Credit Is Not Negotiable

by Michael Masley 
Musician Magazine 
December, 1994 

The original song you wrote and performed for the Geronimo soundtrack... has already had national exposure extending beyond the motion picture itself, and has been featured on CBS's broadcast of the 1994 Winter Olympics, on NBC's "Entertainment Tonight," and in an HBO special...

These words were signed in April '94 by Robert E. Holmes, executive v.p. of Sony Pictures Music Group, after lengthy wrangling between my attorneys and theirs. A year earlier Ry Cooder, stuck for inspiration while scoring Geronimo, plucked a cassette at random from his Tomb of the Unsolicited Tape -- my cassette. What he heard happened to be just what he needed, and soon I was driving from Berkeley, where I've made a "career" of playing in the streets, to L.A. to play cymbalom and flute on the Geronimo sessions.

What happened next ain't exactly clear, except that, when the film's soundtrack was issued, everyone who contributed material received composition credit (with the attendant potential for royalties) -- everyone except me.

I doubt Ry Cooder had anything to do with this. But as for Sony, well, a multibillion-dollar conglomerate is not fueled by the milk of human kindness. Perhaps my vulnerability -- as the only "unsigned" musician involved -- was too obvious to ignore.

As luck would have it, my music turned up in national TV broadcasts, giving me an incentive and the credibility to stake my claim. Attorneys Owen J. Sloane and Anthony Kornarens wrested a decent out-of-court settlement from Sony. Securing publishing credit and damages was no picnic. But the really hard part was The Letter quoted above, certifying my contribution and its value to the finished product.

Small wonder the corporate ego would rather eat roadkill than crow: Sony's initial claim included the customary "all rights in and to the Work, including, without limitation, the copyrights therein and throughout the universe..."

To gain access to an audience, artists make compromises that few executives would ask of anyone in the usual labor-for-wages domain. The upshot is that fair compensation must be measured in credit as well as dollars. Recognition is not a mere vanity issue. It is part and parcel of payment.

To ensure creative survival, sometimes a musican is called on to play the role of warrior. To paraphrase Geronimo himself: "Why let the suits have it all their way?"


Michal Masley's CD Mystery Repeats Itself is available from P.O. Box 5232, Berkeley, CA 94705, (510) 548-1241.