An email to radio programmers from Sony BMG/Nashville Sr. VP/Legal & Business Affairs Katherine Woods has demanded that stations stop playing the Tracy Lawrence song "Find Out Who Your Friends Are" featuring guest vocals by BNA's Kenny Chesney. The original single release was sung entirely by Lawrence, but his album For The Love features a version with guest vocals by Chesney and Curb's Tim McGraw.
Woods' letter reads in part: "SBMG did not grant 'singles' rights to Rocky Comfort Records with respect to the album version of this song and has not authorized any radio station to play this recording. If your station is playing the album version...SBMG demands that you immediately cease such unauthorized broadcasting."
Both R.J. Curtis at Radio and Records and Lon Helton at Country Aircheck had the story last evening with pretty much an identical reaction from radio.
CO5 VP/Promotion David Newmark commented, "This is nothing more than an issue between a major label and radio, and that issue is whether radio can play an album cut or not. We feel that they can."
Joel Burke, PD at Lincoln Financial KYGO/Denver: "I'm not a legal expert, but I don't think anybody can tell us what album cut we can or cannot play. It's available out there for public consumption, and if I choose to play cut nine off an album that I think is going to work for our radio station, I'm going to play it."
Nate Deaton of Empire Broadcasting KRTY/San Jose echoed that sentiment and said the station will continue to play the album version.
At first, we had hoped that it wasn't real and was just the over-zealous work of an inexperienced promo rep, but our sources at Sony-BMG confirm that it is indeed the product of the mega-label's legal department, amazingly. No one I spoke to at the label group was willing to be quoted on the record yesterday.
The Wikipedia definition of C&D, which given this situation, a mega-label group with three songs vying for #1 next week trying to intimidate radio into decreasing spins on an indie label's first album, is more than just a little ironic. The concept that radio somehow must seek a label's authorization to play an album cut which has been on the air now for 40 weeks is simply unbelievable to A&O.
To make it clear where Jaye Albright & Michael O'Malley stand on this development, we would go with the opinions of your listeners and the Tracy Lawrence album bonus cut continues to grow in our client national research as shown in today's AccuTest, where it ranks #2 by total points, by like a lot rank and also by combined favorite + total positive scores for the second week in a row. It's battling for #1 in our research next week with Brad Paisley and Montgomery Gentry. Fortunately, all of them are valid Power Currents and so there is no need for you to choose between them. Of course, this is a local call. And, in order to avoid negative repercussions from Sony-BMG, we'd recommend talking to all of your promotional reps to see what their intentions are on a one to one basis and to let them know what you plan to do. You'll also, of course, want to communicate to your company's legal counsel to be sure that you are following their guidance.
It seems to A&O that allowing anyone to believe that they can intimidate even a few monitored stations or chart reporters into adding, slowing down or dropping any song would be a very dangerous precedent to set. A&O showed the Woods letter to an attorney, who saw no immediate legal grounds for this request and thus no need for any station to stop playing this song. Further, he suggested that stations who wished to do so, could write to SBMG and 1) request SBMG laywers provide them with a legal memorandum supporting their (SBMG's) position, 2) request that an official Cease and Desist Order to be delivered to the station, and 3) acknowledge that should a Cease and Desist order be granted and delivered, the station will indeed immediately stop playing this song and all songs featuring Kenny Chesney in perpetuity.
Our lawyer obviously plays hardball, just like the Sony-BMG legal department appears to do! We would hope that it never comes to anything like this and calmer heads prevail soon.
Of course no station needs to do anything - from reducing spins to sending a letter. However, if you're so inclined, you can express your feelings about a tactic like this by INCREASING by one spin the Tracy Lawrence and Friends version of this song - should, of course, your research indicate that is appropriate. Or, if you want to comply with Sony-BMG's request and still not hurt Tracy Lawrence, you could always just play the single version of "Find Out Who Your Friends Are" adding an extra spin or two in the next week to THAT...
Whatever you decide to do, in A&O's opinion, under no circumstances should you drop or even cut back on Tracy Lawrence's "Find Out Who Your Friends Are." If Sony-BMG is successful in hurting it even a bit by this tactic so that a Sony-BMG song goes to #1 next week, that will be a black day in country chart history. Who would want to have a #1 song with such a dark cloud potentially hanging over it?
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