If you’ve been on Twitter or watched any entertainment news lately, you probably have heard something about the hashtag movement “#FreeKesha.” This social cause came about after singer Kesha, got news during a legal preceding that the court system and Justice Shirley Kornreich ruled against her request to release her from Kemosabe records. The lawsuit and preliminary injunction spawned after she accused her manager, famed hit-maker Dr. Luke, of numerous injustices, including harassment, battery and sexual assault.
This wouldn’t be the first time an artist has had problems with someone in the music industry, and it won't be the last.
Whether it’s a case of something as deplorable as sexual or physical violence like in the case of Kesha, or something as asinine as disagreeing over a single’s release date, musicians will always butt heads with those in charge of their career. By definition, musicians are artists, and artists are known as rebellious free spirits. When executive personalities clash with the people working for them, in-fighting happens from time to time. These 13 cases may not always have ended in a legal battle or lawsuit, but they’re pretty strong examples of musicians giving the middle-finger to the industry – sometimes literally!
13 30 Seconds to Mars
Jared Leto and the other 30 Seconds to Mars members were in for a shock when their record label EMI Records allowed Virgin Records to buy their contract. Shortly after, the band was sued by Virgin for $30 million after claims they breached the contract by not producing five albums.
The band members were certainly less than silent. Not only did all of them voice their frustrations during interviews and independently about the issue, they decided to create a documentary about the drama entitled This is War. This kind of negative press led to Virgin settling the lawsuit and leaving the band alone.
12 John Fogerty
This is one fight that the artist in question didn’t get to win. After leaving his band Creedence Clearwater Revival, John Fogerty went on to try out a solo act. His old record company, Fantasy, wasn’t too happy about this.
When Fogerty released the song The Old Man Down the Road with Warner Bros. Records over 10 years later, Fantasy made plagiarism claims against him – supposedly, he ripped off his own song from his time with CCR, Run Through the Jungle. Fantasy took the case to the Supreme Court and ultimately lost, but so did Fogerty after he asked for his court costs and attorney fees to be compensated and also failed.
11 The Clash
The British band The Clash fought their record label CBS throughout the 70s, though the most notable instance was when the two entities butted heads over their second album release. The band wanted to release a double album, while CBS was adamant to only release a single with a free track.
Instead of listening to CBS, The Clash recorded enough songs to complete an entire album as B-sides to the single. This CD would turn out to be London Calling, one of their best known, and because of technicalities, they weren’t exactly breaking their contract. The CD also sold for the price of a single album, making fans all over England ecstatic.
10 Black Flag
You might expect that a punk band like Black Flag wouldn't take kindly to record executive tricks, but perhaps not something like this. Even before their first album got released, the band was doing well with their fans and had drummed up a lot of press. Funnily enough, the label head Al Bergamo didn’t listen to the album until close to release date. After hearing what he called “immoral” music, he pulled the plug on the record.
Thankfully the album had already been pressed and packaged, with 25,000 copies stocked in a warehouse. Instead of accepting their fate, members of Black Flag fought back, including shenanigans that found them sued for breach of contract and vandalizing the albums already made.
Wilco’s label, Reprise Records, suddenly had a change in management during the early 2000's. When the new label executive, David Kahne, didn’t like the band’s music, he ordered them to rerecord some of the album in order for the label to sell singles. Because the lead singer, Jeff Tweedy, wasn’t fond of this idea, Reprise Records decided that selling the album altogether would be a bad idea.
After the band severed ties with the label, who advised them to go independent, they uploaded it in its entirety to their website. The stream got over three million hits during the first month it was available. At this time, record labels still hadn’t fully understood the power of the Internet. Another record label picked signed up Wilco pretty quickly – and it happened to be owned by the same parent company as Reprise.
8 The Rolling Stones
The Rolling Stones were one of the mega-bands of the 60's, and they’ve still managed to remain a household name even to this day. Known for their rebellious and innovative style, it shouldn’t surprise you that they were a band that didn’t want to play nice with their label.
After becoming unhappy sticking with their Decca Records contract, the Stones decided to go ahead and fulfill their last obligation of releasing one more single. The song, entitled Schoolboy Blues, was so vulgar and risqué that the label couldn’t market it, but the contract was met. The song was never released…until it accidentally got slipped onto a German-only compilation album years later.
