Monday, November 1, 2010

Unreleased Albums and Re-recording Restrictions

I do not know much about John Esposito, except that he is the current head of Warner Bros. Nashville. I also do not know much about Shawn Camp. I negotiated a contract with him once, but I don’t think I ever spoke with him. I know that he is a talented musician and successful songwriter. I also remember he had a short-lived deal with Warner Bros. back in the early nineties.

This is where it gets interesting. Apparently, Esposito recently heard Camp perform at a music industry function, was impressed by him and learned after the fact that 16 years ago, Camp recorded an album for Warners which was never released. In a move which I think is almost unprecedented, Esposito had the album (now titled “1994”) released.

I think it would amaze people not involved in the record business to learn how many albums go unreleased. I am not sure if Warners is any worse than any other major label, but I do have several friends and clients who recorded for Warners over the past two decades and their records have yet to see the light of day. This was due to a variety of reasons of factors, some of which make sense, some didn’t. (As Tom Petty sang “their A&R Man said ‘I don’t hear a single,’ the future was wide open.”) These situations are usually heart-breaking for the artists because not only is their record shelved and their relationship with their label severed, they typically don’t get a right to to acquire their unreleased masters, AND to add insult to injury, they are often prohibited from re-recording the unreleased songs due to the “re-recording restrictions” in their contracts.

I have never understood the equity of enforcing a re-record restriction in this type of situation. In many cases, if it’s a new artist, these most likely are his or her best songs, created over a long period of time. How does a re-recording restriction benefit the label in this situation? Conversely, how would the label be hurt if the artist re-recorded a song which was ultimately rejected by the label?

That is why it’s so refreshing to here about Warners’ move. I have also had recent dealings with labels who were willing to make long out-of-print albums available online. Making these recordings available digitally benefits both the labels and the artists and is a creative inexpensive way to battle internet piracy. Here’s hoping Mr. Esposito finds some more treasures in his vault.


musicrowlawyer said...

Cool. Thanks to Ed Pierson when he was at WBR I once was able to get James Griffin ("Bread") the right to self-release an album he recorded for Warner's back before he and David Gates formed Bread. Ed explained that they normally don't get into the old catalogue like this because the paperwork and administrative effort does not justify the return. Nice to know there are still record execs out there who aren't only about the money. A few at least here and there.

Steve Weaver

musicrowlawyer said...

What am I thinking. It wasn't Ed (although he's a great guy) it was Ray Gonzalez!


Trip Aldredge said...

Ray is one of the greats.