What one band is doing and why it matters to the internet community.
Whether you love their music or hate it, this story matters and deserves to be told and re-told.
In 1979, Joe Elliott of the legendary rock band Def Leppard signed a recording contract with Universal Records.
At the time, he was just 19 years old. He’s now 52.
As a teenager however, he was smart enough to include a clause in his recording contract that stated that Universal Records could not do anything with the music of Def Leppard without the band’s explicit permission. “Not a thing.” said lead singer Joe Elliott.
Because digital music had not yet been invented when the band’s recording contract was signed in 1979, there has been an ongoing dispute between the band and Universal Records over the compensation split that Def Leppard would receive from digital and retail sales of the band’s own music.
This dispute is public knowledge. It’s not new; but what is very new is how the band has decided to get creative about owning the rights to their work in the Digital Age.
Because the dispute involves CDs as well as now – wait for it… wait for it… iTunes versions of Def Leppard songs and albums, we’re probably talking about millions if not billions of dollars in retail sales, particularly if you include all online retailers that sell CDs and MP3 songs.
Unable to reach consensus with Universal Records over the past few years, Def Leppard has become the first band in history to give what amounts to the financial equivalent of the middle finger to their record label; and in the biggest possible, most precedent-setting way:
They are re-recording over 180 tracks of their own original songs in order to retain 100% ownership of retail and digital rights.
“More than 30 years after Def Leppard got its start, the band is still playing stadiums. Until recently, however, you couldn’t buy its hits, like “Pour Some Sugar on Me” and “Rock of Ages” from online retailers.” (via NPR)
“Photograph” by Def Leppard
I know. I know. You’re saying, “Yeah right. The guy was 29 when he recorded ‘Photograph’. He’s now 52. There’s no way in hell they can recreate that sound.”
Here’s my response to the Pants-Pullers, the Trolls and the Nay-Sayers:
“Clearly, you have not seen them in concert recently. I have. And not only am I laughing my ass off right now at the message this sends to all recording studios who have historically never really “gotten” the internet; but I know that these guys can truly pull this off, because when I saw them in concert they were very much NOT an aging rock band trying to keep rocking until they drop.
It was very, very clear to me that these guys have true talent and that they love to perform live – so much so that they rehearsed their old songs so much that they were even better versions than some of the recordings I had.
What Def Leppard is doing in re-recording their own work to obtain 100% digital rights to it is beyond hilarious. It’s extremely smart, but incredibly challenging from a musical perspective to re-create the original sound of that many songs.
It’s an EPIC creative work-around that sets precedent and calls attention to musicians around the globe who are trying or have tried to reclaim the usage rights to their own work or who believe they are locked into an unfair compensation percentage with their record label – an industry with a very, very poor history of taking financial advantage of musicians. No more.
As Al Pacino is wont to say: “Say Hello to my Little Friend.”
This is the internet equivalent of a band giving a big recording studio the middle finger. In a very big, very funny, very original way.
It’s especially epic if, like me, you’ve worked in the internet industry sector since the early days of the commercial web, circa 1996, and you’re old enough to know what an album, record or CD is.
If you’re reading this and you don’t recognize those terms, you may only be familiar with “MP3″ and “iTunes”.
Albums and records were these vinyl things that were around before CDs and the AOL frisbees; and they were used by artists to record music on way back when MTV actually showed Music Videos, and before they started showing Reality TV pablum.
In a recent interview with NPR, lead singer Joe Elliott told NPR that once the band re-records the songs, they have full ownership over them and can do whatever they want with them, charge whatever they want, sell them in box sets – anything.
Kudos to this band for having the Talent, Courage and Creativity to take on a multi-billion dollar industry. This is a HUGE WIN for musicians and fans, and I wish the band nothing but the best of success.
Here’s how to show your support: (Full transparency: NONE of the links below are affiliate links or compensatory)