I AM THE BLAWG: WHY AXL = GUNS N’ ROSES
In the last few weeks, several of you have emailed the same basic question:
“How is Guns N’ Roses still around if Axl is the only one left?”
While I can’t tell you definitively, here’s how it might have happened.
Sometime shortly before they were signed, the members of GN’R got together because Geffen wanted them to have a band agreement to facilitate their dealings with the group. Having the band agreement would assure Geffen of a somewhat functional relationship with the band as a whole by regulating how it operated internally. In the course of writing this agreement, the band decided that if somebody left the band, either voluntarily or not, they were not allowed to perform in any capacity under the name “Guns N’ Roses” unless they rejoined the band. Perhaps another term stated that no non-original member would ever be allowed to use “Guns N’ Roses.” It would set up a last man standing situation, granting the name to whomever lasted the longest. As the years passed by, members dropped out, leaving Axl by himself, and in control of the name.
You can rewrite that story in any number of ways to feature any manner of duplicitous conduct by Axl with the ultimate end result being that he has control of the “Guns N’ Roses.” Or maybe they all agreed that because he was the lead singer and his name was half of the band’s name, he should always have the rights to the name. Or maybe a fairy provided the band with magical pixie dust that was so great that they really didn’t know, much less care, what they were signing. Maybe that pixie dust was called heroin. We may never know. [Slash has claimed that he and Duff were made to sign away the name by Axl at some point during the Use Your Illusion touring cycle, as Axl refused to go on-stage until said agreement was signed; but as this would essentially render any contract null and void, Rose’s claim that he always owned the named Guns N’ Roses seems a much more likely explanation. -Ed.]
At this point, it really does not matter what happened. We know that Axl has the right to use GN’R and nobody else does simply because Slash, Duff, Izzy, & Steven have not tried to stop him from doing so. In the absence of some agreement among the members, each of the would have some claim to the name.
The point of this story is that a band agreement is very important, and can have serious implications for your band down the line. There are many reasons for having a band agreement, even if you don’t think your band is going anywhere.
“Great,” you say, “I’ll remember that when Relapse, Century, or Metal Blade gets its act together and gives my band a record deal.” While you might be just moments from breaking through and getting the sweet record deal that will launch you into the dizzying heights of sub-sub-sub genre notoriety, it won’t matter if everything falls apart because of a band fight over what people thought the deal was. So, you can wait around until then to get yours together, or you can handle this now before something happens and tears your band apart.
A band agreement is a contract between the members of the band. Contracts are used to help parties plan for future events by ensuring that their expectations as a result of a bargain are protected. Contracts provide a legal framework for parties to predictably order their affairs.
There are many benefits to taking to the time to write a band agreement, and I’ll give you two. First, you will have your agreement written down, which makes it much harder for people later on to “remember” a different agreement. It’s much harder to be confused about the terms of an agreement when it is spelled out in black and white and everybody’s name is signed at the end. You can think of the band agreement as cheap insurance against future memory loss.
Second, your band will have to sit down and talk about a variety of issues in the process of writing the agreement. As you talk through various issues, other issues might come up that nobody had considered. It will be much easier to discuss potentially troubling issues when nothing is on the line rather than waiting for something to happen later. There will not be a surprise in the form of “I’m not going on tour,” “I don’t want to sign a record deal,” or “my girlfriend has some suggestions for the band.” Even if you are not all on the same page, you can neutralize potential situations long before they actually occur.
Or, you could just trust that everything will turn out for the best because you are all bros and nothing every goes wrong between bros. Good luck with that.
Because a contract is voluntary, you can define all of its terms before you sign it. No two situations are alike, so I’m not going to pretend to tell you what your band should or should not do. Instead, I’m going to provide you with some questions that will get you started in making your agreement.
- Who is a member of the band? This is usually straightforward, but if you have additional musicians who play with you it might not be so clear. If you have seen Mastodon play in the last year, you know that there are now five guys on stage instead of four for at least part of the show. Does playing with the band make you a member?
- How will band decisions be made? Majority or unanimous decision? What happens if there is a tie?
- What are band members expected to do? For most metal bands, that might mean showing up, playing, drinking heavily, and leaving. Are band members required to have a certain look? Is it going to be a problem for your black metal band if the bassist displays his love of ye olde indie music by wearing a Decemberists’ shirts at shows?
- Is there anything that band members are not allowed to do? If you’re a straight-edge band, you probably don’t want anyone drinking ever. Similarly, if you are in a thrash band, you’re going to at least think about requiring everyone to drink constantly, if not more often.
- What about band practice? Are you going to require that people show up for practice? If know someone is not going to show up for practice regularly, you can be playing with fire by adding this term. By putting this in the agreement, you must be ready to stand behind it. Sure, it might cause him to change his ways if he knows that he could be fired for not showing up. But if Sluggy McLaterson doesn’t show up, are you ready and willing to fire him?
- How will the profits be split? Will debts to band members be repaid before anyone else sees any money? How about expenses? If the band agrees to spend $400 on merchandise, but only one member pays for it, how does he get repaid?
- How will you amend the band agreement if circumstances change?
- How will things end? In all likelihood, your band will eventually split up. It may just mean that someone leaves, or it may mean that everybody goes their separate ways. How do you fire someone from the band? If someone leaves voluntarily, who gets to keep the name of the band? Who gets to keep the rights to the songs you have written together?
These questions are just a starting point. You know the situations facing your band better than anyone else, so as a band you need to figure out the best solutions for yourself. By taking the time to sort out the various issues facing your band before emotions flare up, you can spend more time on being a band.
Quick answer from the mailbag:
“I run a popular metalmedical blog, and I frequently get headache because the comments are so infuriatingly stupid. Can I sue them?” -Dr. Axl Rosenrosen.
Don’t expect to win. While intentional infliction of emotional distress is a recognized tort, the occasional idiocy of commenters is not likely to be egregious enough to qualify. Mere words are usually not enough to substantiate a claim. Also, headaches aren’t really that big of a deal. Sorry, you’ll have to write it off as an occupational hazard.
Next week: The Law of Metalocalypse!
Antonin Skullia, Esq. is licensed by the one of the many fine states of this great union as an attorney and counsellor-at-law. While he is a licensed attorney, nothing in this article should be construed as specific legal advice. It only constitutes commentary on legal issues, and is for educational and informational purposes only.
Reading this article, replying to its posts, or any other interaction on this site does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and the author. No attorney-client relationship has been created, nor should one be implied. As with any legal issue that may confront you in a particular situation, you should always consult a qualified attorney familiar with the laws in your state.
If you have specific issues you would like to see discussed in future columns, you may contact Antonin at antonin [dot] skullia [dot] esq [at] gmail [dot] com. However, Antonin will not be able to respond to any requests for specific legal advice.