Courtney Love, Don Henley and LeAnn Rimes went to California's State Capitol Building on Wednesday to complain about record-company business practices and ask for legislation to free musicians from long-term contracts.
"At 12, I was thrilled to sign my record contract with Curb Records, and at that age I didn't understand everything that was in my contract," Rimes told state senators. "I just turned 19 last month, and if I record at a rate of one album every two years, which is the industry average, I will be 35 before the contract is over."
The hearing in Sacramento focused on a 14-year-old amendment that exempts recording artists from California labor laws meant to protect other entertainers.
The state's so-called seven-year statute prevents companies from binding an entertainer to a contract for more than seven years. But recording artists lost that protection in 1987, when record companies secured the right to sue them for undelivered albums after seven years.
"In 1987, [record companies] snuck in, and you guys got snookered," Love told lawmakers including Democratic state Senator Kevin Murray, a former music agent who recently founded the Senate's Select Committee on the Entertainment Industry. Murray organized a series of hearings to help him decide whether to try to repeal the amendment.
The Hole singer said touring requirements, coupled with the time it takes to write and record an album, make the standard record contract impossible to fulfill. "I don't care what the [industry] says to you today; they lied to you," she said. "I cannot make seven albums in seven years. They will not let me."
"Record companies can fire us, but we can't fire them, even if they fail to perform their duties," said Henley, the Eagles singer and drummer who last year co-founded the Recording Artists Coalition with Sheryl Crow to lobby for artists' rights (see "Don Henley's RIAA Alternative Gaining Steam").
Cary Sherman, senior vice president of the Recording Industry Association of America, which represents record companies, said labels take massive financial risks and endure the failure of 90 percent of their acts. He said the amendment provides needed protection for the labels, and the only artists affected by it are superstars.
Asked to comment specifically on Rimes' claims about her contract, Sherman said her situation appeared to be an anomaly. A spokesperson at Curb could not be reached for immediate comment.
The inquiry into record-industry customs comes in the wake of lawsuits against major labels by such artists as Love (see "Courtney Love Hits Speed Bump In Label Fight") and the Dixie Chicks (see "Dixie Chicks Claim Sony Robbed Them Of More Than $4 Million"). Dixie Chick Natalie Maines was at the hearing but did not testify.
R&B singer Patti Austin, artist manager Jim Guerinot, whose clients include No Doubt and the Offspring, and Michael Greene, CEO of the Recording Academy, also testified against the amendment.
Much of the discussion strayed from the core issue of the seven-year statute, partially because the lawmakers were grappling to understand how the music industry works. Love and Henley handed out books about the industry to senators so they could study up for the next hearing.
Love, sporting a new brown hairdo and a demure dark dress with a round white collar, began her testimony by claiming that music-industry reform could prove profitable for California.
"I've made more for Universal than 'Titanic,' " she claimed. "And are they even nice to me? No, they're rude!"
Congress is also planning to hold hearings into the recording business, according to the Los Angeles Times (see "Record Industry Scrutinized By California, Federal Officials").