Knitting Factory Artists Get Organized!
When a Label Screwed Up, Artists Fought Back
Volume CIV, No. 1January, 2004
In October 2002, I called my record label – Knitting Factory Records – to buy some more copies of my disc, “Home Wreckordings.” I found out, to my great surprise, that the label had changed hands months earlier and none of us artists had been told! The label was now run by Instinct Records.
Flash forward a year later. On June 3, 2003, I received a disturbing call very late in the afternoon from Jason Finestone at Instinct. He simply said, “We are moving our offices this week, and if you want any of your discs, you better come get them tomorrow.” He added cryptically, “If you don’t, I can’t guarantee they’ll make the transition.”
I was in the middle of working at home, but I asked, “What do you mean, ‘not make the transition’? Am I being dropped from the label? Are you going to throw them out?”
He simply answered, “Just come get them.”
I realized I had to get the discs because if they threw them out, I would not have any copies unless I paid to reprint them.
A GRAVEYARD OF CD’S
When I went to pick up my CD’s in the Knitting Factory basement, I saw it was full to the ceiling with boxes upon boxes of discs, lining steel shelves. I started thinking: did they really call all these people – and if so, why weren’t there other people here picking them up now?
It started to hit me: is it possible that they would throw all these discs out? It didn’t seem comprehensible. I saw jazz artist Thomas Chapin’s box set on a shelf. Chapin had passed away – who would come get his discs?
I called my friend Norman Yamada from the street because I knew he had the numbers of some Knitting Factory artists. I asked him to contact as many people as he could because I had a bad feeling about what was going on. He was able to reach several people.
I spent the next several hours getting my own stock home (all 120 pounds of it) – and up to my sixth floor walkup – by myself.
By Monday morning, word spread about what had gone down. Shockingly, it turned out that virtually no artists had been called. So I was one of the “lucky” ones.
THROWING AWAY HISTORY
Several neighborhood people told us later that they witnessed cases of CD’s being thrown out into a dumpster. Shock and anger spread among my fellow artists about their stock being destroyed and not having been given the opportunity to buy it back.
There was also fear that some of those discs, an incredible archive, might not be reprintable if older masters or copies didn’t exist anymore.
I starting talking to other Knitting Factory artists about this situation. I organized a meeting at a coffee shop in the East Village. Five artists attended and it was a good meeting, but there was low morale about what we could do, if anything.
Then, last September, Marc Ribot heard of my efforts. He contacted me, and urged me not to throw in the towel. He even called Local 802 to set up a meeting for all of us.
At the meeting, I got to sit down with Marc, 802 Organizing Director Joe Eisman and Senior Organizer Summer Smith. Also at the meeting were Knitting Factory artist Judith Ren-Lay, and Brad Jones, a musician who is a big part of the Knitting Factory community.
Summer and Joe said they would take the situation back to Harvey Mars, one of 802’s attorneys, to see if he could take it on.
The next day, they gave me the good news. Harvey and the union would go to bat for us.
With the help of Marc and my friend Norman, I drafted an official call to Knitting Factory artists. Marc wrote petition language, and Norman set up a Web site for the petition at www.TakeItToTheBridge.com. We started sending the plea out.
Almost four dozen musicians have signed the petition – and more are coming out of the woodwork each week.
And Harvey Mars sent a letter in early November to Instinct on our behalf, requesting an accurate accounting of our work.
FINALLY, SOME MOVEMENT
Now Instinct has finally sent out a letter to all artists they can track down – the type of letter they should have sent out when they first took over. They said they had been understaffed and hadn’t had our contact information (even though they had inherited Knitting Factory’s computers – probably full of our e-mail addresses and phone numbers). But now they say they want to try to work with each of us.
Clearly, this effort to communicate with the artists would not have happened without the letter from Harvey, and the union behind us.
There is still a long road ahead, as each artist has different issues. For instance, some artists want their masters back, some want to remain on the label – but all want to get better accountings of their work.
I am looking forward to working more with Joe, Summer and Harvey, with Norman and Marc and the other artists, and finding some resolution and justice for all the artists.
We all have to change the way these takeovers happen. When a label throws away CD’s, it makes it hard or impossible for artists to establish accurate accountings of our work. Our CD’s would have been better accounted for if they had been cans of beans in a supermarket! Throwing away CD’s is throwing away personal property, not to mention destroying history – the Knitting Factory catalogue is extremely diverse and unique.
If there are any Knitting Factory artists reading this, please visit www.TakeItToTheBridge.com. And tell your friends and colleagues so they can join this action.
Viva la música!
Artists who are affected by the Knitting Factory/Instinct situation should first visit www.TakeItToTheBridge.com and sign the petition. Artists who want to follow up should send an e-mail to kf_action@TakeItToTheBridge.com. This story ©2003 Rebecca Moore.