Leaving the Building: The Lucrative Afterlife of Music Estates
When a musician dies, it is rarely the end of their story.
While death can propel megastars to even further success, artists overlooked in their lifetime might also find a new type of fame. But a badly timed move or the wrong deal can see the artist die all over again. Drawing on interviews with those running music estates as well as music
The book has been written by Dr Eamonn Forde, who describes himself as an enormously unmusical person, tone deaf and no sense of rhythm. This hasn’t stopped him from achieving a PhD studying the Music Press, contributing to a number of music magazines over the years or writing the acclaimed The Final Days of EMI: Selling the Pig.
For Leaving the Building, Forde has interviewed a number of parties linked to the estates of the deceased, such as Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, Whitney Houston and David Bowie to name very very few. Clocking in at over 500 pages, it’s a compelling, utterly readable, bordering on academic, forensic study of the subject of what happens to the back catalogues and archives when musicians and artists pass away.
It’s probably apt it’s released now, at a time when the Hipgnosis Songs Fund (partly owned by Nile Rogers) and major labels, such as Sony, and other organisations have been buying up more and more artists back catalogues in recent years; which on the face of it this makes sense for the musicians. I’m sure Paul Simon wasn’t short of a few bob before receiving a reported $250 million from Sony; but it’s probably better in his pocket now and him not having the hassle of paying people to ensure royalties are collected, deal with licensing requests etc.
The book is exhaustive and every possible angle you could probably imagine is covered, whether it’s looking at the many complexities and sadly protracted bitter legal battles that arise, such as in the case of Michael Hutchence or the resulting power an estate has, blocking would be filmmakers and turning down requests for biopics. (Although there is a section discussing the likes of Amazon and Netflix who have branched into this market and also the runaway successes of the Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman movies).
Leaving the Building is so rich in its content, anything I highlight couldn’t even be considered to be the tip of the iceberg. It covers everything from the Musician’s estates that disappeared, i.e. Marc Bolan’s missing millions; to merchandising, Linda Ramone talking everything from socks to bobbleheads; as well as branding, sampling, plagiarism and holograms.
Although it could be read from front to back I found it easier to dip into it at different points. I particularly enjoyed absorbing the data from the Forbes Posthumous Rich Lists which have been produced since 2001 (from a musical background only Kurt Cobain and Rogers and Hammerstein are close to challenging the dominance of Elvis and Jacko) and whilst not a fan of those included, Nick Drake and Eva Cassidy, I found the chapter on Creating Posthumous Fame interesting.
Inevitably the musical heavyweights demand the most pages and focus, but for me, it was the small nuggets that were most engaging; Jemima Dury discussing her father’s complete archive from his time in Kilburn And The Highroads for example. The petrol receipts for trips up the M1 and handwritten letters to the bank, mundane things that people would throw away without thinking are actually parts of the jigsaw telling the story of the band in its earliest days.
I guess to some it could be considered a bit morbid, but if you have an interest in the behind the scenes stories, the business and legal side of the Music Industry then this book is for you.