing of what's happening unless I sign "the unsignable contract."
The place I'm in feels lousy and lonely because as much as I want to play and participate, I also have to stand for something and not sign on. If I sign as-is, I stand to lose my rights, dignity and respectability as a rock musician. I believe in freedom and freedom of speech. I grew up in a hard rock/metal band. We stood for something then, and we played from the heart with honesty and sincerity. I am in the spirit of integrity, far from the corporate malady, I am real and honest, fair and compassionate…"*
Doesn't this cause some kind of heated reaction in those who care about the music, like it does me? I don't listen to music, nor want to play music, for money; I feel all of this because I love the feeling you get, and the art presented in this magnificent form. Anyone who does it for money is, in my eyes, not an artist, but a producer of a product. That's all there is to it. Contracts only prove when the "art" in music is meaningless to the parties involved in pushing it, and even the ‘artists' who push them as well. They only create nothing but problems, loosely-provided rights for each member, and the oath that money and loyalty to the company and everyone else who isn't part of the band itself, is maintained by the artists themselves.
Metallica is known, at least to those who aren't blindly loyal fans or others who aren't ignorant of the topic, to be for the "musical status quo", where profit is more important than producing actual art without compromise. Contracts are said band's deadliest weapons, and plenty of them are in supply. That is, if you agree or not, a compromise that no artist should ever have to take. If it means that the band goes completely independent, then it is a worthwhile fight to maintain integrity in this art form.
So when I see that the band that got me into music in the first place is plagued with contracts and nobody else from Black Sabbath supports Bill Ward after he grew disillusioned with the binding powers at bay, I am wrought by a huge sense of disappointment. I can understand that Ozzy Osbourne, due to his decayed mass that should be a brain, would do nothing to support Ward, but why not anyone else involved? Are the executives and other heartless goons at work that separate from the process of expression through song? Is there a fear that if the contracts aren't obeyed or signed, then they'd be punished in some significant way? There are obviously lingering questions here, but I wish a solid answer would come of this ordeal.
It's a significant issue for someone like me who loves art, and wishes for it to be protected against those who would do anything to compromise its integrity just to make an easy buck. It's bad enough that bands sign binding contracts that end up putting them on the losing end of their stipulations. It's bad enough that musicians pay outrageous fees to the companies they sign for and everyone involved in managing the business-like workings, and even the engineers and technicians who put their music into tangible form; just to share their creations with the world. It's definitely bad enough that respect, dignity, and recognition are nullified by all the B.S involved, effectively making the band or musician(s) a source of commodity. For sure this is a dark side of the business world.
Anyway, the other members of Black Sabbath soon responded to Ward's take on the matter, and this page (also from Rolling Stone magazine) describes it in summary. One could argue that stubbornness is at work here, and so far it appears they won't negotiate terms with Bill Ward. While they did say that their "door is always open", it doesn't indicate that the band, let alone the management team, is or will change the terms to which Ward could not agree. He feels that his respect as an original band member, and as a dignified human being, are at stake, and if they care about him, they'll try to rectify the situation the best they could. Yet here we are; the reunion of the original members so long awaited by fans and onlookers alike, looks at this point to be a dud in making.
Steve Albini, a mostly reliable source given his career and his experience in the music industry, wrote a telling article about musicians signing to recording labels and the others who demand signed contracts. He promotes independent music, and with pundit-like style, rages against the executive machine that undermines the magic of music. His article, in my opinion, perfectly shows just how much bands get shafted when signing unreasonable, and by Albini's words, often alluring contracts. Read his article here, but for honesty sake, it is an older article and the ramifications he presented are surely even worse than he described today.
Just look at his figure (it's fairly long, apologies for that) that he alleges describes just how much a typical band loses in their endeavors to efforts to share their artwork:
Advance: $ 250,000
Manager's cut: $ 37,500
Legal fees: $ 10,000
Recording Budget:$ 150,000
Producer's advance: $ 50,000
Studio fee: $ 52,500
Drum Amp, Mic and Phase "Doctors": $ 3,000
Recording tape: $ 8,000
Equipment rental: $ 5,000
Cartage and Transportation: $ 5,000
Lodgings while in studio: $ 10,000
Catering: $ 3,000
Mastering: $ 10,000
Tape copies, reference CDs, shipping tapes, misc. expenses: $ 2,000
Video budget: $ 30,000
Cameras: $ 8,000
Crew: $ 5,000
Processing and transfers: $ 3,000
Off-line: $ 2,000
On-line editing:$ 3,000
Catering: $ 1,000
Stage and construction: $ 3,000
Copies, couriers, transportation:$ 2,000
Director's fee: $ 3,000
Album Artwork: $ 5,000
Promotional photo shoot and duplication: $ 2,000
Band fund: $ 15,000
New fancy professional drum kit: $ 5,000
New fancy professional guitars : $ 3,000
New fancy professional guitar amp rigs : $ 4,000
New fancy potato-shaped bass guitar: $ 1,000
New fancy rack of lights bass amp: $ 1,000
Rehearsal space rental: $ 500
Big blowout party for their friends: $ 500
Tour expense [5 weeks]: $ 50,875
Bus: $ 25,000
Crew : $ 7,500
Food and per diems: $ 7,875
Fuel: $ 3,000
Consumable supplies: $ 3,500
Wardrobe: $ 1,000
Promotion: $ 3,000
Tour gross income: $ 50,000
Agent's cut: $ 7,500
Manager's cut:$ 7,500
Merchandising advance: $ 20,000
Manager's cut: $ 3,000
Lawyer's fee: $ 1,000
Publishing advance: $ 20,000
Manager's cut: $ 3,000
Lawyer's fee: $ 1,000
Record sales: 250,000 @ $12 = $3,000,000
Gross retail revenue Royalty:
[13% of 90% of retail]: $ 351,000
Less advance: $ 250,000
[3% less $50,000 advance]: $ 40,000
Promotional budget: $ 25,000
Recoupable buyout from previous label: $ 50,000
Net royalty: $ -14,000
Record company income
Record wholesale price: $6.50 x 250,000 = $1,625,000 gross income
Artist Royalties: $ 351,000
Deficit from royalties: $ 14,000
Manufacturing, packaging and distribution: @ $2.20 per record: $ 550,000
Gross profit: $ 710,000
The Balance Sheet: This is how much each player got paid at the end of the game.
Record company: $ 710,000
Producer: $ 90,000
Manager: $ 51,000
Studio: $ 52,500
Previous label: $ 50,000
Agent: $ 7,500
Lawyer: $ 12,000
Band member net income each: $ 4,031.25
*Source: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/ bill-ward-threatens-to-quit-black-sabbath-20120202