[JPL] Sony owns America's music

Jazz Promo Services jazzpromo at earthlink.net
Thu Aug 7 07:59:14 EDT 2008


Sony owns America's music
What's it mean that the back catalogs of record companies documenting 100
years of American music are now wholly owned by the Japanese Sony
Corporation, which has bought out Bertelsmann, its German partner in the
four-year-old behemoth music corporation Sony BMG?
Sony now controls the master tapes of Columbia, Okeh, RCA Victor, Bluebird,
Epic, Arista, Ariola -- labels that brought us the sounds of Enrico Caruso,
the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, King Oliver, the Carter Family, Jelly Roll
Morton, Louis Armstrong, Jimmy Rogers, Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, Fats
Waller, Holiday, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, Arsenio Rodriguez,
Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, Chet Atkins, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Tito
Puente, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, the Jefferson Airplane, stereophonic sound,
the long-play record, the 45 rpm single, many Broadway shows and much
classical repertoire, among other productions.  This amounts to an
invaluable national treasure.

Neither BMG nor Sony, separately or united for the past four years, have
been very responsible caretakers of this legacy. There is voluminous
out-of-print music in their vaults, and intermittent initiatives to reissue
classic works in the latest formats have suffered from lack of
follow-through. We thank Columbia Legacy for all those Miles boxed sets as
well as Lady Day - The Complete Billie Holiday on Columbia, 1933-1944, and
Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys (Legends of Country Music); also BMG for
The Duke Ellington Centennial Edition, The Complete RCAVictor Recordings
(1927-1973), and Fats Waller's If You Gotta Ask, You Ain't Got It! They've
done the occasional deluxe package proud. But big-ticket sets are also less
frequently being scheduled for release.

Both BMG and Sony have continued to record and issue American popular music
-- Alicia Keyes, Usher, Justin Timberlake, et al -- yet efforts in regards
to jazz, blues, classical and contemporary composition have mostly been
curtailed. The bean-counting experts who run media conglomerates today
recognize little profit margin in reissues of classics or attempts to
develop anything but likely huge hits. They're probably right, as long as
they ignore the unquantifiable yield of creative productivity. However, if
the music of our past is not readily accessible to us (which is the promise
of recording processes and the theoretically unlimited storage and
distribution available through the Internet) portions of our collective
memory are fogged, if not lost. Young listeners -- including hit-makers of
tomorrow -- won't become very musically literate if corporations don't
bother to make the great music they've come to own available for iPods.

Over the last week I advised two highly acclaimed and accomplished musician
friends to stop worrying about getting signed by record labels and figure
out how to record and distribute their works themselves (though a third
musician told me a good indie label will put $$ into production in return
for, say 50% of a master he has recorded, and everybody's happy). Successful
models for the time and labor-intensive DIY endeavor include ArtistShare and
trumpeter Dave Douglas's Greenleaf Music. Such business is not for everyone
-- it requires considerable attention, energy and a stash of working
capitol. But why give rights to your creativity away? Especially if the new
owners aren't gonna do anything with those rights but squander creativity's
potential to reach new audiences and seed more creativity?


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