Panic Street Lawyer: I love my labels

Sunday, 23 September 2012 06:00 AM Written by  Jay Hornack

20120923_recordlabel_photocom149379151_150After some of the political commentary I slipped in here the last couple of weeks, some of my readers may want to label me. But today’s PSL column is not about political labels (and it is certainly not about clothing labels). It is about music labels.

“I Love My Label” is the title of a song written and first recorded by British rock music icon Nick Lowe (Lowe performed live at Mr. Smalls Theater in nearby Millvale Thursday night). It starts out something like this:

Oh yes
I love my label and my label loves me
For she's so good and kind together we will pave our destiny
My label always loves to hear some pretty chords for its records like these ones
She's always pleased to hear some of these pretty melodies so I sing 'em some …

The song appears on a 2008 deluxe reissue of Lowe’s 1978 album, which curiously had one title and record label in the UK (Jesus of Cool on Radar Records) and another title and record label (Pure Pop for Now People on Columbia Records) in the US.

 

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Nick Lowe in 2007. Associated Press
When Lowe first sang “I Love My Label” on vinyl in 1977, it was released as part of a compilation on one label (Stiff Records) but had been written while Lowe was on yet another label (United Artists). Lowe’s current label is Proper Records.

 

Lowe’s “I Love My Label” was covered by the American rock band Wilco and included in a deluxe edition of their 2011 album “The Whole Love” (Nick Lowe opened for Wilco during the first leg of their fall 2011 North America tour). Wilco had a controversial switch from one label (Reprise Records) to a new label (Nonesuch Records) with the release of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot in 2002. Wilco’s “The Whole Love” was the band’s first release on its own label (dPbm). There will not be a quiz at the end …

The creative genius behind Wilco, frontman Jeff Tweedy, made some non-lyrical comments about record labels as part of a recent interview with A.V. Club. He first said that while big record labels may have had, and maybe still have, control over who becomes “the biggest, greatest band in the world,” that was never a concern for Wilco. Tweedy was then asked by someone whether he thinks record companies “are a good thing in some way, because theoretically they keep musicians more than spottily employed.” Here is his (typically) blunt answer:

That’s somebody that really does not have much understanding of how the record business has worked for decades. Record companies do not keep musicians employed. There’s definitely a place for record labels, but record labels are more like banks than employers. They subsidize things, and you have to pay them back. Really what keeps people employed in the music business is whether or not you are at all able to sell records. That’s really not changed, I don’t think. The only way it’s changed is that it’s more skewed toward the live performance now, and that’s fine by me. That’s the way we’ve kept ourselves alive for a long, long time. If a band can attract an audience or attract some people to see them play, then generally they can work. It’s always been really hard to be a musician and make a living. It’s never been a really sure-fire, rock-solid career choice. [Laughs.] And I think you’re really f***ing screwed if that’s what you’re going into it for.

 

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Jeff Tweedy in 2005. AP
Almost as if to prove Tweedy’s point about record labels being like banks, the biggest record label legal news this week was the FTC and EU regulatory approval of Universal Music Group’s $1.9 billion acquisition of EMI Group Ltd. The result, as one investment bank firm managing director put it, is that you “have two really big guys [Sony and Universal] and a little guy [Warner]."

 

Sony, Universal, EMI, and Warner are all members of the recording industry’s trade organization, the Recording Industry Association of America. RIAA made recent legal news by “winning” court decisions on high-profile prosecutions in Minnesota and Massachusetts against individuals accused of illegally sharing copyrighted music online. Since both defendants say they will refuse to pay the judgments, the RIAA’s plummeting revenues are not going to be reversed by either of these victories.

While the RIAA may no longer be filing mass lawsuits against individuals, music listeners still have an obligation to the artists to compensate them for their creative contributions to society. As the executive vice president of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers put it in a recent Post-Gazette article:

"I think the public perception of it is that every songwriter is Bruce Springsteen or Madonna, that they have a hit and they're making all this money. “They're actually the smallest businesspeople. If the guy with the bar thinks he's a small-business owner, try being a songwriter."

20120923_riaalogo_150Even if the odds of an individual being caught and then getting into legal trouble for music theft are small, it is still a matter of personal responsibility. No one likes to be labeled a freeloader or moocher, right?

Similarly, we have an obligation to file non-fraudulent tax returns even if we are unlikely to be audited. As a matter of personal responsibility, we even expect our Presidential candidates to disclose years of honest tax returns. Information in those tax filings will also allow voters to decide whether the candidates have been contributing their fair share – or any federal income tax share-- to society’s needs.

Oh, do you think that I was taking a shot at Mitt Romney there? If I were, after the week his campaign just had, I would have used a title from a different song, one that Nick Lowe performed live while he was a member of the band Rockpile: “Crawling from the Wreckage.”

(Top image: Cienpies Design/Getty Images)


The Panic Street Lawyer is a personal opinion column by attorney Jay Hornack. Contact him right here at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and follow Jay on Twitter: @panicstlawyer.

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