Today is the birthday of the Skafish album What’s This? 1976-1979! Eight years ago on April 1, 2008, it became the first release on my label, 829 Records. Featuring recordings from August 1976 through November 1979, this record, in part, documents the early period of the Skafish band, featuring many subterranean gems that have never been released.
The album captures a snapshot of a revolutionary, transformational and turbulent time. This fact is clearly documented in the liner notes written by Rock and Roll Hall of Fame legends Cheap Trick.
Some of the tracks are the early versions of the songs that made it to my first album, and some people were upset about that. They wanted the first album, which I didn’t have the legal rights to re-release at the time.
Still, I am very proud of What’s This? as an objective historical document. When it comes to What’s This? 1976-1979, this record stands on its own and is truly like no other.
#TBT: In July, 1977, I needed to have emergency knee surgery due to a dancing accident that caused a bone chip in my knee. Around 4 weeks later, I was back on stage performing my 21st birthday party concert. Check out the video that talks about the insanity of that time.
Many of you already know that I have quite a large back catalog of both unreleased and previously released material that is currently unavailable. With some of it, like What’s This? 1976 – 1979 and Bootleg 21-35, I’ve been able to successfully get it out there. At the same time, there are still many other compositions and recordings I’m in the process of trying to release, including my first and second album.
From time to time, I go into the archives and check out how something hits me again. Earlier this spring, I decided to listen to several unreleased tracks I recorded back in 2003-2004. I wanted to see how they hit me and if they might be worth getting out there. These are tracks which I recorded at home, where I did all the singing, instruments, production, recording, arranging, and most of the engineering.
One of them really caught my attention more strongly this time. It’s a cover of the Monkees classic, [I’m Not Your] Steppin’ Stone. Recorded by everyone from Paul Revere and the Raiders to the Sex Pistols, it’s a song that I feel has a lot of edge and still holds up well today. It also takes me back to my childhood when the Monkees television show captured such a free-spirited, idyllically cool and fun vibe. When I used to watch the show, I thought to myself, “I’m too weird to be in a band like this, but wouldn’t it be fun?”
So I started the wheels turning in my mind. I thought that it could be a great idea to get the track mastered, do a video, and release it as a single – just for fun. Doing a video, even if that was just a simple performance clip, was crucial. But I knew that I had to have a video, so people could check the song out online, especially on You Tube. If not, how would anyone hear it? Recent studies show that 91% of all people listen to a song on You Tube before buying it, and discover their music there.
So I started researching who owns the copyright to the song and how to get in touch with them, so I could request a video sync license. You may already know this, but everyone is supposed to get a video sync license, in writing, to be able to put up a video when doing a cover of someone else’s song.
I discovered that the publishing is owned by EMI, who is actually owned by Sony/ATV, one of the largest publishers in the world. In mid-June, 2014, I put in a call. I was surprised that my call was returned within an hour by a helpful and nice lady. In that conversation, I explained my situation and told her that I am an independent artist, without financial backing from any outside entity (such as a record label), who wanted to post a low-budget promotional video to my cover version of “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone.” After a lengthy conversation, she told me how to contact their license request hotline, and that they would be able to direct me on how to complete the process. She indicated that they always like to grant licenses, and even added that I might be able to get it for free!
Once I filled out the request form online, I was contacted via email by someone named Ryan Saylor who was supposed to assist me in this process. We started an email exchange, where I explained my situation again. What was odd, though, was that Ryan’s emails kept asking the same questions I had just answered. “Where will the video be shown?” was one of his responses to an email where I had just answered that very question. Like I had just written to him, I wanted to post the video online on my You Tube channels, Vimeo, Daily Motion, Skafish.com, my blog, my Facebook pages, and on my social media accounts. After several emails, he told me it would cost me $1250.00 per year, EVERY YEAR, to post the video online. Keep in mind that I wanted a license in perpetuity, not just for one or two years. So, at ten years, that’s $12, 500.00. At thirty years, it adds up to $37, 500.00. That’s just to post the video online, not sell it in a DVD package or make money from it directly.
I wrote back and told him I didn’t have that kind of budget for this. I asked if we could negotiate, and that I heard in some cases the license could be had for free. He didn’t write back. I waited for weeks, and then I put in a call to him and left a message. I even told him to just please let me know, yes or no, either way, so I could either proceed with this project or move on to something else. Still, no response….
At this point, we’re going on almost two months and I decided to call the lady I originally spoke with again. She got in touch with Ryan and he told her several times that he was going to call me – but he didn’t. Days later when I spoke with her again, she told me what Ryan Saylor said the terms would be, which was quite startling.
I was told that I can post the video to You Tube for free, but only on You Tube. That term is based on a deal that Sony/ATV and You Tube struck. It supposedly allows anyone to post a video of a cover song from the Sony/ATV catalog on You Tube. However, it was made clear to me that they don’t really like people knowing about this “deal.”
So, to recap these “terms,” I can only post a video on You Tube. I would not be able to post anywhere else, such as Vimeo, or even my own website. It wasn’t clear whether I could embed the video from You Tube on other sites. I also have no idea whether I could run ads on the clip, or if Sony/ATV would puts ads on my video.
However, here’s the real shocker: They refused to put it in writing. No contract, not even an email stating that I could post it for free on You Tube. HUH? Are you kidding me? That leaves me completely vulnerable to copyright infringement lawsuits, trouble with You Tube (all they would have to do is ask me to show them proof that I have the rights to post the video), and the idea that at any point, Sony/ATV might have a spat with You Tube and force my video (along with any others done this way) to be yanked. I would have zero recourse.
Keep in mind that Sony/ATV is one of the biggest publishers in the world. They explicitylty know that contracts are a necessary part of doing business. Everyone at that level in the music industry knows that there needs to be a written agreement for this type of thing. When I put up my video on You Tube to “Disgracing the Family Name,” which I own entirely, You Tube made me prove to them, in writing, that I was the copyright owner.
So I was left with the reality that the agents of Sony/ATV won’t, can’t, or aren’t willing to put it in writing. After over two months of phone calls, emails, waiting, and several unsuccessful attempts to have one conversation with Ryan Saylor, I had no choice but to give up the project. There was no way I was going to put up a video of my version of someone else’s song without a written agreement, especially because of You Tube’s rules.
I would love to let you hear the song, but unfortunately, I would have to buy a license from Sony/ATV for that, too.
Of course, it’s disappointing, but there is a bigger issue at play here. As many of you may know, there is a compulsory license law that allows someone to do a cover song. Meaning, if a song has been already released, even just once, anyone can do a cover of the song, as long as they get the license and pay for it. So even if I got a free license to post a promotional video to “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone,” Sony/ATV would have made money from every copy of the song I sold.
I believe that we need the exact same thing for video. If there could be a compulsory license with a uniform fee, everyone would have the chance to put a video out there, the artistic community would be more enriched, and the copyright owners would get paid — it’s a win-win for everyone.
Well, until then, I am working on my next project – and of course, I’ll keep you posted.
From 12 years of bullying and abuse in Catholic school to the controversy and violence that followed my band and I in the early days, to where the saga is at today, including industry tips for up and coming musicians, it’s all here in my recent Podcast conversation with Sheldon Snow on Eclectic Max! I hope you enjoy the candid conversation and let me know what you think! — Skafish