The music world has seen supergroups before, but never one like the Recording Artists’ Coalition — a band of 140-plus musicians that includes such diverse types as Neil Diamond and Christina Aguilera. The RAC isn’t making new music, though; it’s fighting for new laws. The group, founded in 2000 by Don Henley and Sheryl Crow, was created to lobby state and national legislatures about artists’ rights in the music business. One major goal is to overturn an amendment to California state law that effectively excludes musicians from a seven-year contract limit. They’re also pushing for copyright laws that would make it easier for artists to reclaim their work from record companies, and they’re trying to help artists get royalties from Internet use of their music. (Want more about the RAC’s issues, including the music industry’s response? Get it here.).
In February, endlessly eclectic singer/songwriter Beck and SoCal pop-punk survivors the Offspring were among the headliners of four RAC fundraising concerts in California, raising an estimated $2.7 million for the cause. The Offspring’s frontman, Dexter Holland, and Beck each recently hooked up with EW.com to elaborate on why they’re fighting for their rights.
What do you hope the Recording Artists’ Coalition will accomplish?
BECK: We’re just trying to even the playing field and open up a place in the dialogue for us to express our concerns. Musicians haven’t always traditionally been business-minded. We’ve been going on someone else’s schedule and agenda.
DEXTER HOLLAND: I’ve been in a band for a long time and I have a small label, so I see the business from both sides — as the artist and as the guy running a label. But there’s all kinds of crazy stuff that’s just become established over time in recording contracts. They have deductions and this, that, and the other thing, and it becomes, like, what the hell [is this]? The way you deal with it as a band is hopefully to have enough clout by selling enough records that you hire yourself a really good lawyer and you fight it and you negotiate it and you get what you need — and that’s great. But it’s almost like you get into the mindset of forgetting how crazy some of it is in the first place. What we want to do is take it beyond having your own lawyer for your contract and expand it to more something that’s on a legislative level.
What would you say to people who seem to see this as a bunch of millionaires banding together in their own interests?
HOLLAND: I really don’t think it’s true. I think that we’re lucky that we’ve been successful enough that we can draw attention to it. But these aren’t issues that only affect our bands — these are issues that affect lots of little bands. For them any source of income can be significant. I’m thinking of the Internet and how [royalty rates] could make a difference to some people to be able to stay together or to be able to pay their rent. When the Offspring used to tour in my truck, the fifty bucks we got paid for playing got us to the next town, and maybe those six t-shirts we sold that night got us our Taco Bell. It all kind of added up. Later on, certain venues figured out a scheme where they started taking a percentage of the merchandise, and as a small band, we were powerless to fight that. Hopefully, we can prevent more of those kinds of things from happening — and that stuff helps all bands.
BECK: How many waves of musicians can you see come and go, that get eaten up by the thing and spit out, before you just say hey, this isn’t the way to do things? Any viewer of ”Behind the Music” knows what kind of ride musicians have taken, and they know it’s not the most equitable business to become entangled in. But there’s those of us who want to be able to continue making music because we love it, and we want to be able to do it in a fashion that is sane and that’s workable.