Top Six Artist Vs. Record Label Feuds
Pink Floyd has finally settled its lengthy dispute with their longtime record label EMI. The band, which signed to the label over 40 years ago, first took EMI to court last spring in an effort to clarify their existing contract. Floyd sought to prevent EMI from "unbundling" their albums by selling individual tracks online.
The battle endured through 2010 before reaching a settlement earlier this week. The compromise, which included the ordering of the label to pay the band's legal costs, must have been to Pink Floyd's liking, because the band also renewed its five-year deal with the label. The caveat? Pink Floyd's back catalogue is still available as single-track downloads.
Unfortunately, artist/label spats are dreadfully common, and it's no wonder EMI was willing to negotiate with Pink Floyd. Since the label was acquired by private equity firm Terra Firma in 2007, EMI has lost its high-profile acts including The Rolling Stones, Radiohead and Paul McCartney.
An artist signing with a major label is the quintessential catch-22. While major labels knowingly have the deepest pockets, they often obstruct an artist's true artistic vision, locking them into years-long contracts with dwindling freedom of choice. Many modern artists choose to forgo, or abandon, major labels and instead release their music with independent labels, which are usually more prone to working with an artist for the purpose of making music, not money.
Pink Floyd's recent squabble got Rocks Off thinking about some of the more cunningly colorful artist/label quarrels of the past. The gloves are off!
6. Tom Petty vs. MCA
When Tom Petty presented the recordings of his first solo album, Full Moon Fever, to MCA executives, he was "stunned" at their reaction. Get ready to crack the all-too-obvious but ever-so-apt "Into the Great Wide Open" joke--they "didn't hear a single," explains Petty in Paul Zollo's Conversations With Tom Petty.
This record ultimately produced a handful of hit singles, including "I Won't Back Down," "Runnin' Down a Dream," and what would become Petty's highest-charting Billboard song, "Free Fallin'."
Rather than dwelling on the rejection - which Petty admitted had "never happened" to him - he instead focused his efforts on the newly formed Traveling Wilburys, releasing the band's debut LP Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 in 1988.
After the Wilburys release, Petty returned to MCA, which had since undergone a regime shift of sorts. Full Moon Fever was finally accepted and released in 1989. The album marked Petty's commercial peak as an artist, produced five singles - two of which hit the Billboard Top 20 - and has now sold more than five million copies.
So much for not hearing a single.
5. Wilco vs. Reprise/AOL Time Warner
Shortly after Wilco completed its Yankee Hotel Foxtrot LP in 2001, AOL merged with Time Warner and the company's new executives terminated 600 jobs - one of which belonged to Howie Klein, President of Wilco's longtime label Reprise and loyal supporter of the band.
Wilco was then passed onto A&R reps David Kahne and Mio Vukovic, who deemed Yankee single-less and unsuitable for commercial release, suggesting the band rework the album. Wilco repeatedly declined, Yankee was officially rejected by the label and the band left Reprise.
Wilco negotiated buyout terms with the label, successfully securing rights to Yankee - for free, it's rumored, an effort on Reprise's part to curb their now marred public relations image - and streamed the album on its Web site. They also shopped it around to other labels, ultimately signing with Nonesuch Records. In an ironically laughable twist of fate, also happens be an AOL Time Warner subsidiary.
Officially released in 2002, Yankee was eventually certified Gold and has sold nearly 600,000 units, and wound up on myriad "best albums of the '00s" lists.