By David Kenney
Year’s ago, Courtney Love’s angst-rock band Hole made the big time singing "Go on/take everything/take everything/I want you to go on/take everything" in the song "Violet."
These days, Love’s trying to take something back. Involved in a bitter battle with Universal Music, the sometimes actress aims to create a musicians’ Union. Love claims her current contract with Universal is unfair and she, as well as other musicians, should have access to health care and pension plans and be paid a greater percentage of CD royalties. Love is being sued by Universal Music for not completing the obligations of her contract.
Love’s neck is on the line. The likelihood of her success is slim; she’s probably taking a risk as great as Pearl Jam’s battle against the Ticketmaster monopoly. Her courage, however, has to be commended.
The music industry mainly consists of a few major record labels, many of them entertainment conglomerates. So essentially, Love isn’t just fighting her own label.
Creating a musicians’ Union is would completely change the music industry. In terms of CD royalties alone, a Union would help ensure one-hit wonders and no-hit musicians aren’t left for dead, post-career. After all, despite what some think, rock and roll is a job.
And in many cases, that job involves working under extreme conditions. Look at George Harrison. Attacked by a knife-wielding, crazed fan, the former Beatle almost lost use of his guitar-playing hand. While Harrison is finally secure, not all musicians are as fortunate as he is. If a young musician loses their ability to make music, it may mean menial jobs and disability insurance for life.
Love’s crusade isn’t without potential fallbacks, however. Increased musician royalties might create higher CD prices. As well, the already downsized music industry may be forced to cut even more jobs than those that will be lost as a result of the Universal/Polygram merger.
Still, if musicians create the music then shouldn’t they be reaping more of what they sow? Definitely. Of course there are recording costs, promotional costs, et cetera to consider but after playing concert halls away from family and friends for up to a year at a time, artists shouldn’t have to worry about penny pinching. Leave that to the label, who will still make extensive amounts of money even if there was a union involved. Love puts it best in a letter posted on the Music Industry News Network website claiming:
"Record companies have a 5 per cent success rate. That means 5 per cent of all records of all records released by major labels go gold or platinum. How do record companies get away with a 95 per cent failure rate that would be totally unacceptable in any other business?"
She’s right, it’s time to make record labels dance to the music.