By Hans Ebert
My friend Ben Semmens and I received a Royalty cheque last week from Universal Music Publishing in Hong Kong for HK$284.
This was after months of hounding the publishing house for a statement of “monies earned to date” for our song called “Home”, not the most original of titles in this hashtag and Google-centric world, but a recording that we were proud of when first produced and still believe is a track can travel much further than it has to date- the theme song for the 130th Anniversary of the Hong Kong Jockey Club and made with the original English version and two covers in Cantonese made available on iTunes. Proud parents tend to always be possessive about their children and want the very best for them.
Of course, HK$284 isn’t really going to further this particular child’s education where it won’t even reach the status of graduating to one hundred McHappy Meals. But, it clearly shows that, unless a Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran or Dr Dre, or that rapidly receding group of recording artists that enjoy a power base of immense popularity and proportions, those that make up the music industry- like Universal Music Publishing in Hong Kong, part of the Universal Music Group, the largest music company in the world and where everyday there is some news about its latest acquisition, or “strategic alliance”, and the genius of its global leader Lucien Grainge – don’t give Bo Diddley squat about supporting “their” other artists- those battlers still running up that hill Kate Bush once shrilled about.
“Supporting the artist” and “Saving The Music” become vapid corporate speak from tossers who can’t be bothered to even walk up to the pulpit and pretend to practice what they preach.
This apathy, arrogance and lack of transparency is not only bad for business- and, every day, the business of making music becomes less and less important and financially moribund- it shows rampant elitism at work.
Let’s just imagine this same song was written today by an unknown Chris Martin or Bruno Mars who decided to sign its Rights over to Universal Music Publishing Hong Kong in the hopes that the company’s enormous global machinery and tentacles would mean it being marketed and promoted and presented as an original worthy of being recorded by the winner or runner up in any of those often cringeworthy television karaoke contests. Even this American Idol come and gone never-been named Taylor Hicks.
Fat chance of that ever happening as most of those in music publishing companies are “admin” people without a creative bone in their bodies. Yet, they are given the task of “looking after publishing”- whatever that’s meant to mean- which is basically filing songs away, and hope that’s another job well done for that day when the pension fund matures and one can ride off into the sunset blissfully happy that Tombstone Territory has been cleaned up for the new sheriff taking over the town.
Would the unknown Chris Martin and the unknown Bruno Mars have had more luck that the unknown Ben Semmens and Hans Ebert? Probably not- and this is because we have no power to ask the hard questions and publicly shame Universal Publishing- Worldwide.
Here’s the nagging problem to all of this: Why sign a piece of work if there are no plans to do anything with it?
Then again, think of the acts outside of the U.S. and the UK that have signed “worldwide recording deals” with so-called majors, only to realise that after the press releases have been sent out, and everyone has done the dance of Great Expectations, that record has not passed Go and is still stuck on that derelict Old Kent Road.
There was a time not too long ago when some excellent bands in Denmark signed these “worldwide recording deals” with Sony Music in that country which was the most active major in that music market, apparently flew their managers here, there and to Never Never Land where they met and partied on like Beavis and Butthead on crack with the music company’s major global players, but with nothing moving further than Aarhus. Ever been to Aarhus?
Again, one cannot comprehend the pretzel logic of a music-based company signing talent only to do nothing with them.
Forget Ben Semmens and myself; where has there been any marketing or promotion for all those songwriters and recording acts still under the vise-like grip of a ball-busting contract?
They’re not needed, and no one gives a damn about them, but they’re still shacked like old Kunta Kinte to a legally binding contract signed in excitable haste after being conned by those who work hand in glove with these Shylocks- those so-called “promoters” and organisers still flogging the “con-cept” of “music conferences” while waiving the old carrot shtick of “playing to some of the biggest names in the music industry.” What’s not spelt out in the fine print are the words, “who happen to be wankers”.
As for my HK$284 question, here’s hoping it opens up a can of worms and shames all those involved in this farcical business model that many working in music companies know to be cracked, but is allowed to plod along despite the wheels having come off decades ago.
It’s all about keeping up pretences even though those glory days of being proud to have a name card showing that you were a big swinging dick with EMI Music, or Sony or Warner or Universal Music is, these days, more of a badge of shame that’s suffering from George Costanza-type shrinkage.
To Universal Music Publishing, two things: this.