7 Tim McGraw
Curb Records and Tim McGraw weren’t a good match. The country superstar was getting antsy having to wait 18 months in between each album release, and he wanted to move onto a more fruitful venture: partnering with Big Machine Records. To speed up the process, McGraw released the album Emotional Traffic, though Curb wasn’t happy that it had come out so soon and gave the singer reason to claim he’d fulfilled his album delivery obligations.
McGraw went on to release Two Lanes of Freedom under his new label, though Curb took issue with this. The company sued the country star with a claim that he recorded the songs on the album while still under their contract. Fortunately, McGraw won and filed a countersuit, claiming the company tried to keep him for longer than necessary by releasing a Greatest Hits album and keeping him in recording limbo.
6 Trent Reznor
Trent Reznor, best known as being the lead for the rock band Nine Inch Nails, was once unimpressed with his record label, Universal, after making a shocking discovery in 2007. Universal was selling his album Year Zero for $35, while other artists were selling albums at much cheaper prices, making it more likely for their albums to get sales.
Because Reznor was so passionate about CD sales getting lowered, he decided not to argue with the label. Instead, he told fans to go ahead and steal the new CD and even uploaded it for easier access. After Universal cut him for the stunt, Reznor went on to put up his next album for free or he gave fans the option to pay for it – he made $1.6 million.
5 Brad Paisley
Sometimes singers like to do nice things for their fans. Country star Brad Paisley did just that in 2014 by leaking a teaser for his upcoming song Moonshine in the Trunk via his personal Twitter account. The only catch was that he didn’t get permission before performing the stunt – something he was well aware of – and this caused the ire of his label, Sony Nashville.
To retaliate against the singer, Sony Nashville decided to release the singer’s personal email address. From then on he promised not to leak anything else directly – instead, he got friend Ludacris to leak his entire next album for him.
4 Mike Oldfield
You might recognize Mike Oldfield as someone who heavily worked on the soundtrack for the horror movie The Exorcist. His first album, Tubular Bells, was also a smash hit in the early 70's. His most defining trait at the time was his ability to play a variety of instruments, and his inclusion on the soundtrack helped launch Virgin Records at the time.
Sadly, Oldfield wasn’t producing a lot of hits after his original album and soundtrack venture, and Virgin founder Richard Branson demanded he record a sequel to his initial album to try and regain his glory days. Unhappy with this, Oldfield recorded a 60 minute long track called Amarok with a hidden message to Branson hidden in Morse code, telling him to “f--- off.”
3 Phillip Phillips
In early 2015, Phillip Phillips announced that he would be filing a lawsuit against his record label and management company 19 Entertainment. Phillips, the winner of the eleventh season of American Idol in case you didn’t recognize him, claims the company manipulated him into performance obligations because of his “oppressive” contract.
The Idol alum did state that he was glad he participated in the show and knows he owes his career to it, but this didn’t stop him from filing a complaint against the company with the California Labor Commissioner, claiming they are violating the state’s Talent Agencies Act by illegally procuring his employment to certain venues.
2 Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift became one of the first celebrities to actually utilize the social media site Tumblr as a personal interface and not just a cheap way to get millennial advertising points. Using her personal blog, the starlet released an open letter to Apple, explaining that she wasn’t going to put out her soon-to-be Grammy-winning album 1989 on their streaming service because they weren’t being fair to artists, especially those with fledgling careers.
Instead of not paying attention, Apple did in fact change the way artists were paid through their Apple Music streaming service. She also went on to remove her music from Spotify, another music streaming service she felt wasn’t giving artists financial justice.
1 Michael Jackson
If you paid attention to Michael Jackson at all during his career, you probably remember this longstanding feud with Sony – something he and Kesha would have in common were he alive today.
During the early 2000's, Jackson assumed that soon he was going to receive the licenses to the masters of his previous albums in order to obtain profits and promotional rights. Instead, he discovered the date had been moved to further in the future – perhaps because the lawyer that represented him during the deal was also an attorney who represented Sony, meaning a conflict of interest was afoot. This, along with a shady deal to have him buy out his catalog early, gave the artist traction to leave his contract early. Jackson later would allege that Sony head Tommy Mottola was a “devil” and racist to his black artists, sometimes referring to them with slurs.