Articles about the Concert for Artists Rights
February 26, 2002
Musicians at four venues come together to raise money for artists' rights.
By RANDY LEWIS, Times Staff Writer
Social Distortion leader Mike Ness wrote "Ball & Chain" in 1988 as a testament to one man's rise from the pit of despair, but when he sang it Tuesday at the Wiltern Theatre, its refrain seemed the ideal summation of many musicians' view of the record industry's standard contract provisions.
Ness was among more than a dozen acts who took part in the four-venue Concert for Artists Rights, a fund-raiser expected to generate more than $2 million for the Recording Artists Coalition, a new lobbying group created to give musicians a unified voice at the legislative table.
Concerts at the Forum in Inglewood, Universal Amphitheatre, Long Beach Arena and the Wiltern Theatre were staged to raise money for the coalition to lobby on behalf of musicians rather than educate the public, so participants went out of their way to make music, not speeches.
Most simply thanked fans for coming out, or referred briefly to leveling the playing field with record labels, although Ness told those who came to the Wiltern to see him, Beck and Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder, "If anyone knows about getting ripped off by a record company, I do."
Billy Joel made one of the few pointed remarks during the Forum's five-hour rock bill which also featured the Eagles, Sheryl Crow, Stevie Nicks and John Fogerty. "This is the just cause," he said during his 40-minute set. "I used to live out here, and I got signed to a deal with a company that was sucking my blood for 25 years. I just don't want that to happen to nobody else, OK?"
Fans applauded, but not as loudly as when Tom Hanks strode onstage to introduce Nicks, amping up the star power. The wattage was pushed higher yet when Nicks brought an unbilled Tom Petty out. Crow and Henley also joined Nicks for the most musically interactive portion of the Forum show.
Crow turned up at Universal during the Dixie Chicks' set, returning the favor Chicks' singer Natalie Maines provided when she joined Crow earlier at the Forum. Bluegrass banjo master Earl Scruggs also appeared with the Chicks on a bill that included Dwight Yoakam, Emmylou Harris, Trisha Yearwood and Patty Griffin.
The 2,200 people who packed the Wiltern saw a rare solo set by Vedder that included "Dead Man," a 1996 Pearl Jam rarity, his version of the Beatles' "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," from the "I Am Sam" soundtrack and Pearl Jam's "Parting Ways." He, Ness and Beck joined one another during successive sets that ran a little more than three hours. Radiohead singer Thom Yorke made a surprise appearance, singing the Velvet Underground's "I'm Set Free" with Beck.
Fogerty, whose career was famously sidelined by drawn-out battles with his record label, returned to the Forum stage he played more than three decades ago as the leader of Creedence Clearwater Revival, delivering a handful of CCR hits, plus his 1985 song "Centerfield."
All except the Forum concert sold out in advance, and the Forum appeared near-capacity Tuesday night, with only a few hundred of its 17,000 seats roped off behind the stage because of restricted sight lines.
One unusual result was a benefit about which many fans said they wished they'd been told more during the evening.
"If I knew more, I'd care more," said Forum concertgoer Beatrice Solis, 27, of West Los Angeles. "They should have talked or run tapes between acts to explain what the issues are."
The coalition's immediate target is the music industry's exemption from the California law limiting personal service contracts to seven years.
"The seven-year clause is clearly discriminatory," Offspring singer Bryan "Dexter" Holland said in advance of his performance at the Long Beach Arena, along with alt-rockers No Doubt and Weezer. "No one can be bound to a personal service contract for more than seven years--except musicians. It wouldn't fly with anyone else that was organized or unionized."
Coalition members are rallying behind a state bill to repeal that exemption, SB 1256, sponsored by Sen. Kevin Murray (D-Culver City), who sat beside Henley, the group's co-founder, at a hastily assembled press conference backstage at the Forum just before the show began.
Henley quickly set out to refute the characterization of the Recording Artists Coalition as a group of rock stars simply trying to make themselves richer.
"I don't have a dog in this fight," Henley said. "As far as I'm concerned, I've just got to make two more albums and I'm out of here. And I'm perfectly happy with my contract."
The majority of working musicians, however, can't say the same, Henley said, because of contract provisions record companies insist upon, knowing that artists cannot fulfill them, especially the seven-albums-in-seven-years requirement.
"It's a new frontier," said Crow, another driving force behind the coalition, before Tuesday's concert. "We [musicians] are having to grow up and be adults and handle these things ourselves. It's not in the nature of artists to join groups and concentrate on issues or the business side of our work."
Lines for beer generally were deeper than those at merchandise booths selling $40 coalition sweat shirts, $20 T-shirts, $10 posters and lapel pins. The exception was the teen-heavy crowd at Long Beach Arena, which was snapping up the items at a brisk pace.
Fans surveyed appeared to have a limited grasp of the cause for which they'd turned out--most said they came for the music.
"I know the bands are mad at the record labels and they don't want other bands to get ripped off," is how Long Beach 16-year-old Aubry McDaniel summed up the cause. But mainly, "I came to see Gwen," referring to No Doubt singer Gwen Stefani.
Concerts to Aid Artists' Rights Group
INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP) - Don Henley, Sheryl Crow, Billy Joel and other music stars have taken their battle for less-restrictive recording contracts to the concert stage.
A slew of celebrity musicians staged four simultaneous concerts around the Los Angeles area Tuesday night to raise funds and promote their message: They want new agreements with record labels that include less-demanding contracts and more oversight of accounting practices.
"This is to help artists get their fair share and we thank you for your support," Henley told thousands of fans who paid up to $170 to see him and the rest of the Eagles, Joel, Crow and Stevie Nicks perform at the Inglewood Forum.
Similar concerts in Los Angeles, Long Beach and Universal City featured performances by the Dixie Chicks, No Doubt, Beck, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, Trisha Yearwood and other top performers.
The concerts were held just as the public's attention was turning to the music industry, with the Grammy Awards scheduled for Wednesday.
The money raised in the Tuesday shows will go to the Recording Artist Coalition, which is lobbying to change the standard industry contract requiring artists to produce no fewer than seven albums for a label.
Musicians complain that it can take decades to produce that many albums, tying them to one company for an entire career. They want the right to terminate their contracts after seven years.
Under current labor law, that's a right offered to every California worker except musicians.
A bill proposed by state Sen. Kevin Murray, a Democrat and former music agent, would amend the state labor code to extend that right to recording artists.
Record companies counter that they must bind artists to long contracts to stay in business because it can take years for a musician to gain popularity and not all of the performers they back succeed.
The major record companies, smaller labels and companies that press compact discs, make packaging and even provide limousines have formed a group called the California Music Coalition to fight Murray's bill.
They say the $41-billion music industry is already suffering from disappointing sales, partly caused by Internet piracy, and giving musicians such an escape clause would damage it further.
Henley said music stars must fight the recording industry to protect up-and-coming performers who lack the influence of star power. He said he hoped fans wouldn't think of their effort as the whining of spoiled millionaires.
"We've organized for every cause under the sun but us," Henley said. "I hope nobody begrudges us for doing a little something for ourselves."
The mood of the audience was generally supportive.
"It's how they make their living," said Pat Fitzgerald, of Orange County. "It's only fair that they would be concerned with how their rights are being interpreted. I think people are here because of the outcry."
Not everyone approved of the artists' cause, however; some were just there for the music.
"These are volunteer contracts and they don't have to sign them," said Dan Vesely.