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Sheryl Crow's Congressional Testimony on Work For Hire
By MusicDish
(more articles from this author)
2000-05-30
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The following testimony is published with kind permission from the
National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences

(Presented May 25, 2000, U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Courts and Intellectual Property.)

Good morning, Chairman Coble and members of the subcommittee. My name is Sheryl Crow and I am a recording artist. On behalf of my fellow artists, I wish to thank you, Mr. Chairman, for calling this hearing today so that we may express our concerns with the work for hire amendment.

I'd like to take a moment to acknowledge those artists who have come to Washington to attend this hearing. I am also accompanied by letters from artists unable to attend the hearing today but who would like to have their voices heard.

I am here today to ask the subcommittee to repeal the work for hire amendment and to restore to recording artists our rights as authors of our work. As you are aware, the designation of a sound recording as a work made for hire has severe implications for recording artists. The most serious consequence is that featured artists are no longer considered the author of the sound recording and thus are denied the right of termination under the Copyright Act, a right granted to other authors. This surely can't be what Congress intended.

If any of you sat in on a recording session, you would see that the artist featured on a sound recording functions as the author of the work. Without the creative contribution of the featured artist, there would be no sound recording. To legislate that the record label should be recognized and credited as the "author" of the sound recording undermines the framers' intent of the Constitution and goes against my good Midwestern common sense. I am the author and creator of my work.

I am extremely grateful to be in the position of being in a line of work I so love. As the committee deliberates this important issue, I think it might be helpful if I describe the process by which I and other music artists author our sound recordings, for the journey begins long before the recording contract is signed.

Music has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I grew up in a small town called Kennett, Missouri, about a hundred miles from Memphis. My mother, who still teaches piano and my father, a lawyer and trumpet player, raised me to appreciate all kinds of music and to never fear the challenge of pursuing my dreams of becoming a musician. I went on to study music at the University of Missouri, where I received my degree in piano performance and music education.

While teaching music in the St. Louis school system, I began playing in local bands. I also began working in a local studio as a jingle singer for commercials. Before I obtained my recording contract, I worked as a background singer, side musician, and wrote songs that were recorded by other artists. After many years of writing my own songs and playing any place that would have me, I finally was offered a recording contract. As you can see, the creative work that goes into making a first album begins long before the record contract is ever obtained.

Because I am a recording artist and not commissioned by a recording company to provide a specified work, (as in the case of the 18th century composer, Handel and his wonderful composition, The Messiah, which was instructed to be written by the high courts), I am basically left to my own devices when it comes to creating a work that best represents what it is I am trying to express in my work and in my life. I figure out what songs I want to record. In almost all instances, I write or co-write my own material, however, I have been known to record the odd Bob Dylan tune.

Although songwriting can be the most rewarding part of the process, it can also be extremely time consuming in what is always a demanding schedule of appearances, concerts, and other work. A song can take hours, months, sometimes years to write and the demo process, in which the basic sketch of the song is recorded, often precedes the actual recording process.

For artists who do not write their own songs, there is a similar process of collecting songs from songwriters that the artists would like to record. Artists may look at over a hundred songs before choosing the ten or fifteen that inspire them.

Continuing on with my process, next there is pre-production. After I have composed the songs that will appear on the recording, I try to define how I want the album to sound. In my own process, I envision the album as a movie, with a beginning, a middle, and an ending. I try to bring a look and a feel to the recording that will take the listener on a journey. Because I produce my own records, I am basically the captain of the ship and ultimately, the decision-maker, I must also decide what musicians I want to perform on each song, given the desired sound I want to attain, what engineering staff to implement my sonic vision, what studio will be appropriate, (in my situation, I own my recording equipment which is set up in my home studio), and how much money I want to spend. The cost is very important because I pay for the recording of my own albums and a portion of the marketing out of my royalties.

The third stage is the actual production. This part of the process is perhaps the most difficult but also the most exciting. This is where I translate my vision for my music into a quality recording. To accomplish this, I communicate with and direct the engineer and the musicians. (In the case of an artist who does not produce himself, he will have hired a producer to facilitate the process of capturing his vision, as the artists, on the recording. The producer would have been chosen with the artist's vision in mind and follows the creative lead of the artists.) The studio schedule tends to be rigorous because the cost of record-making is high. It's not unusual for me to work eighteen-hour days to stay within the budget.

The fourth stage of the recording process is post-production. Once the songs are recorded and mixed, I choose what songs will be included on the album and what the album will be titled. I then deliver the master tapes, completed, fully edited, and ready for manufacturing.

It has been argued that the work for hire amendment was necessary to clarify who is the author of the sound recording. There is no confusion in the record industry as to who creates the sound recording. It is the featured artists. A sound recording is the final result of the creative vision, expression and execution of one person-the featured artist. And, although the artist may respect the fine folks' opinion at the record label and may even solicit advice from them, they are, by no means, involved in the process of defining the music. Furthermore, any claims to the authorship by producers, hired musicians, background singers, engineers would be false.

Comparisons, with regard to the work for hire amendment, have been made to motion pictures where it's necessary to treat films as work made for hire to avoid confusion over the issue or authorship. The record business is different than the film industry in a very fundamental way: financing. In the film industry, the studio pays the production costs. The creative collaborators for a movie-the writer, director and performers-are generally not responsible for the costs of the production and receive fees from the studio for their contribution. They are hired by the film company to get the desired film made and once completed, the studio owns the film. The costs of the production are never charged back to the creative contributors.

As a recording artist, I do not receive a fee for making an album. I may receive an advance to cover the costs of the recording process, which I am responsible for paying back in full. The costs are deducted from and or recouped from my share of royalties. I do not receive a dime from the sale of my albums until I have paid for all costs incurred during production. I pay for the record-not the label.

In short, the sound recording artist is not only the author, but is also the person in charge of all facts of production, up to the point of distribution. We give the record labels our work to exploit for 35 years. Like other authors, we should be able to reclaim our work as Congress intended.

In Timothy White's most eloquent article in the May 20 issue of Billboard magazine, Mr. White states, "It's a small change in terms of the number of words in the statute, but it's a very big change by potential implications when the heirs of recording artists discover they don't have a legacy they might have enjoyed....Noah Webster, the father of American copyright, felt it was so compelling to protect his work against contemporary and future claims that he rode from state to state to plead his case for copyright.

In conclusion, Mr. Chairman and distinguished committee members, I ask that you repeal the work for hire amendment and allow recording artists to negotiate with the recording industry to reach an agreement that is fair to all. Thank you.


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