Business Law


Grocery Store Music

Over the last year Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Nicks, The Killers, Joni Mitchell, Shikira, Bob Dylan, Disturbed, Barry Manilow, The Weekend, and fifty-four other musicians sold all or the bulk of their music catalogs to the Sony and Warner music companies of the world. For hundreds of millions.

If you hear any of these artists in a grocery store you can be sure Sony et al are getting paid top dollar for every play.

Most grocery stores, though, don’t spend much on music. They don’t have to, there are ten of thousands of songs by thousands of groups and singers available for pennies.

Grocery store music, after all, exists mostly to cover up the clicks, whirls, thuds, groans, creaks, and other store noises to create a better shopping environment. Industrial psychologists figured that out during the Eisenhower administration. It’s not there to remind anyone that Tommy Tutone was once a thing.

Let's start with two premises: first, when someone forms a band they are forming a company; second, the songs are products and assets.

Singer-songwriters and bands produce songs. Songs are currency. To paraphrase George Bailey, every time you hear a song on the radio, Spotify, in a bar, and a million other places, someone, somewhere is getting paid. As much as seventy-five cents – or more – per play.

It adds up . . . for the groups and artists who planned their businesses and protected themselves from the start.

The groups you hear in the canned foods aisle? Not so much. Their songs were sold to companies that collect and package for easy listening during Sunday afternoon pre-football chicken wing sales. No one voluntarily sells to a compilation company, it’s a bad deal. It’s like cashing in an annuity for a tenth of its value to pay one month’s rent.

It happens when the business - the group - fails. Maybe – like the Go-Gos (check out the documentary) – no planning was ever done and no one knew how the money was made. Or, because there was no contingency for a death; a member who wanted to move on; bankruptcy; addiction; divorce; disability; or a copyright fight.

Nirvana, David Bowie, The Clash, Elton John, The Who, the sixty-four artists who sold their catalogs last year, will never be heard on a compilation.

But you will hear Billy Joel at the deli counter (somewhat ironically, he was forced to sell Uptown Girl to pay the divorce settlement to the Uptown Girl).; or Lynyrd Skynyrd (death); The Eagles (mutual hatred and multiple breakups); Creedence Clearwater Revival (trademark protection/shareholder oppression); and so many more.

No one goes into business with the thought of failing. In the history of recorded music no artist ever aspired to be heard in a grocery store, elevator, and/or hotel lobby.

Business planning makes the difference.