Ani DiFranco: the Music Industry at Work

Your Tax Dollars at Work

Ever since the 1960’s, becoming a rock star has been the dream of millions of teenagers. To be rich, famous, and important. To be celebrated, worshipped, lusted for… What could be better? And for those who actually have some musical talent and the drive and determination to stay in the business long enough, the offer of a contract from a record company represents the ultimate dream come true. Who can resist it?

Well, the record companies know that. When they see a young, na├»ve talent emerging, and they think he or she might be successful enough to become a big star, they offer this person a contact and urge them to sign. If this person is smart enough to question the terms of the contract, the record company is often quick to inform this person that there are thousands of other hungry young talents out there and if he or she doesn’t agree to the terms and sign in a hurry, they will offer it to someone else. More often than not, they sign.

A lot of these contracts are pretty brutal. A lot of singers who you might think of as quite successful, because they have had hit records and performed on television, often come to the astonishing realization that they are broke. How can that be, they ask? I sold a million records last year. Where did my money go? The answer is that the record company has been deducting all kinds of mysterious expenses from their royalties. At this stage, the smarter talents bring in their own lawyers and accountants to examine the deal. What they frequently discover is that they are being mercilessly ripped off. With clever accounting and shrewd lawyers, music publishers are able to find hundreds of ways of adding “expenses” to an artist’s account. Furthermore, the artist finds out that there is very little they can do about the terms of the contract. It’s too late. They signed it. They are now obligated to continue to produce records for music industry executives they have rightly come to regard as vampires.

Ani DiFranco, bless her little heart, was smart enough not to sign. Instead, she formed her own record company– Righteous Babe Records– and is doing quite well, thank you. She discovered, to her surprise, that she could actually make pretty good money without the record company’s huge promotional machinery behind her, and without a beer company sponsoring her tours. How so? Well, you see, Ani gets to keep a fair share of the money you and I pay for each of her CD’s. No surprise promotional fees. No hidden charges. No mysterious administration expenses.

Well, bless her little heart again because when the big record companies saw how successful Ani was, they all came a’callin’ offering her big bucks to step up to the Major Leagues, Ani said NO. Politely, we hope.

Which brings me to a piece of news that filled me with anger and disgust. You see, some of those young, talented artists found that by declaring bankruptcy, they could extricate themselves from those evil contracts and negotiate new, more honest agreements with other record companies. It was the only weapon they had, against an industry and executives we can only regard with the utmost contempt. Well, Congress is considering a major revision of the bankruptcy laws. And low and behold, here come the music industry lobbyists, with big checks in their hands, demanding that the new law include a provision preventing these artists from using bankruptcy to escape their draconian contracts. Most of the Republicans, needing more of those big, fat lobbyist checks in order to get re-elected next November, were more than happy to oblige. Some, though not all, of the Democrats fought the amendment.

Your tax dollars at work, friends. Shame on the recording industry. Shame on the Republicans who sucked up to this deal. Shame on the voters who keep insisting, in poll after poll, that they want campaign reform, and then go ahead an elect the idiot who has the most money for TV ads. Don’t you realize where these liars get their campaign money from?!

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