Best Of 2011, Guest Editors: Don Fleming On It’s Super Freaky

As 2011 comes to an end, we are taking a look back at some of our favorite posts of the year by our guest editors.

Even if you don’t know Don Fleming by name, chances are you own a ton of records he’s helped make. As a producer, he’s collaborated with the likes of Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr, Teenage Fanclub, Screaming Trees, the Posies and Hole, to name just a handful. He works for the Alan Lomax Archive and has done archival work for the estates of Hunter S. Thompson, Ken Kesey and others. He’s fronted such groups as the Velvet Monkeys, B.A.L.L. and Gumball and was a member of the band that provided the music to 1994 Beatles biopic Backbeat. Fleming also runs the Instant Mayhem label, which recently reissued the Velvet Monkeys’ 1982 debut Everything Is Right and is about to release the solo Don Fleming 4, which features Kim Gordon, Julie Cafritz and R. Stevie Moore. If all that weren’t enough, Fleming is guest editing all week. Read our brand new Q&A with him.

Fleming: Universal Music group has been fighting off claims recently from people representing artists such as Rick James and Eminem over one of the most egregious schemes of the old-school record-label business model: the split between the label and artist. There is almost no way to thrive in the music biz as a musician; every step of the way is built around maneuvers to claim the rights to the music and profit from it before artists do.

Here’s one of the main ones: the artist/label splits and recoupment. All major labels and many indie labels structure record deals so that they get 88{e5d2c082e45b5ce38ac2ea5f0bdedb3901cc97dfa4ea5e625fd79a7c2dc9f191} to 90{e5d2c082e45b5ce38ac2ea5f0bdedb3901cc97dfa4ea5e625fd79a7c2dc9f191} of the sales. And on top of that, they require that the entire budget is recouped from the musicians 10{e5d2c082e45b5ce38ac2ea5f0bdedb3901cc97dfa4ea5e625fd79a7c2dc9f191} to 12{e5d2c082e45b5ce38ac2ea5f0bdedb3901cc97dfa4ea5e625fd79a7c2dc9f191} share. The odds are stacked against artist hitting that share, while at the same time the label can makes millions. Here’s how this sleight of hand works: If the label budgets and advances a band $250,000 (and side note, that money goes to the studio and producer, not the band) and then sells 200,000 copies at $10 each, the label puts $2 million in its pocket. The band’s share is $200,000, but since the advance has not been “recouped,” the band still “owes” the label $50,000. But in the meantime, the label has made $1,800,000 (minus some other real costs, including mechanical payments to the publishers). So the band members keep working the crappy day jobs with no salary, healthcare or benefits from the label. Welcome to show biz!

The labels have continued to claim this large share for downloads, even though there is none of the manufacturing and physical distribution that they claimed as the excuse for the original high percentage. Eminem and other high-profile artists have usually recouped and aren’t too concerned about the recoupment issue, but for the 95{e5d2c082e45b5ce38ac2ea5f0bdedb3901cc97dfa4ea5e625fd79a7c2dc9f191} of musicians who haven’t recouped, this would mean that that they might get paid for the first time. The advance would still be coming out of their share (which is bullshit as well), but at least artists who sell reasonably well, not mega units, would have a better chance of hitting the threshold.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s has decided not to review the case initiated by Eminem’s partners, F.B.T. Productions, so it’s up to the power of “Super Freak” to strike a blow for all artists still trying to pay back the company store. As Hunter S. Thompson said, “The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”

Video after the jump.