Musicians take up cause for their own: demanding changes for up-and-comers

Music stars want California law to limit recording contracts to seven years

— Don Henley, Sheryl Crow, Billy Joel and other music stars have taken their battle for less-restrictive recording contracts to the concert stage.

A slew of celebrity musicians staged four simultaneous concerts Tuesday night around the Los Angeles area to raise funds and promote their message: They want new agreements with record labels that include less-demanding contracts and more oversight of accounting practices.

"This is to help artists get their fair share and we thank you for your support," Henley told thousands of fans who paid up to $170 to see him and the rest of the Eagles, Joel, Crow and Stevie Nicks perform at the Inglewood Forum.

Similar concerts in Los Angeles, Long Beach and Universal City featured performances by the Dixie Chicks, No Doubt, Beck, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, Trisha Yearwood and other top performers.

The concerts were held just as the public's attention was turning to the music industry, a night before the Grammy Awards.

The money raised in the Tuesday shows will go to the Recording Artist Coalition, which is lobbying to change the standard industry contract requiring artists to produce no fewer than seven albums for a label.

Musicians complain that it can take decades to produce that many albums, tying them to one company for an entire career. They want the right to terminate their contracts after seven years.

Under current labor law, that's a right offered to every California worker except musicians.

A bill proposed by state Sen. Kevin Murray, a Democrat and former music agent, would amend the state labor code to extend that right to recording artists.

Record companies counter that they must bind artists to long contracts to stay in business because it can take years for a musician to gain popularity and not all of the performers they back succeed.

The major record companies, smaller labels and companies that press compact discs, make packaging and even provide limousines have formed a group called the California Music Coalition to fight Murray's bill.

They say the $41 billion music industry is already suffering from disappointing sales, partly caused by Internet piracy, and giving musicians such an escape clause would damage it further.

Henley said music stars must fight the recording industry to protect up-and-coming performers who lack the influence of star power. He said he hoped fans wouldn't think of their effort as the whining of spoiled millionaires.

"We've organized for every cause under the sun but us," Henley said. "I hope nobody begrudges us for doing a little something for ourselves."

The mood of the audience was generally supportive.

"It's how they make their living," said Pat Fitzgerald, of Orange County. "It's only fair that they would be concerned with how their rights are being interpreted. I think people are here because of the outcry."

Not everyone approved of the artists' cause, however; some were just there for the music.

"These are volunteer contracts and they don't have to sign them," said Dan Vesely.

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