The musicians arguing about their record contracts in California could probably have used a little bit of practical law in school.
California’s state government is holding hearings regarding multi-year contracts of musicians. The musicians (Courtney Love, Don Henley and Leann Rimes) argued that their contracts are impossible to fulfill and trap them for much of their careers. The music industry is arguing that 90% of their artists fail, so they rely on the ones that become stars to make up for all of the failures. That seems like a pretty messy business model to me, but I think that is the truth. That is also why the artists always feel like they’re getting screwed. Love’s famous Salon article talks about how little successful musicians get, and that’s largely because of how much record companies spend on marketing and subsidizing the failures.
To me, the most important thing about all of this debate is that the musicians signed these contracts. I seriously doubt that anyone held a gun to their heads and said “sign this”. They did what they thought they needed to do to become successful and famous. And, in the case of these three, they did become successful and famous. But, now they’ve decided that these contracts are restricting their freedom.
Why did they sign these deals? Did they not have a lawyer explain all of the ramifications? If they did, then I guess you can chalk it up to being young and inexperienced. But, in this country, once you’re 18, you’re responsible for your actions.
I don’t know the exact statistic, but I think a majority of people in the US today graduate from high school or have high school equivalence. Perhaps it is time for high schoolers to learn some basic, practical law. If high school students are taught enough about watching out for their interests in contracts and recognizing the power of a signature, perhaps we wouldn’t have as many young musicians signing their careers away with impossible contracts.
I’ve written before about how the music industry is too much about money and too little about music. I do think that the record companies are predatory and nature and they send these slick A&R folks in to perform a hard sell on promising musicians. I don’t like any of that. But, people need to take some responsibility for actions that they take voluntarily. If you don’t agree with the terms someone is laying out in front of you, don’t sign the paper.