Writing a book about metal and hard rock bands, Bang Your Head, wasn’t always an easy experience because there’s plenty of jerk musicians out there, but the dudes in Def Leppard are definitely on the good guys list.
I can still remember when Pyromania was a huge album in the early eighties, and it’s great to see they’re still doing it after all these years.
So it was a trip to see how Def Leppard’s trying to beat the music business at its own game by re-recording several of their hits, which brings them more money in digital sales. Actually, I should say the band’s fighting what’s left of the music business, because it’s a whole new world since the eighties, thanks to illegal downloading.
In the late nineties, the major labels started folding into each other, and Def Leppard’s label, Mercury, is now part of Universal Music. The band won’t allow Universal to put their music on iTunes, or allow it to be used in movies, like the recent Rock of Ages, because they don’t feel they have a good deal on digital sales. As the Hollywood Reporter tells us, an artist today could get 8 cents for a download, but an established artist like Def Leppard could get 30 cents, and other artists want a 50 / 50 split. So by selling covers of their own songs, the band gets 70%.
This isn’t the first time a band has done this. Suicidal Tendencies re-recorded their first album to try and get money they were screwed out of, and other artists are re-recording their songs to try and make money in the digital age as well. Of course, these days people aren’t paying for music, and artists have to make their livings through touring and selling merchandise, so the fact that anybody can make money off selling music is quite surprising.
And of course, what’s left of the music business will keep giving artists the shaft until there isn’t a music business left. In the case of Def Leppard, they actually have the money and resources to fight the label, as Metallica did back in the ‘90s when they renegotiated their deal with Elektra. For the small fry artist? Good luck trying to renegotiate your deal, or get out of a bad one, which is why it’s great that you can do it all yourself now and not sign away your life to a label.
This report tells us Universal apparently got the message and is trying to renegotiate with Def Lep, who say they want a fair split with the label. And the band is also very fortunate in that there’s still a lot of interest and sales with their catalog after all these years (remember, Pyromania’s almost thirty years old now).
While the music business will probably always be corrupt, I’m sure a lot of artists will have to go through a legal morass like this, even if they have good label deals, to make sure they get a fair shake in the digital age.