When Sony Classical offers a young artist a record deal these days, it no longer just wants to own what goes on in studio.
Agents have been alarmed to read in the new contracts that, in exchange for the privilege of appearing on its label, Sony expects to receive a share of all the artists’ earnings – in concert, on tour, in media, wherever.
The contract specifies that Sony will own 15 percent of 80 percent of all the artist’s live fees. Some agents are putting up a fight but bright young soloists are so flattered by the approach and so desperate to get their name on a CD sleeve that they will sign anything – and don’t the corporation just know that.
Sony is not alone. Deutsche Grammophon also wants a share of the action. If DG pays 15 percent of an artist’s record earnings, they expect to receive 7.5 percent of his concert fees. I haven’t checked EMI, but if they don’t have a similar set of screws I’m sure they will pop up here quickly to tell us.
The major labels justify this new form of exortion by arguing that their prestige and promotion gives the artist a career boost, and this in return entitles them to a slice of the action. Looked at from an independent perspective, it appears to be a form of creeping slavery by which the corporation owns the musician, body and soul. DG/Universal’s imminent merger with a major artist management agency will certainly accelerate that process.
It is, by any reasonable measure, an unacceptable demand and, if challenged in court, it might well be ruled an unfair restraint of trade. It could not happen in another industry. If a publisher were to say that, by stamping their colophon on my next novel, they want a slice of all my earnings from broadcasting, films, public speaking and Strictly Come Dancing, my US agent would (I imagine) escort him out through her twenty-fifth floor window.
My advice to musicians is: shun Sony and DG until they drop the clause. It is unacceptable, morally, artistically and commercially.