Classic bands like Def Leppard, Aerosmith, and Squeeze seem to have found a clever way to get back some of that royalty money they’ve been missing out on for all these years. While many of these bands’ record companies still own the master recordings that made the bands famous, most of the labels do not own the music itself. This means that a band like Def Leppard could decide to, let’s say, re-record their entire catalog of songs down to every last production detail to the point where the tracks are completely indistinguishable from the originals. We’ll call this the golden loophole.
Earlier this summer we mentioned in our buzz feed how Def Leppard decided to pull out the claws. According to Rolling Stone, the band “are re-recording some of their classic hits as a way to spite their label, Universal Music Group, with whom they’ve butted heads recently over compensation, especially for digital downloads.” The idea is that since Universal cannot authorize any use of the songs without Def Leppard’s permission, the band can just tell the label, “no matter what you want, you are going to get ‘no’ as an answer, so don’t ask.” The band can then can use their “forgeries,” as they call the new versions, for any future licensing or royalty-based deals. Now that’s sticking it to the man. After re-recording “Pour Some Sugar On Me” and “Rock Of Ages” — deliberately releasing the songs with the premiere of the new Tom Cruise film, also called Rock of Ages — the band figured: why stop there? “We’ll just replace our back catalog with brand new, exact same versions of what we did,” said frontman Joe Elliott.
They’re not the only ones though. In fact, Aerosmith may be the originators of this scheme. In 1999, the band re-recorded “Sweet Emotion” on their own (unbeknownst to their label Sony) and sold the record for a General Motors commercial worth $8 million, all of which went straight to the band. Take that, Sony.
British pop band Squeeze used this tactic back in 2010 with their cleverly titled best-of album, Spot The Difference. In an interview with the Huffington Post, bassist and singer Chris Difford explained that “Squeeze has never owned our own copyrights because, obviously, they’re owned by a major record label. We thought it might be fun to re-record our songs to make it possible for us to own a little bit more of our own history.” Sounds simple enough, right? Not so much. Lead singer and guitarist Glenn Tilbrook compares it to “[investigating] a crime scene. You’re trying to piece together backwards from a room with an unmade bed, an ash tray, some spilled drinks, and you’re trying to think, ‘Well how did that get there? What were they drinking?’” But as the title implies, all the recordings on Spot The Difference “sound pretty much like the originals.”
It may seem awfully extensive to go through the effort of replicating every pinch harmonic, every snare hit, every “yeeeeah,” down the the same timing, pitch, and frequency as the originals, but it just might be the only way for these rockstars to see some of the dough that they so rightfully deserve. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, bands that have done similar reproductions include: Twisted Sister, Styx, Wang Chung, KISS, and Alice Cooper. As unfortunate as it is to see famous musicians resorting to exhaustively desperate measures to reclaim their past, it’s a positive reminder that intellectual property still inherently belongs to the minds from whence it came. That is something no corporation can ever control… hopefully.
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