A Vietnam vet walks into a bar and tells a singer-songwriter who’s done prison time that he’ll pay for the recording and pressing of 1000 copies of her ten-song CD.
It’s no joke.
Robin Lee just released a ten-song CD, Sleep When I’m Dead, thanks to a total stranger who saw her perform at a Tuesday night open mike at Portugalia in O.B.
“I didn’t put out a dime,” says Lee, who says a man named Ray Peterssen paid for the studio time at Strate Sound in Santee. He also covered the costs for nine other local musicians to play on the album, including members of Lady Dottie and the Diamonds, Eve Selis’s band, and fiddle/banjo player Dennis Caplinger.
Lee even gets to keep the money when she sells a CD.
“When he handed me my CDs, I said, ‘What the hell?’ ” says Lee.
Here’s the catch: as outlined in a signed agreement, Peterssen gets 50 percent of all the publishing royalties should any of her songs get picked up for use in a soundtrack or TV commercial or is recorded by a major artist. That agreement lasts for five years.
“That sounds a little high, but I’ve heard worse,” says attorney Sandy Troy, who has knowledge of such agreements. “We’re not talking the Beatles or Van Morrison here. I’ve heard of worse agreements.”
Lee, a mother of four grown children, reasons she has nothing to lose. One of the songs on the new album, Federal Time, was inspired by her 18-month prison stint that ended in 2001. “I went down hard. It was about weed and money in two states.”
Peterssen says he is set financially through his military pension and from the sale of his touring production company Avocado Productions. He says he spent less than $10,000 on Lee’s record.
“I know a good song when I hear one,” says Peterssen . “Artists like Robin are few and far between. I can take a chance like this. I’ve made my money in my life. This is almost a hobby for me.” He says he will personally try and get Lee’s songs licensed for use.
Steve Poltz has a wealth of experience dealing with publishing rights. He also signed away 50 percent of his publishing to his ex-manager and record label. Because he co-wrote Jewel’s hit “Who Will Save Your Soul,” his royalties are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“Do I wish I didn’t sign away 50 percent, yes. But at that time no one was interested in me.” He says his 50 percent agreement on his Jewel-era catalog is forever, not just for five years.
Poltz explains that songwriter royalties are split in half: half to the writer and half to the publisher. “So if she gave up 50 percent of the publishing, that means she only really gave up 25 percent of the total.… If she sells one of her songs to Volkswagen for $100,000, she gets $75,000.”