In 1998, a year after leaving Guns N’ Roses, Duff McKagan was working on his second solo album ‘Beautiful Disease‘ for Geffen. He was told, “We’re backing you, Duff. This album will be our top priority for the first quarter of 1999.” But the end of 1998 promo copies had been sent out and were receiving airplay and Duff was settling into a season of press interviews. Then Geffen was sold to Universal and merged with Interscope. On meeting the new boss, Duff was told,
“I’m going on a ski vacation and I’m going to listen to all the upcoming releases with my kids. We’ll decide whether they have a future with the label or not. When I come back I’ll let everyone know. I’ll have each artist into my office to tell them personally where they stand”
On the day the album was due to hit the shops (which was also Duff’s birthday) he found a message left on his answering machine from an intern telling him Interscope had decided not to release Beautiful Disease.
“I subsequently offered to buy the album back from the label so I could release it some other way. After all, I had put a lot of work into it and was proud of the results. I said I would pay all the recording costs – about $80,000 . They said no, sorry, we will only sell it at a profit. You can have it back for $250,000. Otherwise we’ll just keep it in the vault.”
What’s wrong with this picture?
What can we learn from this story? An artist can loving craft and album for months, working with professional producers, engineers and managers and end up at the mercy of an executive’s children. 13 years later Beautiful Disease is still unreleased. Interscope is not a shyster outfit. It’s a respectable major label. And Duff wasn’t stitched up by a bad contract. When an artist sign a record contract the label owns the music. Forever. Meaning Duff’s nightmare scenario could happen to any artist. The same record labels that join forces with the RIAA to ‘defend the rights of musicians’ against individuals who illegally download their music are the ones issuing these diabolical ‘standard contracts’. So who’s protecting artists like Duff McKagan from abuse and exploitation at the hands of record labels like Geffen, Universal, Interscope? No one.
There’s just one darkly humorous crumb of comfort in this story. Several years later the same executive (now president of another company) was trying to sign Duff’s new band Velvet Revolver.
“He arrived at our rehearsal space and went through his routine, using all the standard industry buzzwords: artistic freedom, artist focused, personal touch, like a family, blah, blah, blah. Then [vocalist] Scott [Weiland] …started talking – seemingly off the cuff – about a friend who had been dropped one time without a call from the label. “Look, we know the industry is changing…but we don’t want to work with people like that.” The guy took the bait: “No way, I treat my artists like family. That would never happen with me.” Then Scott dropped the bomb: “That friend was this guy here,” he said pointing to me, “and you’re the asshole who didn’t have the decency to make the courtesy call. Get the f**k out of here”.
Stealing is BAD…kidnapping? Not so much
And the moral is – while stealing a musician’s work is evil and illegal, it’s perfectly OK to kidnap someone’s music and hold it to ransom – IF you’re a record company.
(Duff McKagan: It’s So Easy And Other Lies p.295-7, 320-1)