Friday, 11 August 2017

Dear G

Dear G******* Distribution,
I hope this finds you well.
First of all, I want to acknowledge that it’s not your fault: it’s not your fault that the arse fell out of the record industry, it’s not your fault that the biggest record companies continued to consolidate by buying up smaller labels, whilst pretending that they could just carry on as normal and everyone would pay £10/$15 for a CD that costs 20p/c to make, for which the creating artist was paid 15% at most.  Or that their outdated and exploitative business model could survive the internet age.
Anyway, here’s my story; take it however you like. 
In 2006, in an ill-fated and questionable attempt to launch myself as a “career” musician, a deal was struck with your distribution company to get my debut single out to the world through the internet.  Those were heady days, indeed, do you remember?  Ah, the noughties…
Anyway, my friend and manager found your company and it seemed like a good fit – the most important thing for me/us was that I/we would own the music, so it would never be sold without my express permission/used in an advert for an evil soft drinks company, or similar.  It would still be mine, and you would earn your cut by simply getting on all the platforms where people buy music. 
The idea of selling music (almost) direct, with the help of a distributor, seemed the perfect remedy to the agent system of record contracts, where gatekeepers make investment decisions based on their reading of the market.  A tentative, faltering step toward an economic arrangement allowing artists and audiences access to each other.  Utopian.  Naïve, perhaps?  Universal Music Group would presumably think so.  It appealed to me, though.
I thought we made a good deal, even though I was still wary.  I was/am so wary of big companies, and the music industry in general – to the point where someone famous once told a friend of mine that he wanted to help me/my “career”, but thought I didn’t want any help.  (He never said it to me, so I had no chance to refute or claim that perceived aloofness.  I reckon I would’ve accepted any help that person was able to give.  (I like/d him, apart from anything else, so I would have listened to any suggestions, at the very least.))
But I’ve made some art about all these things, and I enjoy ambiguity.  And, as KRS ONE (among many others) has said:  “Watch what you say, cos you’ll attract it.”
Like KRS ONE has also said:  “Don’t waste your time fighting legal battles – unless you’re a lawyer.”  That’s been my attitude, by and large, on these kind of matters. 
But this is my legacy, this is my life.  It’s got my name on it and everything.  And lately, at a festival, someone who enjoyed my set spoke to me about my music, and they specifically asked about Spotify.  I mumbled that there’s only one single on there, and I don’t really like it.  Because it’s very old, and not as good as all the stuff I’ve done since, and contains views from which I have moved on – I wouldn’t mind it being there if all the later stuff was there as well.  So maybe we can talk about that.
At some point after 2006, my myspace (yes, myspace) account was blocked for using copyrighted content.  Imagine my surprise: only my music was on there, for which I owned – and reserved – all rights.  It was all blocked, not just the songs from the single I had put out via your distribution.  When I checked, it appeared that Universal Music Group had claimed ownership of this music, and impelled myspace to block this “content”.  With the customary regard for due process/diligence, the social media giant acceded to this demand, without wasting time on legal battles, or asking me.  Or even telling me.
Luckily, by that time, myspace had outlived its relevance as a marketing tool, and had been replaced by a social media giant that had dispensed with all creative content to concentrate solely on banality and virtual stalking.  And articles about how stupid everyone is, except the writer of the article.
But really, G (can I call you G?  I do hope so), I’m at a crossroads here: I’ve been doing this a long time, I’ve withdrawn a lot from most of the music-making/performing etc I used to do, and I’m wondering what to do about it all.  I never set out to make money, but I really wanted people to have access to what I made; that the only thing so many people will find is a single I wrote in my late teens/early twenties, finally released in my mid-twenties, and for which I don’t even get paid, is disappointing.
I might as well have gone and begged UMG for a traditional album deal – at least I might have got an advance to buy some new instruments and been put on the cover of some now-defunct/embarrassing-shell-of-its-former-self music magazine.
Anyway, clearly there’s no need for you to care about any of that.
Obviously, I never really saw much money from that deal – or, in fact, any that I’m aware of – at least not since the very early days.  Apart from one windfall from PRS*, I’ve never received any real money from digital sales or anything online, other than my own direct sales through bandcamp (a business formed, much like your own, on the basis of taking a fair/small cut for distribution and reversing the 85-15 split favoured by older deals based on physical sales.  I assume the irony is not lost on you.  Is that ironic?  No, it’s not, not really).
I’ve been described as “hard to get hold of” by more than one person, even though any search engine will find my website as a top answer, and that has my contact details on it, and I’ve got social media accounts in my own name with no odd spellings or weird handles, also easily found by any search engine.  And I don’t hide my contact details from anyone.  And I’m on them social media giants, under the same name that’s on all the music and writing I do.  Anyway, maybe I am, in some mysterious way, “hard to get hold of”.  Perhaps that’s why you didn’t get in touch.
Or perhaps it’s because it was much easier to let Universal Music Group shut down social media accounts and distribute all the music on your roster however they saw fit.  In violation of existing agreements.  DIY, indeed.
As a naturally cynical person, I assume what happened is that UMG threw a huge net over everything you distributed, tied up the net and dumped it in the Spotify well.
Do I need to ask you/UMG to cease & desist, since I a) never gave consent for the release to be made available on Spotify (which, I think, didn’t exist at the time of the deal) and b) have not received any revenue from this?  (The single hasn’t had that many listens, but someone is getting paid what, to them, is probably a meagre sum, but which would be significant – and, more importantly, owed – to me as artist and copyright holder.)
What’s most galling about the above is that you/Spotify have used the single artwork which clearly states my copyright.  The single is called Ya Basta Hermanos.  It was from my debut album, A Criminal Record (an album which I sold independently, which in retrospect seems a sensible decision).  It has two b-sides: one is a remix, the other an acoustic version of a song that appeared (updated and improved) on a later album. 
G, as a former business partner, tell me straight: How does all this UMG fuckery fit in with your stated aim of “releasing indie records” and being all DIY and cool – is it just a re-working of the established relationship between majors and indies that was supposed to have gone out of fashion along with nu metal and baggy jeans?  (Your deal with Universal apparently meant you “could give other labels and acts the chance to do the same, and benefit from the Universal Machine by being part of the G******* family of distributed labels” (from your website)). 
Whatever integrity there has ever been, or may be left in the (big, Official, capitalised) Music Industry is being ebbed away by infinite versions of the above bullshit. 
Is there anything you would like to do about that?
So, I suppose all this leads to my central questions, which are two-fold:
1. Where’s the money?  And:
2. Give me the money.
Love or Something,
Clayton Blizzard
*To be really honest, G, I never even found out where that came from.  I thought it best not to ask too many questions at the time.  I had rent to pay.  Like I’m always telling the “I don’t care about money” promoters, I don’t care about money either.  But my landlord seems obsessed with it.  As do the council, HMRC, utility companies, drug dealers, shopkeepers and publicans.  It’s usually the first thing they talk about whenever I’m in contact with them.  So, I sort of have to care about it a little bit.
But clearly, if I cared about it all that much, I would have written this letter sooner.  And maybe for something other than a blog – an actual, proper, legal correspondence with you, or something.

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