Music Militia Plans To Protest UMG, Grammy Awards

Group against commercialization of music says it will stage rally outside Universal Music Group building and at Grammys.

A grassroots group opposed to the increasing commercialization of music is planning protests outside the New York offices of the newly formed superlabel, Universal Music Group, next Wednesday, as well as at the Grammy Awards ceremonies in Los Angeles Feb. 24.

Tom Martin, chief of the Music Militia, which staged a “sonic riot” outside last year’s Grammys and later held an Anti-Grammy ceremony at the New York rock club Coney Island High, said the protests are motivated by his group’s belief that the larger record companies pay too much attention to sales and not enough to music.

“Basically we’re protesting the slash-and-burn tactics of the major record labels and their placing the value of music on how many units are sold,” Martin said. “Apparently if an artist didn’t sell 500,000 units on their last album, they were cut — and that’s wrong.”

The Universal Music Group, which was formed after the $10.4 billion merger of Universal Music and Polygram, has led to a consolidation of affiliated labels and the loss of thousands of jobs. It also is expected to leave hundreds of bands without labels.

Bob Bernstein, a spokesperson for the Universal Music Group, declined to comment on the planned protest.

Jimmy Iovine, co-founder of Interscope Records and one of the new heads of the newly formed IGA label — a consolidation of the former Interscope Records, Geffen Records and A&M — denied that bands were being kept or dropped strictly based on their sales performances, in an interview in the Los Angeles Times.

“That’s bull. We kept a number of acts that haven’t sold anything and plan to drop several others that sold more than 500,000 units. We listened to as much music as we could and met with as many people working on the records as we could,” Iovine said. “What it comes down to in the end is a judgment call. You bet on the music and the people that you think you can work best with.”

Martin said he anticipates that between 400 and 500 members of his Music Militia will assemble outside the Universal Music Group building in midtown Manhattan at 1 p.m. Wednesday.

“We’re going to assemble outside and wage a sonic riot in an effort to literally liberate music from the corporate accountants,” Martin said. “We expect it to be a large cacophonous sound orgy, probably reducing itself to a single ‘om’ at the end of it.”

The Music Militia last year staged a protest outside the Grammy Awards ceremony in New York. In addition, performance artist Michael Portnoy, an acquaintance of Martin’s and a dancer onstage at the Grammy show, disrupted Bob Dylan’s performance of “Love Sick” (RealAudio excerpt) by dancing bare-chested behind the folk rock icon and Grammy winner with the words “Soy Bomb” painted in black on his chest.

Martin said his organization once again has infiltrated the Grammys’ security and hopes to stage a similar disruption at this year’s show and to hold a simultaneous demonstration in New York’s Dag Hammarskjold Plaza.

Maureen O’Connor, executive vice-president of Rogers & Cowan, the publicity firm for the Grammys, declined to comment Wednesday (Feb. 3) on the Music Militia’s planned protest.

The Music Militia’s Anti-Grammy show at Coney Island High last year featured a performance by John S. Hall, former frontman of the satirical rock act King Missile.

“To my mind, the Grammys are so many miles away from anything I have to do with,” Hall said at the time. “The idea of a fake Grammys, I think, is a necessary idea because so much of music has nothing to do with Grammys.”

Martin said no Anti-Grammy shows are planned for this year — so far.