Tuesday, September 11, 2012

It's a recording contract, not a marriage

Some resourceful plugger managed to get the story of Bill Fay on the Today programme this morning. Fay made a couple of albums in the early 70s and then there was nothing until recently when he was swept up in the 21st century campaign to rediscover just about every singer-songwriter from that golden era. Best of luck to him.

The key phrase that made the narrative work for a news programme was that Fay was "dropped by his record company" in 1971. You can hear that being pitched to the producer, repeated to the editor, briefed to the presenter and then said feelingly during the item.

"Dropped by his record company" is a recent expression. Before that people would say "his popularity declined". "Dropped by his record company" comes from the era of boy bands and it implies a complete withdrawal of the only source of funding. It is taken to mean "cast into the outer darkness". It means "going home with your tail between your legs". It means "game over".

In fact record companies rarely "drop" anyone. They simply decline to renew the contract, double their initial bet and throw good money after bad.

When Bill Fay made those two records for Decca subsidiary Deram in 1970-71 a record deal would probably be for just one album with an option for another. Round about the same time East Of Eden made just two albums for Deram and they had a hit single. Most acts on Deram, like most acts on most labels, never got to make an album at all.

Fay made his two, the market shrugged, the radio passed and the press weren't bothered and so Deram decided they didn't want any more. This was the right decision, not an act of cultural vandalism.

 I'm always amazed that the same people who want record companies to stick with unsuccessful acts for longer are the same people who want the record companies to spend all their time looking for fresh new talent. If they do one they can't do the other.


  1. The use of the word dropped in the context of artists like Bill Fay ties into the romance of them being unappreciated in their time. I like the new record and it's good to see him getting some attention, but presumably after his first two albums he went off and did other things with his life. It's not like he's spent the last four decades waiting for somebody to invent MOJO magazine.

  2. David, this is true no marriage records provider wants to drop anyone from their list. The management of these records is a very tough job.