Singers "Held Hostage" by their Record Labels

Spanish band Mourn says their new album is "held up in litigation"
Spanish band Mourn says their new album is "held up in litigation"

Otitis is from Mourn's debut album

A Spanish band called Mourn revealed that their record label Sones is refusing to release their new album. The letter they released to inform fans of what was going on indicates there's a lot of trouble behind the scenes.

"Unfortunately, we can’t share this record with you or with our 
international label Captured Tracks, as our label here in Spain, Sones, who were also our management team, have left us in a position where we legally can’t proceed and the LP is effectively held up in litigation. Because Sones has held all income from us, including advances and royalties paid by Captured Tracks, all performance income from shows as well as merchandise money, we’ve had to pay for our new record out of our own pocket. Even so, we’re not able to send it to our label to press or release and effectively the LP is held hostage by Sones, despite the fact that they haven’t paid anything to create it and in fact have withheld money expressly paid to us for the purposes of making it."

The relationship between record labels and artists represents a huge power imbalance. Labels can drop artists any time or keep them locked in contracts unable to release. They can also withhold royalties. But the artists usually have to 100% abide by their contracts to avoid legal troubles. Mourn feels they have no choice but to rally their fans behind them possibly in the hopes of public pressure leading to the release of the album.

"Sadly, we’ve been left no choice but to address the issue publicly as we’d like to have the support of our fans on this issue and to shed light that these archaic business practices somehow still exist in the music industry in 2015."

JoJo has been able to resume recording and touring after a years long battle to break her recording contract
JoJo has been able to resume recording and touring after a years long battle to break her recording contract | Source

JoJo was a successful child star until her career stalled. She was actually offered a record deal when she was only 6 but her family refused the offer because she was so young. She signed with Blackground Records when she was 12 and released her debut song Leave (Get Out).

JoJo - Leave (Get Out) (2004)

JoJo (Joanna Levesque) is another artist who was held hostage for years by her label Blackground Records. JoJo signed with the label when she was just 12. She wanted to leave her label because they weren't releasing her new material.

“I’ve recorded about three incarnations of this third album. We’ve chosen the track listing, we’ve done multiple album photo shoots, chosen the cover, chosen the credits, everything.”

She had a 7 album deal with a label that was refusing to release her work. Things worsened in 2012 when Interscope Records decided they would no longer serve as a distributor for Blackground's music. She couldn't release new music but the label also refused to drop her from her contract. A fan movement to free JoJo sprung up to support her. JoJo wasn't the only one who had problems at Blackground.

"Within the first few months of signing, I started hearing horror stories from other artists who used to be signed to the label. That was the first inclination that things were not as they seemed. Then people who worked at the company started warning us, so we looked into the history of the company and were like, “Daaamn, what did we get ourselves into?”"

In 2013 JoJo sued Blackground Records. Under New York law minors cannot be signed to contracts that exceed seven years. This meant that her contract should have expired in 2011. In 2014, she and Blackground Records reached a settlement and she was dropped from her contract. JoJo is now free but she's expressed sympathy for another artist who's still stuck in a legal nightmare.

"Kesha’s case seems really messed up and multifaceted. It’s important for her to know that there are people on the other side that are rooting for her and want her to keep going." -- JoJo

A fan movement has sprung up to free Kesha from her recording contracts. A petition asking Sony Music to release her has more than 100k signatures
A fan movement has sprung up to free Kesha from her recording contracts. A petition asking Sony Music to release her has more than 100k signatures | Source

Kesha wrote a song about Dr. Luke called Dancing with the Devil that has the line "I know you love to watch me cry"

In October 2014, singer Kesha filed a lawsuit against mega-producer Dr. Luke. She's been signed to his record label Kemosabe Records since 2005. Kesha accused Luke of sexually, verbally and emotionally abusing her since he signed her at the age of 18. She alleges that soon after he signed her he gave her a date rape drug and raped her in his hotel room. Kesha apparently went to a lawyer in 2005 in the hopes of escaping her contract with him. She separated from Dr. Luke afterwards and continued to write and record music but was unable to release it due to her contract with him. She returned to him in 2008 and released her first hit Tik Tok a year later.

While the lawsuit has been going on Kesha has been unable to release new music. She had asked Sony Music if she could release a new album without working with Dr. Luke. They refused. Kesha is essentially being "JoJo'd" by Kemosabe Records and parent company Sony Music. In September 2015 Kesha asked for an injunction that will allow her to resume her recording career while her case goes through the courts. Her lawyer Mark Geragos wrote:

"She cannot work with music producers, publishers, or record labels to release new music. With no new music to perform, Kesha cannot tour. Off the radio and stage and out of the spotlight, Kesha cannot sell merchandise, receive sponsorships, or get media attention. Her brand value has fallen, and unless the Court issues this injunction, Kesha will suffer irreparable harm, plummeting her career past the point of no return."

Former Universal Music Group CEO Jim Urie submitted an affadavit in support of Kesha's injunction.

"No mainstream distribution company will invest the money necessary to distribute songs for an artist who has fallen from the public eye, as is happening to Kesha at this very moment. Accordingly, if Kesha cannot immediately resume recording and having her music promoted, marketed, and distributed by a major label, her career is effectively over."

Kesha's injunction hearing is set for February 19th, 2016. A protest organized by Kesha fans and the activist group Care2 is scheduled to take place outside the courthouse in New York. Other accusers have joined her lawsuit and Mark Geragos recently said other victims would testify against Dr. Luke when the case goes to trial.

Kesha's lawsuit against Dr. Luke makes many disturbing accusations

In yet another case, British singer Rita Ora sued Jay Z's Roc Nation. Ora claims she's been "orphaned" by the label which has neglected her career as the company has focused on other business ventures. She claims she's been self funding all of her recordings, videos and promotional appearances. Ora is filing under a California law that says no performer can be held in a contract for more than 7 years. Records labels demanded an exemption from the law but the legality of that exemption has never been tested in court. According to Rolling Stone, labels avoid testing the law.

"most record industry disputes involving the "seven-year rule" have ended in a settlement or a renegotiated deal."
-- Rolling Stone, Rita Ora Files Suit Seeking Split From Roc Nation

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