Big announcement today that music mogul Irving Azoff has bought Linda Ronstadt’s “catalog.” It’s a grand gesture on Azoff’s part. I know, because he has a fondness for Linda. We all do.
But a catalog usually means publishing, and Linda doesn’t really have any. She didn’t write any of her hits or any of her album tracks. Others did, and they get paid when her records are played.
Indeed, Linda falls under the category of non-writing performer. There is no royalty for performers. When their records are played on the radio, they get NADA. Nothing. Zip. Performers are paid for records sold. Unfortunately, records don’t sell anymore.
There have been bills in Congress to cure this situation. The Obama Administration backed such a bill. But radio station owners refuse to pay this royalty, they want their music for free. They are stuck paying songwriters but will not compensate singers or musicians. Period.
So the legislation just sits there. Frank Sinatra never got paid, Judy Collins only if she had a writer’s credit. Dionne Warwick doesn’t get money from her Bacharach and David hits. And so on. Aretha Franklin, at least, wrote some of her hits. But all the Motown groups, for example, like the Supremes, Temptations, and Four Tops, are left high and dry. Motown writers like Smokey, Stevie, Marvin– they get paid as composers, not performers.
So back to Linda. Azoff’s company will try to market her records into commercials and movies where she can get some cash. Linda had a hit with Buddy Holly’s “It’s So Easy,” which should be in commercials. Ditto “Heat Wave” (cover of Martha Reeves’ hit), Chuck Berry’s “Back in the USA,” and so on. Why hasn’t Linda’s “You’re No Good” been in a great movie?
Guess who won’t get paid when these records are used? Producer Peter Asher. Producers are paid fees, at least they were back in the day. They usually don’t share in a record’s future success. This is why nowadays credits for songs go to producers as writers and there are 20 of them per song. And this is why Mariah Carey and Tommy Mottola were prescient about making Mariah a “writer” from the get go, sticking her name on every song. Otherwise, she’d been in Linda’s boat.
Azoff had this to say today about Linda: ““In 1972 when I arrived in Los Angeles to pursue my dreams in the music business, as fate would have it, I soon thereafter became best friends and manager to Glenn Frey and Don Henley,” Azoff said. “Without Linda Ronstadt and John Boylan, there would have never been an Eagles [who got their start when Ronstadt and Boylan recruited Frey and Henley for her band]. We were friends and family and grew up together, and what a ride it has been. The countless tours with the Eagles and Linda and their collaborations are the backbone of the history of Southern California music.”
PS Just back to the performers: this is why there are oldies acts tours and so on. The only way to make money if you didn’t write your hits is to have live gigs. So we’ve got artists touring into their 80s. And this why the pandemic has been so devastating for the music icons who’ve lost that income stream over the last year.