As many of you may know by now, Leslie Sanazaro, wrote a lengthy, inflammatory Facebook post in which she accused me of stealing her music. She claims that my new album contains illegal and unauthorized tracks. She claims I did not honor obligations to compensate her for her performance on my album. This is COMPLETELY UNTRUE and grossly misrepresents the situation. As I will explain at length below, Leslie’s post conveniently left out some very important information about her own actions in this situation.
Let me set the record straight.
I wrote every one of the songs on this album. I wrote all of the lyrics and all of the music. I have honored all legal obligations, both written and oral “handshake” deals. I have acted in accordance with the law and industry standards. I am not the one who attempted to radically change our agreement after the fact.
Leslie (and everyone else on the album) performed as a SESSION MUSICIAN. A session musician is a freelance musician hired to play on recording sessions – not to play their own compositions, but to add their particular instrumentation or vocals to the music of whoever hired them.
Session musicians are compensated for their time and are given credit on the album. They do not own any intellectual property rights in the songs on which they play or even in the individual “tracks” that they contribute, provided they are compensated according to their session agreement.
I have performed as a session musician many times. There is an abundant and beautiful community of talented players in St. Louis, so I am always thrilled to be asked to perform on a friend’s album.
In our community, there are several types of agreements that session musicians typically make with the artists on whose tracks they will perform. The one thing they all have in common is that the session musician is entitled to credit for their work. Where the agreements can differ is in the monetary compensation the session musician will receive. Here is what is typical in our community:
1. The session musician performs on the recording in exchange for credit (they are always entitled to appropriate credits), and nothing more than an enthusiastic “Thank you”; or
2. The session musician asks for a per-track payment, say $20 per song; or
3. The session musician asks for a per-session payment, say $50 per session; or
4. The session musician asks for a per-hour payment, say $100 per hour. (I hear this is the standard rate at fancy Nashville studios and I know local musicians who charge this much.)
I’m sure there are variations on these examples, but these are representative of what I’ve experienced and have come to know as the industry standard. Again, in each case, the musician MUST be properly credited.
To reiterate: If you are a session musician, you negotiate a price and then perform at the session. You are credited and paid whatever was agreed upon. Once completed, your performances belong to the artist who hired you to use (or not use) as they see fit in mixing the final songs. You do NOT own the tracks themselves.
When I began recording my album, I asked a number of my friends who are session musicians to play on the record, as I had played with them in the past. At that time, we did not discuss any session fees beyond credit, but everyone understood that they were performing my music as independent contractor session musicians, and everyone knew the range of fair market value rates in St. Louis for this work. This was nobody’s first session.
As I began laying down tracks, I had the idea to do some group recording sessions with everyone together, with the hope that this group could become a band and be with me for the long haul. At a rehearsal for these recordings, I reiterated with the group and with each musician individually that each of the players would act as independent contractors, and discussed the strengths of this model for our purposes. All of the session musicians agreed again to this arrangement.
Prior to one of the group recording sessions, Leslie for the first time brought up a specific fee for her session work. She asked for a fee of $50/session going forward, which as I mentioned above is one of the standard fair market value rates for such work in our community. At that time, she also expressly stated that I did not have any obligation to pay her for her previous sessions. I agreed and that became our new contract from that point forward, and per that agreement, I began paying her $50 per session. She was the only one of the musicians on the record who ever asked for a session fee prior to or during any one of the recording sessions.
Months after the recording sessions had been completed, at a time when most of the editing was done, and some of the mixing had begun, I took a break from my 30-hours-a-week studio schedule to play a few shows out of town with most of the musicians who had been at the group sessions, including Leslie. This particular tour leg was challenging and we experienced numerous difficulties, but I was completely blindsided when Leslie and one other friend said they didn’t want to play with me anymore. A third friend said he didn't want to play with a fourth friend, and things devolved from there. As we all know, break-ups suck.
In the post-mortem period, I reached out to each one of the musicians in the group with the hope that we could begin healing any hurt feelings. In this effort, I also offered to go back and pay every one of them fair session musician compensation for their work, even though nobody but Leslie had ever asked for anything but credit. I thanked them for their beautiful playing and took the blame for any failures of communication. It was a high priority for me that everyone feel as good as possible about their respective contributions to the project.
What I didn’t know at the time was that Leslie and a few others had decided to get together and demand completely different compensation for work that had already been completed under our previous arrangements. Leslie became their spokesperson, and she demanded immediate payment of over $3,600 AND 25% ownership of the finished record, to be split among 5 players. This demand was accompanied by a threat that I couldn’t use their “tracks” unless I agreed to their entirely new terms. Finally, I was told that all communication had to come in email form. There would be no meetings to discuss hurt feelings, not even a phone call.
This was not an attempt to receive fair compensation – it was a shakedown. She must have known there was no way I could ever agree to these terms – and that I never would have hired her or any other musician if these were the terms up front. She had seen the budget projections. She knew I had already spent hundreds of hours of studio time. She knew that I had made a big promise, in public, to deliver this album to my backers.
Knowing all this, she brought these entirely new demands as I was nearing completion of the project, months after all the recording work had been completed, when my options were the least flexible. This was nothing more than a blatant attempt to hijack the record or destroy it.
Imagine you’ve finished building a house. As you’re painting the walls, a subcontractor shows up and demands that you pay him many times more money than he originally agreed to – and he demands further that you pull the studs back out of the wall if you don’t pay. Would you choose to destroy your whole house and start over?
Giving into this demand to undo hundreds of hours of work would not only have harmed me, my livelihood, and my reputation, but it also would have harmed the MANY creative people whose efforts had contributed to the project, WHO ALL DESERVED CREDIT. And it would have harmed my relationship with the backers who put their faith in me.
Ultimately, only Leslie and two others told me I could not use “their” tracks. Of course I refused this demand and went forward with finishing the album, and announced its upcoming release, as was my legal right (and my ethical and contractual obligation) to do. Remember – these are not “their” tracks – they are mine. They performed my music according to my arrangements as session musicians per our agreements established at the time of recording. The songs are my intellectual property; the recordings are my intellectual property.
Then just two days ago, after refusing to speak with me in person or on the phone for over a year, Leslie showed up unannounced at my home. She rang my doorbell incessantly while I was home with my 6-year old, going about my routine. When I saw Leslie at my door, I was confused and concerned and I did not answer. Later that night, I was alerted to her Facebook post.
Leslie’s Facebook post contains numerous knowingly false, inflammatory, and highly defamatory allegations about me. Her post has already resulted in me having my LIFE THREATENED by strangers and my PROFESSIONAL INTEGRITY publicly called into question by colleagues and potential employers. Who knows how much other damage she has already caused me through people commenting and sharing her post?
I was willing to put her past demands behind me, but her post has changed that. It is unacceptable. I have consulted my lawyer and am considering all options available to me, but first I felt strongly compelled to get the true version of events out to all of you.
I want to shout a great big THANK YOU to everyone who has reached out to support me and my family in this upsetting and demoralizing time. You honor me with your kindness and compassion.
Please know, I am still working hard to honor all of my commitments to my backers!
And I am STILL excited to release my new album CHANGING THE LOCKS. These are songs about love, and connection, and the challenging obstacles that get in the way. They are stories about growing up, breaking up, falling in love, and finding ways to come together.