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Breaking out of the mold (this is for you capn and unk!)

Joel Selvin, Chronicle Staff Writer Sunday, August 18, 2002 The record industry may have more to fear from Jimmy Buffett than the Internet. Buffett picked up his marbles and walked away from the game last year -- putting out an album on his own Mailboat Records that sold more than a half million copies and hit the top five. Now he's inviting others to join him, sharing proceeds like a pirate splitting up spoils instead of paying measly royalties.

He has already signed big-hair rockers Poison, an alliance that cuts across stylistic boundaries about as far as you can go.

"We make as much money if we sell 100,000 copies this way as we made when we sold a million copies through a major label," Poison bassist Bobby Dall told Billboard magazine.

Buffett pays $5 per record, four times the $1.25 he earned with Universal Music. Other big-name artists are ready to join Buffett's flight from the major labels.

What's stopping acts from putting out their own records? pays more than $7 apiece wholesale for CDs and sends monthly statements. Record labels work hard to pay artists as little as possible, subtracting all kinds of ridiculous expenses from royalty accounts.

A number of years ago, when R.E.M. was still selling in the millions and its contract with Warner Bros. was expiring, the band apparently contemplated the same thing that Buffett did. Warner countered with a staggering sum of money, as much as $80 million, if reports at the time are to be believed. It was the corporate world's version of hush money -- take this, don't try that, it won't work. But Buffett was immune to Universal President Doug Morris' pleas not to jump ship. And soon he will be announcing some surprising big- name shipmates of his own.

The Internet proved that alternative supply lines could get music directly to consumers, outside of traditional avenues of the marketplace. But Buffett's enterprise is even more revolutionary. He is using the conventional means of distribution to record stores. He is using the same pricing structure as the majors. But without the extravagant waste and inefficiency of the major labels,

he can afford to share more of the bounty with the artists.

The Eagles are recording an album and have been making noise about releasing it themselves next year, although they may be too contractually tied up to wriggle free. Record companies have pretty much given up working with veteran artists anyway. There is little room for established acts on radio. MTV doesn't play their videos anymore. Magazine covers are mostly devoted to new faces. Nobody cares about these guys (and gals) but their fans.

It matters little that artists such as Neil Young, Van Morrison or Dolly Parton have been putting out new releases that compare favorably with their best work. So exactly what are these people getting in exchange for giving up such a sizable portion of the revenues from their sales?

-- Aunt Bee (, August 18, 2002


Who said that the cannons don't thunder, there is nothing to plunder, when your an over forty victim of fate?

-- Jack Booted Thug (, August 19, 2002.

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