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the wordThe First Amendment is a mighty shield, protecting all sorts of offensive speech. No matter how disgusting I might find the antics of the Westboro Baptist Church, in 2011, the Supreme Court found a First Amendment protection in its favor allowing the church to spew its hateful ideology in public. In Snyder v. Phelps (yes, Fred Phelps, the late leader of the Westboro cult), the Court held that a speaker on a public sidewalk, speaking about a public issue, cannot be held liable for the tort of emotional distress, even if the speech is ‘outrageous.’ But the Snyder Court also distinguished between hateful speech directed to issues of public importance, like homosexuality and abortion, and speech of a personal nature, like insults and lies, directed to a private person.

Hubert Crouch’s new book, The Word (2015), practically yanks the Westboro headlines from today’s paper. In his sophomore novel, the second installment of the Jace Forman series, Crouch brings together three main characters from his first book (Cries For No One (2013)) for a wild ride through a world where religious zealots hide behind the First Amendment to cover their virulent hate speech, high-powered attorneys hire thugs to intimidate magazine reporters from exposing their misdeeds, and an entire family – the McGuffin, if you will, for the story -– is killed off, one-by-one, until only their lawyer is left standing. Hey, The Word is set in Texas, after all! Continue reading

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WhiteHouseJamCousinBilly-Photo-Bill-Worley-Annalise-Kaylor-MNN-edit-300x199

Cousin Billy (L-R: Charles McNair, Tom Junod, Mark Baker, Bo Emerson) Photo credit: Bill Worley and Annalise Kaylor, Mother Nature Network

How did I find myself standing on stage at the Washington Correspondents’ Jam playing beside Rolling Stones keyboardist, Chuck Leavell last Friday night? Well, it was one of those rare cases where ‘don’t quit your day job’ turned out to be music to this amateur musician’s ears!

If you’re as big a fan Tom Junod’s writing as I am, then you’ve read his piece in Esquire, Start A Band, about how a group of guys (all professional writers and me) formed a band and sang for our supper in the New York City subway on the coldest day of winter.

The Esquire story led Chuck’s media company, Mother Nature Network, to ask Cousin Billy to perform a 30-minute set at the very first White House Correspondents’ Jam, a party held in conjunction with the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner. The gig was like a Battle of the Journalists, with bands composed of writers from the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Fortune, and one band with an on-air personality at CNBC. Cousin Billy was up first on the line up and, miracle of miracles, Chuck had agreed to sit in and jam on a song with each of the bands.

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The music business is in turmoil and no one seems to know what the future holds. Even so, there are some good resources out there to help you get a handle on things.

file1551274811685 editIf you don’t know about Lefsetz Letter, you must check it out. Bob Lefsetz is a brash, highly-opinionated entertainment attorney (what’s new) and industry insider. His daily blog cuts right to the chase, sparing no one. Here’s a bit from his diatribe reacting to Katy Perry’s Super Bowl halftime extravaganza: “I am saying it’s nowhere for music unless you can own the room, and the only one who’s been able to do this is Prince. And when a smart person witnesses such a triumph, they don’t compete.”

Encore Newsletter is a performance industry magazine that’s e-mailed weekly that “strives to provide timely and accurate information and to create a positive flow of information throughout the entertainment industry. It is our hope not only to inform, but to create business opportunities. We welcome any and all comments and encourage you to report newsworthy items for publishing.”

Pollstar, is another weekly periodical covering the worldwide concert industry. Local bands are free to submit tour dates and Pollstar “may add local or regional acts to our database as time permits but we do not guarantee the entry of any dates submitted. Artist representatives are always welcome to submit itineraries to our data processing department.” Pollstar lets you enter as many touring bands as you want to track and it sends auto-notifications when the act is coming to your city.

Of course there are more specialized publications, depending upon your interests, like Tape Op, about sound recording, Sonic Bids for gig opportunities and the Performing Rights websites for the organizations that collect performance royalties (ASCAP, BMI and SESAC).

