TWISTED SISTER's JAY JAY FRENCH says record companies are 'criminals': 'everyone lies'
In a new interview on A Discussion With Dean Cramer, TWISTED SISTER guitarist Jay Jay French spoke about record labels’ reputation as crooks who rip off artists at every turn. He said: “Rock and roll, let me be clear, is a criminal enterprise. The record labels are criminals. It’s simple as that. They’re just legal criminals. So when you’re in a cesspool of criminality, whether it’s obvious criminality, in other words, whether it’s blue-collar criminality where someone is threatening your life with a gun or it’s white-collar criminality, you’re dealing with criminals. So you’re dealing with the sleaze, the lowlives, the lying. You don’t believe any of this shit ‘cause everyone lies. So you kind of have to get used to it.”
French previously discussed music’s long history of record companies taking advantage of artists in an April 2021 interview with Canada’s The Metal Voice. At the time, he said: “There’s two levels of a rip-off. One is contractual rip-off, which is just — that’s just the nature of the game; that’s how it is, like it or not. And the other is somehow that management’s really taken from you. Now, I’d say most bands don’t understand the record company deals that they sign, and they don’t understand how small the percentages are. I mean, THE BEATLES were making a half a penny a single and six cents an album with the royalties. I think that JACKSON 5, I think most Motown acts were making two, three, four, five cents an album.
“There are clauses all over the contract,” he continued. “I do a talk on this. I said, ‘How much money do you make on a million-selling record?’ And this is by contract — no one’s stealing from you; this is just the way the contract’s written. If you look at a contract back in 1984, and let’s just say, for the sake of this example, the band made a dollar a record, which is very high, but let’s suppose the band got a dollar a record. And you sold a million records, and you have a platinum album on your wall. And friends go, ‘Oh man, a million records. You must be really rich.’ But what does that really mean? Well, in the contract, to begin with, the contract says it’s 15% free goods, which means the record label is allowed to not pay you on 15% of record sales, ‘cause they supposedly sent it to the press for reviews, except if you’re on a million-selling record, you’re not sending 150,000 albums out for review, but you can claim that you can. So, they withhold royalties on 15%, which is $150,000. So now your million is basically $850,000. On top of that, there’s a breakage fee of 10%, because… Records haven’t broken since Moby Dick was a minnow, but back when shellac records were made, it was in the contracts; that’s another 10%. So that’s 25% off the top. So right away, you’re not being paid on a million copies; you’re being paid on 750,000 copies. Then there’s a 20% container charge to make the record or the CD, so they subtract that. So automatically 45% of the royalty-bearing records are now gone, okay? Now you’re left with $550,000. Well, suppose you made a video. Then that gets subtracted. Suppose there’s recording costs, which is another $300,000. And then there’s promotion costs for the record, which is probably $100,000 if the record is successful. You’re down to what? $200,000? You take the $200,000 and you send it to your business manager and your manager, they take out 20% and 5%. And maybe the band is left with $100,000, $150,000. A five-man band breaks it up, and it’s $30,000 each before taxes. You get the mathematics here?”
French added: “Contracts were designed to make the record companies money. Now, in defense of the label, labels sign a hundred bands, and 95 of them fail, so they make their money off the 5% that succeed, and they make a lot of money. However, it is the only business in which you pay back the label and then you still don’t own the product. That’s the biggest problem I have with the theory of record labels. If the band wasn’t charged back the cost of making the record, then I’d say, fine, okay. But if you’re making me pay you back and I still don’t own it… You know, Taylor Swift brought this to light to people, and people said, ‘Oh, this is so terrible. Taylor doesn’t own her music.’ No one owns their music. This isn’t new. This is the way it is. It’s the way it’s always been. THE BEATLES don’t own their albums, and THE ROLLING STONES don’t own their masters. A couple of artists do, but generally, 99% don’t.”
TWISTED SISTER called it quits in 2016 after completing a farewell 40th-anniversary tour. The band’s last-ever concert took place in November of that year — 20 months after the passing of TWISTED’s longtime drummer A.J. Pero.
French’s new “bizoir” — part memoir and part business primer — “Twisted Business: Lessons From My Life In Rock ‘N’ Roll”, was released in September via RosettaBooks.