It’s the nature of the beast. Songwriters need album labels, and album labels need songwriters. Sometimes things work out for both parties, but sometimes they don’t. Music company officials have long been accused of taking advantage of the artists that work for them. Just take for example Lyle Lovett’s claim that his albums have never made him a dime. Other times, the labels simply leave their artists out to dry. Like when Johnny Cash’s label refused to promote his single. Often these feuds are drawn out over years, and end up in court. Here are 1o examples of artists who got screwed over by their record companies.
Fantasy Records accuses John Fogerty of plagiarizing himself
When Fogerty, lead singer and songsmith of Creedence Clearwater Revival, left the group in 1972 to strike out on a solo career, he left the embittered record label Fantasy behind as well. Fogerty went on to release the song “The Old Man Down the Road” in 1985 with Warner Bros. Records. Fantasy claimed that it sounded a lot like the CCR song “Run Through the Jungle.” So much so, in fact, that they leveled a lawsuit against Fogerty for plagiarizing himself. The suit went all the way to the Supreme Court, where it was denied. Fogerty then sought compensation for lawyer’s fees but was also denied.
Brad Paisley’s email address goes public
In July, 2014, Brad Paisley leaked a teaser of his new song, “Moonshine in the Trunk” over Twitter without permission from his record label. Paisley essential leaked his own songs. He claimed, “I’m going rogue,” and telling fans, tongue-in-cheek, “Don’t tell.” Sony Nashville wasn’t too happy about it. In response, CEO Gary Overton “leaked” Paisley’s personal email address to fans. Paisley’s (always humorous) response? “Record label head? More like Richard label head.” Ah, Brad, satirical down to the end. Paisley then promised he wouldn’t cut out the shenanigans, and not post any more leaks himself. He held true to his word, but had rapper Ludacris post his entire album. Win? Brad Paisley.
Curb sues Tim McGraw for releasing music out of contract
Tim McGraw had been unhappy with his contract with Curb records for some time. He said that working for the label that signed him was pretty much “indentured servitude.” So he decided to do something about it. McGraw recorded a new album, Emotional Traffic, too early for Curb Records’ liking so that he could get on with the career he wanted with Big Machine Records. McGraw claimed that Curb was drawing out the process so that they could hold on to him longer. He then released Two Lanes of Freedom with Big Machine. Curb sued on the basis that McGraw had recorded the songs for the Big Machine album while he was still under contract with them. McGraw won and countersued on the grounds that Curb released greatest hits album to keep him under contract longer (he had to wait 18 months before delivering a new album, per his contract).
Label demands Justin Townes Earle deliver “vomit”
Justin Townes Earle had developed a fairly successful career as a folk singer by the time he was ready to switch from a small record label, Bloodshot, to a larger one in 2013. He chose the British label Communion, owned by a member of Mumford & Sons. The relationship soured quickly. The label demanded that Earle pen and deliver 30 songs for a new album, that they could whittle down to the best of their choosing. Earle took to the Twittersphere to express his displeasure, straight up admitting, “Tweets are gonna be angry for a while.” He extrapolated, calling record label officials, “a bunch of p*ssies in an office.” Ok, so Van Gogh he is not. But you still wouldn’t tell Van Gogh to paint 30 pictures and you’d choose the best.
Lyle Lovett doesn’t make a cent from his albums
Lovett doesn’t come right out and blame his former label Curb/Universal; he is too much of a gentleman for that. But he does claim that, despite selling millions of records (4.6 million by 2008, to be exact) over two decades of work, he “never made a dime” from them. That, my friends, is called screwing an artist over big time. When he was getting ready to look for a new deal, Lovett, always classy, explained that he made his money on the road, using the albums as a promotional tool. He now records for Curb/Lost Highway, hopefully earning a little more from his Top 10 albums.
Neil Young sued for not being Neil Young
When rock superstar Neil Young switched labels in the 80s, he was focused on recreating himself and his career with new music that delved deeper into the country genre. But his new album Old Ways was not what his new label, Geffen, wanted. Geffen asked Young to record a new album that sounded more like the rocking Neil Young of old. Surprisingly, Young acquiesced and recorded Everybody’s Rockin’.” Young thought it was great, of course, but Geffen, not so much. So the label filed a suit against the artist for about $3 million, claiming that the two albums Young had released were “musically uncharacteristic of Young’s previous recordings.” Eventually, the two sides made up, but this is a classic example of record labels refusing artists the opportunity to grow.
Johnny Cash “too intelligent (for) plain country folks”
After recording hits such as “I Walk the Line” and “Ring of Fire,” Johnny Cash felt that he had earned the liberty of pursuing personal projects. He became deeply involved with the marginalized Americans and concerned with the civil rights of Natives. He recorded the song about a Pima Indian who fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima called “The Ballad of Ira Hayes.” Cash had done his homework. He had even visited with Hayes’ mother. But when the song came out, Cash’s label Columbia refused to promote it. Radio stations refused to play it. One magazine editor called for Cash to resign from country music, making the previous claim. True to style, Cash fought back against all the negativity, no thanks to his record label. Today the song is a country standard.
All southerners screwed over by pop music
Once upon a time, all respectable music came out of Tin Pan Alley, an area of popular publishing houses in New York City. Or so claimed the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP). The society fought to protect songwriters’ copyrights, which is great, but apparently never considered southerners capable of writing anything worth protecting. ASCAP refused to allow country musicians into their society, and it wasn’t until 1939, when the ASCAP’s contract with radio broadcasters ran out, that country music began to become recognized. Broadcast Music International (BMI) began to protect country writers and promote their music on the radio, in lieu of the popular music that ASCAP regularly pushed. The wartime public loved it, and country hasn’t looked back since. It only took about half a decade to become legitimatized.
Sony robs Roger Miller’s wife of her inheritance
When Roger Miller, one of country’s biggest stars in the 60s, died in 1992, he willed the copyright of his music to his wife, Mary. Problem was he had already signed over ownership to his record company, Sony. Therefore he was trying to give away something he didn’t own. Sony’s copyrights on the music were set to expire, but Sony had already applied for renewal. Federal courts ruled with Sony, denying Mary ownership. It was another blow to songwriters, who are still losing ground in their battle to control their own artwork. Thus proving again that actually reading contracts before signing them is a pretty good idea.
Billy Gilman shunned by all major record labels
Billy Gilman threw a showcase in Nashville last summer, shopping for a new label for himself and his new music. Which is a great idea; the only problem was that no major label showed up. Gilman hit the country music scene with a Top 20 single, “One Voice,” when he was only 12 years old, back in 2000. He has sold over five million records. So he had a suspicion that it wasn’t his musical ability that labels were rejecting. Gilman later decided to come out as gay, striking before the press could release a photo of him and his partner and fill the release with “not truth.” Gilman’s sexuality, of course, has absolutely nothing to do with his voice, a conclusion that record labels do not share.