"What you really have to factor in, in my case—which oddly no one has mentioned—is that the Eagles albums have made a half a billion dollars for the Warner Group. I don't think I owe them much of anything."
—— Don Henley
Don Henley Has a Problem with the Music Business, and That Means the Music Business Has a Problem
He's way out front on SB1246, which seeks to repeal a 1987 amendment to California's seven-year labor statute allowing music companies to sue for damages arising from undelivered albums in the event an artist attempts to void a contract after seven years. But that's hardly it. After a long history in the music industry that's included a legal battle with Geffen Records and a reported $10 million solo deal with Warner Bros., Don Henley and his newly formed Recording Artists Coalition are challenging the way the music industry does business. This week, he spoke with HITS' David Adelson.

Do you have a problem with the way HITS is covering the seven-year statute issue?
Yes. I have a problem when the magazine acts like a mouthpiece of the RIAA. On the other hand, I understand who buys the advertising in the magazine. The coverage seems to be a little slanted, and that's understandable. What I have the biggest problem with is when certain writers at the magazine make snide personal remarks. They turn this into some sort of nasty personal debate rather than sticking to the issues.

Last week we reported discussions of a possible compromise in Sacramento. Were you aware of any of these talks?
I didn't know of any discussions of a compromise until I read it in your magazine.

Have you since been informed of discussions of a compromise?

Have you had subsequent discussions with Sen. Murray?

So you're convinced there are no discussions of a compromise?
Not unless it's going on behind my back.

Is that a possibility?
Anything is possible.

Sen. Murray referred to the seven-year statute as indentured servitude. Do you agree with that?
Well, that phrase has historical connotations that Sen. Murray can speak to better than I. But technically speaking, I would say it's pretty accurate.

There's been a lot of talk about the issue of "tacking"—where the labels begin a new seven-year cycle when an existing deal is renegotiated. There's talk of a compromise where the labels would repeal the contested amendment to the seven-year statute and the artists would recognize tacking as an accepted industry practice. Have you heard this?
I did hear something about it. I think one of the attorneys in our camp put forth that proposition for our consideration, but there hasn't been any consensus on that.

How do you feel about it personally?
I'd have to look at it further before I formed an opinion. At first blush, I don't think it's a good idea.

Are you in favor of backing down at all? Since it's you, the artist, who have taken center stage on this, doesn't any retreat make the artist look bad?
We are always open to discussion, but it needs to be reasonable, meaningful discussion. So far nobody from the other side has made any concrete proposals to us that we can consider.

You don't have to do this.
I need this like a hole in the head. I need it like a fish needs a bicycle.

You've made millions. Why are you doing this?
Because I love music, and I love the people who make music. It's simply a matter of principle with me. I'm part Irish, so I have a very strong sense of injustice. When I see something that's grossly unfair, I generally have to speak out about it. Personally speaking, I've had my own share of problems with the industry, which are well documented. When you get to be my age—I'm 54 years old; I'll be 55 in July—you get to see things more clearly. You know, being a rock & roll star is not the most important thing in my life now. So I don't give a shit who I piss off. I've got three beautiful children and my wife, who are the most important things in my life. The public aspect of my career is not that important to me anymore. I still love songwriting, and on occasion I still love to perform. But the issues that have been taken up by the Recording Artists Coalition are something that I feel I just can't ignore. I wish I could, some days [laughs].

When you and Don Engel sought to get out of your Geffen contract, you did so under the seven-year-statute. Is that correct?
Not entirely. I'm not allowed to talk about that in detail because the terms of the settlement forbid it. I will just say, if I had that to do all over again, I would go to court.

Why didn't you go to court to see that one through?
I didn't have the time. It's not about the money, it's about the time. No artist can afford to lose two or three years of his or her career waiting for things to work out in court. It's just career suicide. And it had a detrimental impact on my career [anyway]. It sidelined me for too long. Consequently, the album I put out most recently didn't sell as many albums as the previous one. That was partly because I was embroiled in that battle.

But if you had a second opportunity to go to court with it, you would commit that time?
With the mindset I have today, I think I gave up far too much in that settlement.

And you never had the opportunity to legally test the seven-year statute.
Nobody's ever tested it. Courtney Love may do it.

