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Thursday, August 30, 2012
by Rebecca E. Hoffman
Rock band Def Leppard decided to "wrestle control" of their back catalog from their old label by going into the studio to record all their old songs again.
Frontman Joe Elliott told Billboard.com that they are "at loggerheads" with their old record label—Universal Music Group—over compensation, especially for digital downloads of their music. Fortunately Def Leppard's contract with Universal does not permit the label to release their music digitally without the band's permission (The Hollywood Reportercalls this "a sweetheart of a deal"). The band is in the midst of recording much of their back catalog from scratch, attempting not to make something new but to end up with recordings as close to the originals as possible, and as such to "wrestle control of our career back" from Universal, and start offering their music in MP3 format for download.
Elliott said in an interview that the new recordings are "literally forgeries," meaning that they are taking care to ensure that the finished product sounds so much like the original, with the same "youthful exuberance that we had back then," that one could (almost) be fooled into thinking it is the original cut.
Currently, there are just a couple of singles available for download, including the crowd-pleasing "Pour Some Sugar on Me" from the 1987 album Hysteria. Amazon customer Jumbalia bought the "new" release and offered this review:
I'm a HUGE Def Leppard fan. I consider them to be the greatest band of all time. That said, I was hoping they would do something with Sugar, rather than simply record the exact same thing over again. Maybe add some guitar fills here and there, or something. But sadly, none of that here. Sounds almost identical to the original version. I still bought it tho, and not unhappy about it. Just want everyone to know it's basically the same thing and not to expect any upgrades. In a nutshell, it's a 5 star song, with a 3 star re-recording.
Jumbalia ended up changing his/her tune, so to speak:
EDIT: After doing some research, it would appear that Def Leppard INTENTIONALLY recorded this as close to the original as possible. You see, Def Leppard is currently battling with their old record label over releasing their back catalog on services such as Amazon and iTunes. That's why you can't download their old albums anywhere. The old record company is trying to give them VERY LITTLE money and they've been arguing for years about it. They share the rights to the music, so the only way Def Leppard can release their popular songs for download off of one of these services is to COMPLETELY RERECORD the music from scratch. And that is what Def Leppard has threatened to do in the past, and apparently, this is coming to fruition. That said, I guess I will look forward to other re-recorded versions of their most popular tunes. Adjusting the score to 4 stars.
Okay, then. Def Leppard hopes that others are similarly sympathetic, and plans to keep rerecording, two or three songs at a time, in between touring and working on new material.
The Hollywood Reporter quoted Elliott saying, "We want to get the same rate for digital as we do when we sell CDs, and they're trying to give us a rate that doesn't even come close."
When you do your own recordings, you're making about 85 percent and 15 percent goes to iTunes or whichever particular digital domain you put them up. Something along those lines would be fair. But they were offering us the opposite—a quarter of what we get paid on our CDs. So we thought if we can't get them to pay us a decent rate on the digital, then we're going to go in, rerecord them and pay ourselves decently. Because we're not fighting against our own back catalog.
Elliott does not think that the "rerecords" are perfect substitutes for the originals.
"But it's not like it's worse, it's just different. You can't re-create 1982 because the machinery that we recorded on doesn't exist. So you have to get it as close as you can. What we had to do is study them like a forger would study a Monet or a Dali." The band is working very hard to protect their art, and to get a fair share, Elliott said.
The Hollywood Reporterreported on Aug. 1 that sales of the two songs had earned the band $40,000, noting that the use of the songs in movies or advertisements could bring in much more. The label could cry unfair competition, but when National Public Radio asked Elliott what Universal thinks of all this, he said, "I wouldn't know. They don't talk to us."
They might be too busy. After all, if you type "suing for digital royalties" into your browser, the hits keep comin'.
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