Last week, Rollie Pemberton made public his grievances with his former record company. In a blog post, the Canadian rapper who works professionally under the name Cadence Weapon detailed a saga involving global management and a recording contract he signed in 2005 as a teenager.
Paying back the money the label advanced him for his albums left him broke, he said. “I have traveled the world and performed hundreds of shows, but I was penniless all the time, always hungry, living on the per diem or the rider that the venue would give me.” Even the honoraria he earned from being named the 2009 Edmonton Poet Laureate went to the label, he says.
The label, which was not named in the Pemberton blog post, is Toronto-based Upper Class Recording. The small independent label, which no longer actively signs artists, has responded to Pemberton’s accusations. “Despite great effort and international interest, Upper Class Recordings has never benefited from the work of Cadence Weapon,” the label’s Travis Lefebvre told The Globe in an email. “The facts are that most musicians in our country unfortunately don’t make any money. This is also true for most independent music labels, and it was the case with Upper Class.
Speaking to The Globe and Mail, Pemberton said he had kept his problems with his old label to himself over the years because he felt “embarrassed” to have signed such a “stupid” deal. While understandable, the type of deal he signed was probably not uncommon in a high-risk business where standard contracts tend to favor the label, not the artist.
Most musical artists do not have the financial means to finance their careers. A record company can do it for them by advancing money to the artist to make an album. The artist must then repay the advance by returning their share of the royalties from the record until the label recovers their advance and other upfront costs. With record sales now catastrophic, advances are often not recovered.
Thus, labels have turned to other forms of income sources. By signing artists to so-called 360 agreements, labels are also committing to support artists in touring, merchandising, song editing and other areas. In return, the label receives a share of the artist’s income, not just record sales.
Permberton signed such an agreement with Upper Class. At the beginning, he was happy with the label which took care of its recordings, its management and its edition. “They believed in me and they did their best to make things work,” he says.
Son of Edmonton hip hop radio DJ Teddy Pemberton and grandson of Edmonton football player Eskimos Rollie Miles, Permberton recorded three albums on Upper Class: 2005 Breaking Kayfabe, 2008 After baby’s day and 2012 Hope in the city of dirt.
Under Upper Class, Pemberton’s career took off. He performed at the massive Glastonbury Festival, signed a licensing deal in the United States, and made two of his albums shortlist for the Polaris Music Prize. At one point, however, his calls and emails to Upper Class were no longer being returned.
Pemberton, a brain artist and socially conscious lyricist admits that while his albums haven’t sold a ton, he’s sent Upper Class $ 255,000 over the years from other income, including touring. He says he realizes that running a label is expensive, and that all he wanted was proper documentation of what he owed the label from the advances to the album. “All I asked for was real accounting on it, and to this day I have never received it.”
In their email to The Globe, Upper Class claimed that their books on Cadence Weapon were open: “We believe in a culture of trust and transparency and this is what was provided to all of our artists who wanted to understand the side. commercial of our label. “
Understanding the business side of the recording industry is understanding that labels claim that most artists don’t make them money, and that 360 deals like Pemberton’s with Upper Class are the only way for them to survive.
“The label’s success rate in recouping its advances is astronomically against them,” says music lawyer Paul Sanderson, author of Musicians and the Law in Canada. “Their reason for being is that they invest early in your career, so they want to take a certain percentage of the origin of your success.”
Record chords. Whether all-inclusive 360 offers or not, have come under intense scrutiny lately. Heavyweights such as Kanye West and Taylor Swift have publicly argued with their labels over what they see as lopsided deals against artists. Rolling Stone magazine recently ran a story asking if there is even a “fair” recording deal.
According to Sanderson, a lawyer can determine whether an agreement falls within the customs of the industry. “But that doesn’t necessarily make it right,” he says. “You can make a better deal for the artist with skillful negotiation and bargaining power.”
Pemberton didn’t have any of these things when he signed with Upper Class.
The 35-year-old artist is now with a new label, eOne, and his new album Parallel world was nominated for the Polaris Prize. In his song Connect, Pemberton notes the commodification of the recording industry: “I heard a song the other day / know the numbers not the name.”
He raps about the streaming stats that pit artists against artists – an online tally. Pemberton knows the score, and the odds are against a successful performer. And yet he is optimistic.
“I feel like I’m communicating my ideas more clearly than ever, and I have plenty of ideas,” he says. “All I need is help getting them out.”
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