Let's say, hypothetically, you got a $10 million advance on your new Warner Bros. deal. Let's also say the first record sells between 1.5 and 2 million copies worldwide. Warner Bros. puts out all that money. Don't they have a right to get it back—even if seven years passes before you deliver all the albums under the deal?
First of all, your numbers are hypothetical. And obviously, nothing can be based on one album. I signed a three-album deal with Warner Bros. So you don't know if they get their money back until the end of that. And then you also have to factor in catalog sales over a period of time. But what you really have to factor in, in my case—which, oddly, no one has mentioned—is that the Eagles albums have made a half a billion dollars for the Warner Group. I don't think I owe them much of anything.

Now suddenly there's talk of a probe of music industry business practices. Is this another front that's opening up?
Well, I was told that Sen. Murray announced this morning that he intends to hold hearings this spring in Sacramento on that very subject—and he may be joined by an Assemblyman. It may be something that goes on in both houses up there.

Are you prepared to fight on this front as well?
Oh, sure. That's another area where the light needs to shine brightly. I think there needs to be a whole revamping of the contract system. I don't think a record company should sign an artist for more than four albums, period. Let me point out that we're not the only ones looking into record company practices. The fact is, in the lawsuit between the RIAA and Napster, Judge Patel ruled that Napster can engage in discovery if it so desires in regard to collusion. And it's my understanding that there's an ongoing investigation at the U.S. Justice Department of the music business, particularly in regard to anti-trust issues. It's going on in Washington—in Congress, in the House of Representatives, in the Senate. The chickens are all coming home to roost.

Do record companies routinely under-report and underpay royalties to performers?
I'm not going to answer that question. Let me put it this way: I, as a solo artist and performer, have paid for more record company audits than I care to count. So have a great many of my peers.

Is it safe to say that every time you do an audit, you find something?
Yes. Unfortunately, the audit often costs more than one has got coming.

You know, some people might say
Some people might say, "He's got a death wish. He's on a suicide mission."

Do you have a death wish, and are you on a suicide mission?
Well, as I said before, I've reached a point in my life and in my career, where I still love music and I still love making music, but I've had about all of this corporate chicanery that I can stand.

That said, for all that corporate chicanery you speak of, your manager is Irving Azoff—a true legend in the music industry. There are some people who may see that as a contradiction, or at the very least, ironic.
Irving is a complex person. He's not that easily defined. And he's his own person. I'm me and he's him. And Irving has come full circle. Hopefully, none of us are yet the final versions of ourselves. And I think it's possible for people to change and grow. He's been a great manager for me. I don't agree with everything he says or everything he does, but at the end of the day, we're partners. There's really no room in this industry to point fingers. In the end, some people are just more covert than others in their actions. Nobody has clean hands in this business. Nobody.

Do you think people are focusing on you in this issue? Do you have a bull's eye on your back?
Yeah. It's the easy way out. They shudder to think this is something that is widespread, but it's going to become apparent eventually. The record companies are trying to focus on me. But this isn't just about me. It's about anyone who has ever signed a professional recording agreement. The Recording Artists Coalition has about 150 members now and we're getting new members every week. So, this is not an individual crusade. This is a movement that will hopefully spread across the entire music industry.

Do you think the RAC will become a strong political voice?
I hope so. Again, it's hard to get artists organized. They don't want to join clubs of any kind. On the other hand, as we go along, more and more people are starting to understand what we're all about and to see that we've had some victories. Now more artists are willing to sign up. It's not an easy thing, especially for a young artist, to voice dissatisfaction with the record company. Record companies can be punitive in ways that are hard to detect and hard to prove.

That's as far as I'm going to go on that. I have enough lawsuits going. It's always been difficult to prove that a record company is not doing its job. A lot of younger artists don't want to speak out against their record companies because they don't want to lose their opportunity to make records.

So, just to reiterate, you are willing to compromise on the seven-year statute?
Let me just stop on the word compromise. We are willing to talk. It will depend on the definition of the word compromise. I can tell you we are not willing to talk about any compromise that gives an artist any kind of liability to be sued for damages—particularly when an artist doesn't know if the option on a given album is going to be picked up or not.

Is there anything we haven't touched on here that you want to address?
Yes. There is a very important point I want to make. I have a great deal of respect and admiration for the people who are in the trenches at the record companies. The people who do the day-to-day work in the promotion departments, the art departments, the publicity departments. This is not really about the people, quote unquote, on the ground. This is about corporate policy.

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