Country star Lyle Lovett has sold millions of records, but says he has “never made a dime” from record sales. In order to support his Range Rover-driving lifestyle, he’s had to rely on the money he makes on tour. He’s hoping to fix that for future record releases, using some kind of unspecified technology, in a few years — when his contract with Universal Music Group runs out.
Wait a minute. How did Lyle Lovett end up with a contract with the world’s biggest music company that doesn’t pay him a dime? Answer: He didn’t. We don’t know what Universal has paid Lyle over the last couple decades, but we can assume that it’s a decent chunk of change — otherwise he wouldn’t have continued to sign deals with Universal.
The explanation lies in the arcana of music business accounting, and in the difference between advances and royalties. Lyle has gotten many of the former over the years – his complaint is about not receiving the latter. Rather than spend time explaining the difference, let us direct you to veteran music attorney Don Passman’s excellent book “All You Need To Know About The Music Business”. If you don’t feel like paying for it, you can can read the relevant excerpt via Amazon for free; search for “advance” and click on the 5th link. (Meanwhile, as Glenn Peoples reminds us in comments below, Lyle has also been generating publishing income over the years, much of which is tied directly to album sales. Don Passman can explain this revenue stream as well).
Does Lyle have a legitmate beef about Universal’s accounting practices? Could be. But more likely, he — like many other artists — doesn’t like the terms of his deal. If it makes him feel better, the labels generally don’t like the terms of the deals they give their acts either — the great majority of them are money-losers. It’s a lousy business, as Guy Hands is learning.
Meanwhile, using existing technology, we can offer you this excellent Lyle Lovett song, via Seeqpod, which pays neither Lyle nor his record company.