I asked a number of music professionals, clients and fans where they get their information about the current state of the music business and to give any observations about same. Their responses cover a wide swath, but there are some common features. Continue reading

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records“There hasn’t been any good music in forty years!” If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard this self-evidently ridiculous assertion, I’d be able to buy a Happy Meal. With a Super-sized Coke Zero. It’s a common sentiment among people of a certain age, and attempts to persuade with opinions to the contrary are inevitably met with skepticism, if not derision. But it looks like the dinosaurs as well as Millennials are putting their money where their mouths are: for the first time, over the course of 2014, online ‘catalog album sales’ (think, classic vinyl, sold via iTunes and other e-services) outpaced online sales of new music.

The Music Business Worldwide article poses some legitimate and worrisome questions for the industry: “are people merely starting to consume their new music on streaming services rather than buying it in album form? Or are they increasingly less impressed with the new album releases that arrive year-in, year-out?” Continue reading

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IMG_9524As a writer, the story you choose to tell – and how you choose to tell it – is solely your province. It’s one of the reasons you write. While it’s a rare occurrence in the world of fiction, if your story includes real, living people (and remember that in our country, corporations are people too), you may be at risk of a libel or invasion privacy claim. Understanding the legal limitations imposed on your fiction will provide some guidance for dancing around the potential dangers.

In Georgia, libel is “a false and malicious defamation of another, expressed in print, writing, pictures, or signs, tending to injure the reputation of the person and exposing him to public hatred, contempt, or ridicule.” In addition, falsely accusing someone of sexual immorality, of criminal behavior, or of being infected with a contagious disease such as Ebola or HIV/AIDS may give rise to a claim of defamation per se, and the claimant doesn’t even have to prove any damages. For any libel claim to be successful, the defamatory work must be published.

Authors should also concern themselves with avoiding a claim of invasion of privacy rights. Georgia recognizes the four common law claims for invasion of privacy:

The First Amendment gives great latitude to write most anything about most anybody, but state law serves to protect those who may have been legally damaged by such writing. Bear in mind that with few exceptions, you can’t libel the dead and their right to privacy expires with them. So how do you write around a living person in order to avoid a claim of libel or invasion of privacy, whether or not the claimant may ultimately prevail? Continue reading

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broken_guitarIf you play an instrument and have ever tried to fly commercial with it, you know what a nightmare it can be, as I was recently reminded when traveling to perform with Cousin Billy. Everyone from the check-in agent, to the gate agent, flight attendant and pilot will tell you to check that thing through, in the baggage hold beneath the plane, where the kid-gloved baggage handlers and sub-zero temperatures will season that precious Martin D-45 to its optimal playing potential. Or you may buy an extra ticket for your special friend. Ahem.

A few of years ago, the Do Nothing 112th Congress passed the Federal Aviation Administration Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (the “Act”), of which Section 403 provides:

“SMALL INSTRUMENTS AS CARRY-ON BAGGAGE – An air carrier providing air transportation shall permit a passenger to carry a violin, guitar, or other musical instrument in the aircraft cabin, without charging the passenger a fee in addition to any standard fee that carrier may require for comparable carry-on baggage ….”

While the very of passage of the Act clearly proves that President Obama does not play an instrument, the pertinent language of the bill is simple enough, right? Apparently not. When the bill passed, Congress mandated that by February 6, 2014, the FAA was to promulgate regulations to implement the new law. The FAA dithered and dallied until finally, on December 29, 2014, the Transportation Department issued the regulations that will put the Act into effect, which become effective 60 days following publication of the regs in the Federal Register, expected to happen next week. Continue reading

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detroit photoWhen anyone – including a great city like Detroit – “successfully” emerges from bankruptcy, no one is usually happy how it turned out. This is clearly the case with the city of Detroit’s Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy, following Judge Steven W. Rhodes’ approval of the reorganization plan on November 7, 2014.

