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Hi Matt:

I see "tribute" bands in the Reader all the time (Steely Damned, a Steely Dan tribute band; Iron Maidens, female Iron Maiden tribute band, etc.). Do these bands have to get approval from the artist to perform in public, use their likeness/name, etc.? Can they record and sell their performances of the music? What would I have to do to set up my own tribute band, and what would the limitations be?

-- Mike, Linda Vista

Dear Matthew:

The other day I was watching Wolf Creek; and while I was trying to console myself over the rental fee during the closing credits, I noticed that the movie's soundtrack was available on some record label. The only music I remember from Wolf Creek was your typical cheesy horror movie mood-setting background noise. Curious, I went through my DVD collection and noticed that all my movies have a soundtrack available. Pulp Fiction's soundtrack is available on MCA, which is understandable as the movie did have good, memorable music. Independence Day, where I don't remember any music at all, has their soundtrack available on RCA; 28 days later on XL Records, I, Robot. What gives? Is there some rule that movies have to release their music on CD?

-- Mark Hettergott, Rancho Penasquitos

Oh, Mark... Mark... once again an innocent stumbles into Logicland and opens the forbidden pop culture door. Out flies a sensible question: Why would anyone release a CD of forgettable music that you can't sing along with at the top of your lungs on the freeway or even dance to? Sorry to say, sound track CDs aren't much different from any other trash that bounces off the back of the movie-promotion truck. Slurpee cups, bobble-head dolls, Reservoir Dogs flea powder, DaVinci Code decoder rings... . They illustrate a basic pop-cult business principle. If you own something, you can always sell off pieces of that something and increase the income you are already making from that something. "Something," in your case, is Wolf Creek, in all its cheesy Australian glory.

That's our liberal rephrasing of an answer we got from Mark Meyerson, an old M.A. road dog who, unlike the rest of the crowd, actually made something of his pitiful self. He's worked for the likes of ASCAP, Atlantic Records, MCA, and Twentieth Century Fox. He loves copyright law so much he's even vice president of the L.A. Copyright Society. He denies any knowledge of Wolf Creek, but suggests that the worthiness of the music has not a lot to do with it. Sure, the CD of a song-oriented score like, say, Dead Man Walking featuring a heap o' stars (Springsteen, Vedder, Lovett, Waits, Shocked, et al.) makes artistic sense to a consumer. A company like Columbia is more than happy to whap out a bazillion sound-track CDs. But even if it's just hackneyed mood tunes from Wolf Creek, some company will take a chance that enough somebodies out there will want to part with 15 bucks for them. In the case of Wolf Creek, the record label is Rubber (also Aussie), and unless they have some whiz-bang distribution deal in the U.S., I doubt that the CDs will be cluttering up the shelves at Wal-Mart.

Remember that CDs and DVDs are cheep, cheep, cheep to manufacture. And if you have access to the master recording of the film's score, you have near-zero production costs. You pay a reuse fee to the film company for the rights and some fees to the musicians involved. A little studio editing time and bingo, a marketable product.

There have been music companies that specialized in releasing sound tracks. Some film companies have deals with music companies for CD releases. And of course if your corporate family tree includes both a film branch and a music branch, then you really have a cheap product and it's pretty much your fiduciary duty to release a CD. And there's always that X factor. When we consumer sheep hear the tag line "Sound track CD available from Earpain Records!" do we think, "Hmmmm, maybe it's a worthwhile flick if they've gone to all that trouble"? Maybe. The suits all hope so. And of course, in the end, we'll just be skunked once again by trailers and hype.

Moving on to the creepy world of tribute bands, our source recommends his favorite, Dread Zeppelin -- "Stairway to Heaven" to a reggae beat. But if you, Mike, want to salute your fave, you won't have to do much except practice hard in the garage, then scare up some gigs. You can't borrow anything from your musical idols that is trademarked or otherwise legally protected, but for most bands that's just their name. A band might have a "look," (grunge, glam, etc.), but that's not copyrightable. Your performance rights are covered, as with any band, by the club owner. You'll pay a license fee for recording rights, but that's standard for any previously recorded song; whether you're a tribute band or not. So as long as you don't call yourself the Carpenters or Alvin and the Chipmunks or use their pictures in your ads, you're home free. Or relatively free, anyway. A tribute band is like any other band, just a little more obsessed.

Like I Said - Just a Little More Obsessed

Hi Matt, I saw your comments [last week] about tribute bands. I noticed the words 'creepy' and 'obsessed', which indicate a negative perspective about tribute bands, or that their is a patheticess with tribute bands. Original bands usually include 'obsessed' members -- even world dominator/successful ones.... Hey it's just entertainment. It's like a combination of the ethic of Saturday Night Live and Kiss, when done the way I like it. Or done like a documentary, or play. Yes, movies, documentaries, and plays are creepy and obsessive endeavors, in order to do them well. You've got to have the right kind of image and energy to do your part well if you're onstage also....

Be a doer. Tribute band people are doers and positive contributors with their tribute band efforts. However the ones that appear not to be putting in what I consider to be the proper full effort, I disdain and avoid seeing those bands again. Nor would I want to play in a tribute band with somebody who doesn't reasonably put on the image/appearance, presence, passion, and energy, even behind the scenes. I 'hate' cover bands, because they don't present the image/energy/presence.

If classical music orchestras would dress up in baroque-/renaissance-era attire, or the attire of whatever era the music was created in, plus wigs as appropriate, it would be so much more entertaining. Otherwise, zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Yes, classical music orchestras are creepy. Plus, they are actually cover bands -- they're not original.

Yes, I'm relaxed. Yes, I'm staying home tonight, Saturday night. Be the best you can be Matt.-- Scott

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