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Boy!! Bands!!
By Danny McBride - 08/21/2002 - 12:45 AM EDT

By Danny McBride © 2002

Recently The New York Times ran a feature piece on The BackStreet Boys. NO WAIT!! This is not what you think. It DOES apply to you and me.

See, normally I would see the Backstreets on magazines such as TWIST or SEVENTEEN or whatever and pay no attention. (Yes, those publications come into the house, but I swear they are not mine!!) Or I might hear their music playing from the room of the resident teenager, although in that teenager’s defense, I must admit it’s been a few years since that happened- -now it’s Pink and Michelle Branch and No Doubt. But in the prepubescent years, it was Britney and "The Boy Bands". Say - -did you ever wonder about that oxymoron- -"Boy Bands"? They’re not "boys" and they’re not "bands"- -They’re grown men, some married, some almost bald, some with beards and moustaches, and they only sing, they don’t- -at least in public- -play instruments. They should be called "Vocal Groups". By today’s definition, The Jordanaires would be a "Boy Band". Think about it. Thank-you-very-much.

So what the TIMES article was about that got me so riled up about the real music business was ROYALTIES- -The one thing we ALL have in common in this songwriting-music business endeavor, no matter what genre we’re in, or at least the one common thread we all hope to be a part of.

These five bozos have sold something like 65 million records and they haven’t seen any royalties over a nine-year career. Surely you jest, you say. Ah, would that I were.

For all of you who are looking forward to an exciting career in the music business, learn this word now: "unrecouped". Know what it means?

Once upon a time, an act made a record. Well they "practiced all day and up into the night, my Daddy’s hair was a-turnin’ white- -’Cause he didn’t like, ah, rock’roll, he said ‘You can stay, Boy, but that’s gotta go’."—Bill Parsons, All American Boy.

They were so excited to get a "yes" from the A&R guy that they hardly paid any attention to the details of the deal. Their lawyer said it was a standard contract and the record company seemed thrilled and delighted to have them on the roster. How could you lose?

They got an advance against royalties which they used for better amps and equipment and to get their new stage show in order. They recorded their tunes in a great state-of-the-art studio under the watchful eye of an experienced "big-name" producer. They had some wild graphics done for their CD cover and for promo material, and agreed to make themselves available to the pop-music press, and teen fan magazines through the press agent they hired.

They caught on. A couple of tracks got airplay. Their pictures were in TWIST and SEVENTEEN. Next thing you know, the video that cost $250,000 is in heavy rotation on MTV. And they start to chart. And that means Soundscan so they know how many units they’ve sold. And they start to tour. And people start to come to see them. And, as you can imagine, the dream starts to come true.

Except that it is a dream. When the first royalty statement comes, it shows they still owe money to the record company for the advance and the studio time and the producer and everything. Okay wait til next time. Nope. Still owe money. And the next time. They find that no matter how well they do, no royalties. They are still "unrecouped". The record company claims that they have not made back their initial investment in the act, and that money comes first before the group gets any royalties.

But it’s a three record deal. And now it’s time to record album two. So they go through the whole process again- -studio, producer- -the works. Now when the next royalty statement comes, they not only haven’t paid off the investment for the first album, they now owe even more for the second one. And so it goes- -to the third and final album. By the end of this process, you may own all three albums, and have enjoyed the act immensely, and yet they owe money to the record company. They didn’t really make much of anything on the CDs.

Now, of course, they can make money touring. And with the ancillary merchandising of T-shirts and posters and such there should be more money. But chances are, that a young act who would sign such a deal in the first place may have a manager who is making all the money on all this himself, and paying the band as salaried employees.

It’s an amazing story, but its not new. And it will happen again.

Getting signed may seem like a desired goal. But first get ahold of one of those big fat legally books that looks like it came from a college course and read about all the ins and outs of how you can get screwed.

Start by looking up the word "unrecouped".


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