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Thursday, Sept. 27, 2001

How Gillian Welch Avoids Getting Screwed

Neumu's Michael Goldberg writes: When Gillian Welch and her partner, David Rawlings, got the opportunity to walk away from the label they were on, with ownership of the masters to their first two albums, they took it.

They could have signed to another established label — they'd sold some 200,000 copies of those excellent albums, Revival and Hell Among the Yearlings, according to a cover story in the current issue of No Depression — but they didn't. Instead, they formed their own label, Acony (named after the flower she sang about in "Acony Bell") and re-released both previous albums as well as their latest, the wondrous Time (The Revelator).

Welch is real clear about why they chose to go it on their own. "There was no one out there that excited me," she told No Depression co-editor Grant Alden. "The first time around, Jerry Moss [co-founder of both A & M Records and Almo Sounds, the label Welch and Rawlings were signed to] excited me. I don't know how else to put it. He's legendary, he's a gentleman, he's personable, he cares about the music. All that stuff. You look at him, is he a label exec? No. He's a record man. He makes records. And I saw no replacement."

Welch may have given up the chance to become a really big star. Without the deep pockets of a major, will she ever be as popular as that other modern country artist, Lucinda Williams, who is currently signed to UMG's new Lost Highway alterna-country label? Yet what Welch has gained could more than make up for that. She is one of the few artists in the history of recorded music who owns her art — the recordings on her three albums belong to her.

This is radical stuff. Elvis didn't own his masters. Nor did the Beatles. Bob Dylan's recordings belong to Sony, while Nirvana's are the property of Vivendi Universal.

I'm sure Welch and Rawlings feel the freedom that comes from answering to no one. I can only imagine the pressures an artist feels on a major label. Certainly Welch and Williams are very different artists, but it's interesting to see that where Williams' follow-up to a strong album was the disappointing Essence, Welch recorded Time (The Revelator) just the way she wanted at the legendary RCA Studio B in Nashville (where legends including Elvis and the Everly Brothers worked), and produced one of the albums of the year (and an album that takes her art to another level).

"This is the kicker to the whole thing," Welch told Alden. "One of the main reasons we started our own label was for the stability. Believe it or not, me starting my own label seemed like a better bet for long-term stability, which is really important to me. I don't have time to every two years be getting into contract negotiations. ... I hate the record business, I just want to make records. So, because I hate the record business, I started my own label. What? I'm supposed to hang around in the majors long enough to get screwed?"

The InsiderOne Daily Report appears weekdays at 9 AM PST, except when it doesn't.

by Michael Goldberg

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