Click here for Honor Roll. See below this article for additional pictures not found in Allegro.
It took two years of hard work and organizing, but on Dec. 15, musicians who recorded for Knitting Factory Records won an historic victory when our rally outside the Knitting Factory club in lower Manhattan resulted in a settlement agreement.
The settlement not only covers the artists officially signed to the lawsuit we filed but also has some provisions acknowledging the rights of any Knitting Factory recording artists who come forward within a year. “It’s truly a victory to be proud of,” said guitarist Danny Blume, who has two albums on the Knitting Factory label, and appears on several of the label’s compilation discs.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
When I first reported in Allegro about this situation in the January 2004 issue, many musicians had been in a holding pattern for over a year. With new management suddenly at the label, many artists such as myself were unable to get even the most basic information about our work, such as if we were still considered on the label or not! Many of us were unable to resolve royalty and bookkeeping issues or find out if we could get our masters back as our contracts entitled us.
A very devastating blow had come last summer, when it was discovered after-the-fact that the new management had thrown away countless amounts of CD stock during an office move without informing the artists and without even answering a request from Downtown Music Gallery (a main CD outlet for Knitting Factory artists) to purchase any unwanted stock.
The outrage of the artists spread through the community and we became motivated to mount an official action and protest.
TAKE IT TO THE BRIDGE
Marc Ribot, a musician and activist I have always respected, encouraged me to work with Local 802. He told me, “This is what the union is for! This is the kind of action we should be doing.” (Marc is also an 802 member himself.)
After a small group of us met with 802’s Organizing Department, the union agreed to help us. This support seemed like a gift from the gods and I felt now I could really go forward.
Next, I knew we had to have a Web site to handle communicating with and organizing so many artists, so I contacted my great friend Norman Yamada, a composer who has worked with many Knitting Factory artists – who also happens to be a computer genius – and www.TakeItToTheBridge.com was born. Outside of Local 802’s help, this action would not have been possible without the Web.
FIGHTING IN COURT – AND ON THE STREET
Marc, Norman and I formed the steering committee for this action. The union’s attorney, Harvey Mars, made several attempts to contact KnitMedia (Knitting Factory Record’s parent company) and get management to sit down with us, to no avail.
Finally, when everyone at 802 had gotten a small taste of the sort of runaround we artists had been treated to for over a year, Harvey filed a lawsuit – a huge job that meant contacting all artists involved and listing their complaints individually. Still, KnitMedia refused to negotiate, answering our suit with a request to deposition all the artists.
This was a low moment (we had a few during this whole odyssey that were tests of our commitment and ability), where I had to step back and really consider the costs to 802 or the artists if I led us forward in a misstep. There was a lot of pressure at times.
Still, whenever we had a meeting or went to the artists, everyone stood strongly together. It felt like we were a real team. Everyone filled in the gaps: Norman’s technical know-how and mind for details, Marc’s experience and advice, Harvey’s legal guidance, my complete and utterly dogged determination, and the organizing knowledge and resources at Local 802, including Organizing Director Joe Eisman and Senior Organizer Summer Smith. It felt like everyone complemented each other really well and massive amounts of work somehow got done.
We knew that we had to also take our struggle to the streets and to the public.
We held two rallies outside of the club: one last August and the second, final rally on Dec. 15 which we had planned to also be the official announcement of a boycott of the Knitting Factory and its labels.
At the time of the second demo, we felt we had to give the Web site a makeover, filling it with quotes (often heart-breaking) from artists about their experiences, and words of support from the likes of Elvis Costello, John Zorn and Downtown Music Gallery. I can’t overstress what a powerful role the Web site played in our struggle in making our experiences understood and felt by people in and outside of the community. After this update, there was a new groundswell of new energy and support for our cause that was palpable.
THE WEIGHT OF THE HOUR
I was so moved by the people who showed up on that icy December day to give support. Downtown Music Gallery had e-mailed its list of music lovers. 802 sent e-mails out to its membership. AFM Local 47 distributed flyers in Los Angeles, where the Knitting Factory has another club. The Teamsters lent us their big inflatable rat, and so many musicians from inside and outside of the community came out – artists I hadn’t seen in years, many of whom were not involved in the lawsuit at all but just wanted to stand with us. It was humbling.
Our intention at the demo was to officially announce the launch of a boycott. For us musicians the boycott had been an absolute last resort – something we knew not to take lightly. We knew our actions could have serious repercussions to the company’s business or affect our relationships with other musicians. KnitMedia began negotiating with us in earnest as we gathered in front of the club. It was clear that the company did not want the boycott to happen.
It was a pretty intense afternoon. There was pressure to accept a settlement while we had the leverage of the looming boycott announcement, but also to not let the artists down. We could all feel the weight of the hour upon us.
After hours in the bitter cold with musicians hanging out and playing, rousing speakers and singers, constant huddles to the side with laptops on the tops of parked cars, all of us going over facts and figures, it suddenly happened: management offered a settlement we could accept.
As Allegro goes to press, the settlement agreement is being edited and tweaked before each artist signs off on it. KnitMedia, without acknowledging wrongdoing, agreed to a financial settlement for each of the artists named to the suit, and agreed to return to each artist the rights to their work.
One issue, and something we really hung in for, was KnitMedia’s acknowledgement that all Knitting Factory artists – not just the 28 who had signed on to the lawsuit – could come forward within a year to get some of the benefits of the settlement. This was incredibly important to us, as many of these artists tour incessantly or live abroad. We had done our best to track people down, but wanted to win something for all artists should they learn about this action later on. This provision symbolized to us the spirit of the entire action: a fight for musicians’ rights that we wanted to extend beyond our immediate group.
DOWNTOWN CROWD MAKES BIG NOISE
I didn’t realize when we started out that this was really the first time Local 802 had ever gone to bat for a group of recording artists for their creative rights, let alone for those of us classified as “downtown” or “indie” recording artists. We’re a group that might have previously seemed “un-organizable” or without any power.
Previous to this action, there were no options for musicians like myself to get the kind of help we needed to stand up to a record label, have our contracts honored, and make real and lasting change in the music world.
I know now that something significant has just happened, and TakeItToTheBridge.com is going to keep going. Hopefully this is just one of many kick-ass duets with Local 802 that will make the world a more fair and just place for musicians everywhere.
Any Knitting Factory recording artist reading this article can contact Local 802 Organizer Summer Smith to get help or more information about the settlement. Summer can be reached at (212) 245-4802, ext. 186. As for Marc, Norman and myself, we intend for www.TakeItToTheBridge.com to remain active and we can be emailed at Bridge3@TakeItToTheBridge.com.
Rebecca Moore is a musician, singer, songwriter and activist living in New York City. She is currently working on her third CD; her Web site is www.bluviolin.com.