Last week, it was revealed the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) spent $16 million to recover $391,000 from lawsuits involving peer-to-peer file sharing. No, we didn't print that backwards; you don't need to adjust your screen -- they really did waste that much money. It's a hefty cost/reward balance, which goes to show that when you sue a bunch of poor people, you don't end up with a lot of cash.
While it's certainly another sign the major labels simply don't get it and are ready to fail, it's not the only sign. Warning lights have been flashing for a long time. From dumping tons of cash into no-name bands that don't go anywhere to offering to pay for albums twice, the music industry has seemingly been hell-bent on wasting money since its inception. We've collected some of the worst offenses below.
10. Papoose - The Nacirema Dream What, you've never heard of Papoose? Don't worry. It's probably due to the fact the dude goes by the moniker Papoose -- or because the $1.5 million Jive Records gave him never resulted in an album. Either way, he supposedly got to keep the cash, even though he never produced the goods -- how can we get in on that kind of action?
09. Pretty Boy Floyd - Leather Boyz With Electric Toyz MCA Records proved in 1989 that it clearly had no idea how to run a record label, when they signed a band that had played eight shows to a million dollar contract. As the band blew through an additional million dollars, their record made it all the way to 130 on the Billboard charts. We're guessing a one week stint near the bottom of the Billboard list didn't make up for the two million dropped.
08. Nas - Def Jam Records When Jay-Z signed Nas to Def Jam, it was clearly a big move. What Jay-Z clearly didn't know was that after paying Nas $3 million to record two records, his return would be nothing but poor sales. It's not particularly dramatic, but it's still hilarious to us -- I guess we've nailed down at least one of Jay-Z's 99 problems.
07. Beach Boys - Smile The Beach Boys spent two years recording and mixing Smile, which was, in Brian Wilson's own words, "A teenage symphony to God." Throughout the recording process, Wilson slowly went insane, due both to drugs and an uptight work ethic. The album was never released under the Beach Boys name. We don't know the exact numbers, but we do know the label fronted the cash for around 72 recording sessions, for a record that wasn't released until years later under Brian Wilson's name. Of course, "Good Vibrations" came out of those sessions, so that one song alone may have made up for the whole debacle.
06. Neil Young v Geffen Sometime in the early '80s, Geffen signed the then-seminal folk-rocker Neil Young, telling him that he could basically do whatever he wanted. Taking this to heart, Young released the synth-rock album Trans, inspiring Geffen to file a $3 million breach-of-contract lawsuit. Young countered with a $21 million lawsuit, and the two settled out of court. What exactly does this all mean? Ultimately, it means Young ended up getting paid a little bonus for releasing a record that didn't sound like a Neil Young record.
05. Sony-BMG "digital-rights management" ordeal Before the RIAA had decided to sue everyone under the sun, they tried to cut the problem off at the head. Their solution? Digital-rights management, or DRM -- the often-ridiculed solution to PC game piracy. It was all well and good at first, until people realized the copy-protection software automatically installed a rootkit -- making their computers vulnerable to viruses.
The media latched on to the story and eventually the Department of Homeland Security issued an advisory, forcing Sony to recall four million discs. They ended up paying out several millions of dollars to settle a class-action lawsuit -- all because they didn't want anybody copying the new Neil Diamond album. (On a personal note: Thanks BMG for the free copy of Neil Diamonds 12 Songs, an album at least one of us pulled out of a recall bin because its DRM didn't affect Macs.)
04. Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot The story is that when Wilco gave Yankee Hotel Foxtrot to their label, Reprise, David Kahne thought it was so bad, it would destroy Wilco's career. The band didn't agree, so Reprise fired them, and sent them away with the master tapes. Wilco eventually sold its album to Nonesuch, who, like Reprise, was owned by AOL Time Warner -- meaning the band essentially sold its record, which ended up being one of Wilco's best selling and most critically acclaimed records, twice!
03. Carly Hennessy - Ultimate High What, you don't remember Carly Hennessy? That's weird, because in 2001, MCA thought she was going to be the next big thing, spending a reported $2.2 million on her debut album -- which went on to sell 378 copies in its first three months. We kind of wish we had a witty retort here, but it's just too easy.
02. Guns n' Roses - Chinese Democracy Chinese Democracy was in the works for nearly fifteen years, and after its release, it sold around five million copies worldwide. That's all well and good until you consider one particular detail: When we say it was in the works for fifteen years, we don't mean the band was hanging out at their practice space writing songs -- we mean their label, Geffen, had been pouring money into the record for fifteen years. How much money? There's no solid number out there, but rumors put monthly expenses around $244,000 and final cost in the vicinity of $13 million
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01. Mariah Carey - (EMI deal) Man, where do we even start here? Should we mention Glitter? How about the fact EMI fronted her a $20 million advance per album, along with a $6 million music video cache? Of course, EMI couldn't have known Mariah Carey was on the verge of completely losing her shit, stripping on TRL and losing her mind, but even still, they fronted her a ludicrous amount of money, then ended up buying out her contract for reported $24 million, so they wouldn't have to deal with her anymore. We're pretty sure any one of us would be willing to walk-on to TRL, strip half-naked and try to give away ice cream for $24 million.