When Detroit sought bankruptcy protection in July 2013, it was up to its eyeballs in debt and other unfunded financial obligations. The run-up to the Motor City’s bankruptcy unfolded over decades, but can be boiled down to this simple formula: not enough money coming in and too much money going out. At jeopardy, among other essential city services like, say, police and fire protection, were the pension plans of the municipality’s retired and current employees, as well as the fate of the significant art collection held by the Detroit Institute of Arts (the “DIA”), whose works could arguably be sold and the funds applied to the city’s debt obligations. Continue reading

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guitar boyYou’ll recall that the estate of Randy California (né Randy Craig Wolfe, guitarist and songwriter from the 70’s art-rock band, Spirit) has sued Led Zeppelin in Pennsylvania, claiming that Zeppelin copped the opening guitar riff and chord progression from Wolfe’s song, Taurus, to create perhaps the most iconic of all rock songs, Stairway to Heaven. Why sue in Pennsylvania, you may ask?

That’s also the question that Led Zeppelin asked district judge Juan Sanchez. Zep’s first response out of the gate was to move to dismiss the suit, or at a minimum to transfer the venue to the Central District of California – by consent of the defendants  – where at least one of the defendants (Warner Music Group Corp.) resides. Led Zeppelin, the band, as well as the individual members of the group, is represented by Helene Freeman, of NYC’s venerable Phillips Nizer, and local counsel, Michael Eidel of Fox Rothschild. Continue reading

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3-24-08-050Many folks think of art collecting as a luxury hobby, reserved only to the privileged classes. But why should surrounding yourself with beautiful art be the sole province of the wealthy? It certainly doesn’t have to be.

Starting a collection obviously begins with acquiring that first piece, and since you will be living with it for a while, let it be something you love. Art as an investment is speculative, like any other investment, and except for well-known artists who have established their market value, it is difficult to predict whether any particular artist or work will appreciate over time. So I caution against collecting art as an investment strategy – let the art that you own be works that you love, and if those pieces appreciate in value over time, then so much the better!

With this notion in mind, I advise buying only original works of art. Where to start? Determine your tastes in art and stick to them as they evolve. Don’t buy art based on trends or what others say, unless you truly love it. Set a budget to start (how about under $1000). Then start looking for emerging artists who are beginning to attract attention from the press, from other collectors, from their peers. Do your homework – read the arts section of your local papers, attend gallery openings (new galleries will often present emerging talent before they become more well-known), visit art fairs, check out the websites of artists you like. Often you can find beautiful pieces by emerging artists for very reasonable prices (in the $100s, rather than $1000s). Avoid the status quo. Educate yourself, not only about the particular artist and his work, but about the particular piece itself. Consider investing in smaller works by emerging talents or by established artists (they’re more affordable than larger works). Remember: Warhol was not always Warhol. Continue reading

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sheet musicEvery time a restaurant, nightclub or other performance venue permits performance of a song (such as by radio (with certain exceptions), CD or live performance), the venue owes to the rights holder of the song a royalty for playing that song. In order to collect and administer these royalties, membership organizations known as “PROs” (Performance Rights Organizations) have evolved. The PRO membership is composed of songwriters, composers and music publishers. The PROs charge the clubs a licensing fee, which they then collect and distribute to their membership rights holders as royalty payments. By compliance with this rights licensing system, a night club is assured that it is complying with U.S. copyright law, which protects the rights holders’ right to perform the song.

In the United States there are three principal PROs: SESAC (“Society of European Stage Authors and Composers”, the smallest), BMI (“Broadcast Music, Inc.,” the middle bear), and ASCAP (“American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers,” Papa Bear). When a performance venue fails to pay its royalties to a PRO, the PRO will come after the club to exact its pound of flesh.

Twister’s Iron Horse Saloon was a bar in suburban St. Louis. It failed to pay public performance licensing fees to ASCAP for a number of years. Over this period, ASCAP made numerous efforts to collect the licensing fee, even offering to settle the claim before suing. Finally, unable to collect the fees voluntarily, ASCAP sued the club and its managing members, including one Doug Walker, for copyright infringement and obtained a judgment for $41,000. The club eventually failed, and Mister Walker sought to discharge the ASCAP judgment against him through a chapter 7 bankruptcy.

A fundamental concept of chapter 7 bankruptcy is that an honest debtor will receive a discharge (extinguishment) of virtually all his debts upon completion of the bankruptcy process. He’ll walk away with a ‘fresh start’. I assume Mister Walker believed he would discharge the ASCAP debt in his bankruptcy. Mister Walker was wrong. Continue reading