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Reunion Tour! Bands, Breakups and Contracts

image from musicbiz101wp.comThe vast majority of successful bands usually end up going through some kind of personnel change, sometimes to the point of having no original members at all. So what are the legal ramifications of these switcheroos and breakups? Prof. David Philp explains.

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Guest post by William Paterson University Professor David Philp from Music Biz 101

Reunion Tour!  The Band Is Back!  Wait – Who Are These Guys?

We all have our favorite band of all time.  Whether it’s the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, *N-Sync or Fifth Harmony, they almost all break up or go through personnel changes (except for U2, if you click on the article, which you should do).  What are the consequences of breakups?

THIS ARTICLE that you just clicked on (big thanks to my brother, Eric, who was a fan of the original Velvet Underground lineup) goes through a list of famous bands that created famous songs & albums, all of which have gone through lineup changes or breakups.

Most interesting are the bands that have no original members but tour with the famous name.  Ever heard of Blood, Sweat & Tears or the Little River Band?

Historically, it’s hard for bands to keep their original lineups intact, even if the band by name stayed together.  Here are some examples:

– Rolling Stones – Original guitarist Brian Jones died; Mick Taylor, a replacement guitarist, was eventually replaced by Ronnie Wood.

– The Who – Original drummer Keith Moon died; Kenny Jones became his replacement.  For the band’s 1989 Tommy anniversary tour through today, there has been no sign of Kenny Jones.  Meanwhile, as The Who prepare for their summer 2019 tour, they do so also without original bassist John Entwistle, who also died.

– Van Halen – David Lee Roth was kicked out (or left, depending upon whose story you believe); Sammy Hagar joined.  Sammy Hagar was kicked out (or left, depending upon whose story you believe).  Gary Charone took Sammy’s place.  Sammy and David toured together.  Then David was back in Van Halen.  Meanwhile, bassist Michael Anthony was kicked out and formed a band with Sammy.

Did you keep track of that one?

Readers of this have probably been through this on their own.  I have.  My high school band lost members.  We stuck together through college.  Then we gained and lost members.  I’m still awaiting that reunion tour.  (Note: The pic above is from my very, very first band, The Last Exit.  The goofball on the far left was the nephew of David Johansen, a semi-famous artist from the ’70s punk band the New York Dolls, which, yes, broke up.  David has best been known as Buster Poindexter, who had a huge hit in the ’80s, “Hot, Hot, Hot.”  He no longer performs as Buster Poindexter, so does that mean he broke up with himself?)

There are lots of bottom lines here.  The most important: Bands need to sign agreements amongst each other in the earlier days, before success spoils them silly and they grow quickly to hate each other.

Imagine this – You’re in a band and have a few hits.  You sang on the hits.  You’re forced out of the band.  The band breaks up afterward.  Years pass and you want to go out to tour and use the band name.  After all, those hits are associated with your voice and, quite frankly, nobody else is using the name.  How about it?

Nope!  Not unless whomever owns the band name (and that obviously ain’t you) grants you permission, which would never happen unless there was some money involved.

There have been lawsuits amongst members of Pink Floyd, Guns ‘N’ Roses, and others over who can use a band name.  If bands determine within the contract who owns the name and how one loses control of the name (usually by a member leaving voluntarily or getting kicked out of the band), then the lawyers don’t need to be the winners.  It’s all spelled out.

This is taken from the article that I keep bugging you to read:

Chuck Negron, a founding member of Three Dog Night who sang several of its biggest hits, including “Joy to the World,” said that bandmates had him sign a contract — which stipulated that any member fired from the group would have no further right to use the name — while he was a heroin addict.

Negron was later fired for missing shows. His attempt to bill himself as “Chuck Negron, formerly of Three Dog Night” led to a legal battle that the two parties resolved by agreeing that he could use the “formerly” designation, provided that in all print advertisements, the words Three Dog Night were no larger than half the size of the words Chuck Negron.

The lesson here: Don’t do heroin.

(From L to R: Bruce Pilato, Carl Palmer’s manager, Professor David Kirk Philp, Carl Palmer, Davonna Approvato, Dr. Esteban Marcone)

If you listen to THIS INTERVIEW we did with Carl Palmer, former drummer of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, you’ll hear him speak with some bitterness about the era when the band became Emerson, Lake & Powell – because the group couldn’t wait two weeks for Palmer to finish something else he was working on.

While we’re on this subject of contracts, I’d like to urge songwriters reading this to make sure they are keeping track of song splits – the percentage of ownership songwriters have of a song.  If I write the verse and the chorus, both chords and lyrics, and I bring you in for the bridge, we need to figure out after we’re done how much you contributed.

There are lots of factors involved in what the percentage of the bridge writer would be: from length of the bridge to the over all importance of the bridge to the song, to whether or not the person who wrote the bridge was really famous.  Maybe a good split would be 75/25 in favor of the main songwriter.

If the bridge writer was famous, that might end up as 50/50.  Either way, figure that out before the song is released.  The best time is right after the song is done, maybe even before it’s fully recorded.

In Nashville, the culture is based upon whomever was in the room with an instrument.  If there were three of us in the room participating, it’s just assumed by all three that we’re splitting the song in thirds – even if all I did was come up with the lyrics to one verse.

It’s important to do this before memories fade.  I know of a situation someone is in right now in which the chief writer can’t remember the contribution of another writer, who claims he should get 25% of the song.  The main writer doesn’t think the other writer, ultimately, contributed anything.  But they were in a band together and the band broke up and there are some, not hard, but not great feelings.

How will this turn out?  The other “writer” will get something, but not 25%.  And the main writer will have to suck it up because they didn’t deal with it sooner.

One final question: Have you read the article yet?  Not this one.  You’re already here, so that means you’ve read these words.  But what about the main article?  Give some love to Rob Tannenbaum of the NY Times.  He worked hard on it.  His mother is very proud of him.  You should be proud too.

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Professor David Philp is Assistant Professor Music & Entertainment Industries and Popular Music Studies at William Paterson University. He is the co-host of the only FREE advice college radio-based music & entertainment industry talk show in America, Music Biz 101 & More, which airs live most Wednesday nights and is available as a podcast HERE every night (days too).  Your favorite professor is also co-author (with Dr. Steve Marcone) of Managing Your Band – 6th Edition.  Reach him at PhilpD@wpunj.edu or find him on LinkedIn HERE.

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