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Who owns the band?

On May 27th covering ,

This comes from some recent conversations I’ve had with musicians. The notion of “who owns this?” for bands and chamber groups can be complex. Even with a well-worked-out band agreement it can be complicated. When a music group is young, lots of people support the band from lending a couch to crash on to running the merch table to contributing money and in-kind goods and services. The fans contribute to the band by telling their friends and by … well, being fans. In both the classical world and the pop/rock/etc world, managers invest time on the hope there will be revenues in the future.

It should never be unclear who actually, legally owns the band and the band’s assets (especially publishing rights). But these others need to be considered.

In business they use a horrible word for these others: “stakeholders”. I don’t know why I hate that word, except it’s vague and it sounds like business-school jargon. A business has owners, called shareholders. Stakeholders include people such as the employees, the customers, the community, etc. They mostly don’t have a legal say in how things go, but the business wouldn’t exist without them and they can cause trouble if they’re dealt with too callously. Think of the fanatical customers of Apple or BMW or Harley-Davidson.

When a band or a business has a rabid customer/fan base, this is a good thing, of course. But these people do feel they have a stake in things. Think of all of the times the fans become critical of an artist’s new work. Some of the best artists have needed to anger the stakeholders in order to break new ground. Bob Dylan and Miles Davis are great examples of this. We know the fans felt betrayed — they thought that Dylan or Miles was “theirs”. I wonder what the reactions were from the stakeholders who were close to them.

It’s sometimes important to break the constraints of the stakeholders, but it’s a sign of bad planning if a music group, or a business, gets taken by surprise by this. The fans would like you to make the last record over and over again, and you may need to challenge them. Their trust in you will go a long way. But you can’t abuse it, and there’s always risk involved. They may feel that you are trying to break their hearts.

So what’s the moral of the story? I think it’s this: whenever you ask people to support your group in any way, they will emotionally come to feel the group is “theirs”. This is what made people buy the new CD without hearing it first — back in the day when people bought CDs.

Ignore this at your peril.

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