HITS Daily Double
"The aggressive behavior of the record companies is essentially eroding some of the good will that their parent companies have at the legislature."


Kevin Murray Is a Politician Who Knows the Music Business. Is That Why Some People Think He's Dangerous?

It's called SB1249. It seeks to repeal a 1987 amendment to California's seven-year labor statute, which allows music companies to sue for damages arising from undelivered albums in the event an artist attempts to void a contract after seven years. Its author is California State Senator Kevin Murray, a 41-year-old, first-term Democrat from Los Angeles. Oh yeah, he's also been a William Morris agent, music attorney and music manager. He recently spoke to HITS' David Adelson about one California amendment the RIAA doesn't want passed.

You've said the existing amendment to the seven-year statute is analogous to indentured servitude. Would you expand on that?
Anything that is service without a time limit is indentured servitude. If you listen to the record companies' argument, they claim, because they invest so much money upfront, they want to essentially have an indefinite time period until they get their money back. That is the very definition of indentured servitude.

You were joined at last Wednesday's press conference by Jay Cooper and John Branca. Aren't they saying, "Even if I negotiated a multi-album deal for my client, they don't have to deliver those albums after seven years goes by"?
It's not like they really get to negotiate. For new bands, you're signing multi-album deals. I don't care if it's John Branca and Jay Cooper or Justice Brandeis who did the deal. One of the reasons why I pressed so hard for John Branca to come was because even someone with his client list and clout still gets the same deal for a brand new act. On a brand-new act you sign a seven-album deal. The problem is that it's not possible to fulfill within any reasonable time frame. There's something else I don't understand about record companies.

What's that?
The third or fourth album is when almost every artist goes into a sales lull. So, the album that the record companies are fighting so hard to get is not likely to be the one that makes them a lot of money anyway. My argument is the record companies aren't really losing that much, if this thing passes.

There are people who say that you are using this high-profile issue for political gain. How do you respond to that?
It depends how you define political gain. Do I think it's the right thing? Yeah. Is it getting a lot of attention? Yeah. I mean, who doesn't want to do things that people pay attention to? That's silly. I've done bills on racial profiling, civil rights, health care and education. Am I doing those for political gain, too? Theoretically, everything we do is for political gain.

With Don Henley, Sheryl Crow, Beck, John Fogerty and other arists involved, some are saying they could end up donating to your campaign and help you seek higher office.
I'm not interested in seeking higher office. Again, I come out of the music business. I'm an advocate for music rights in any case. If I do a good job, does it benefit me? That's why everybody does a good job.

Are you surprised that people in the music industry are taking potshots at you?
Of course not. Essentially, those people taking potshots are trying to protect their own behind. You know, this is politics and, much like the music business, there are people with sharp elbows. That's the game we play. I have the ability to introduce legislation, and if they have the ability to kill this legislation this year, it will come back every year.

There are some people who say that Governor Gray Davis will support this bill so people like Don Henley can help him raise money for reelection.
Hey, you know what? David Geffen is on the other side. So both Gray Davis and I could have chosen to be on the David Geffen side. All of that stuff is ludicrous. The fact is this is an issue and people pick sides based upon what they believe.

So the rock star factor is not a major one?
This isn't just rock stars. There are new and developing artists. It's also the labor movement. Why is AFL/CIO President John Sweeney on our side? Because it's also a labor issue. There are five record companies; All but one are foreign owned.

Is the rant about foreign companies taking advantage of American workers really applicable in this case?
It's as applicable as anyone taking political potshots at me and the Governor. In the final analysis, our job in the legislature is to enact policy to protect our workers and sometimes our companies—but certainly not foreign companies. Look, the fact is there are only five companies now. There are no Clive Davises and Ahmet Erteguns out on their own. There's no Chris Blackwell. With the exception of Clive Calder, there are no entrepreneurs in this business anymore. That's part of the problem—it has become this huge corporate structure. And it would be one thing if it was our corporate structure, but it's some foreign corporate structure.

Is there one music company fighting this harder than others?
Many people believe this is driven mostly by Universal. I think that Universal is driving this strongly, for two reasons: One, they're in a battle with Courtney Love. And, two, they were in a battle, through Geffen Records, with Don Henley. And I think that has caused them to see red.

How is this battle, compared to other ones you've fought in Sacramento?
It's interesting. The aggressive behavior of the record companies is essentially eroding some of the good will that their parent companies have at the legislature. The motion picture industry is one of the biggest industries in California. Essentially, they have been very friendly to the legislature, they don't ask for special treatment. The MPAA and most of the individual companies have a lot of good will. I think that the aggressive nature of the music industry is harming that.