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  • Writer's pictureEric Doades

The Cool and Creepy History of Artist Estates

Updated: Nov 1, 2023

In this hauntingly enlightening installment of Music Tectonics, we unravel the intricacies of artist estates with journalist and music business thinker, Eamonn Forde.

Join us as we examine what's typically included in an artist estate, such as recorded music rights, publishing and more.

Journey through the world of posthumous music estates, as we touch on some intriguing subjects such as the impact of technology on the music industry, and the role of hologram tours in keeping deceased artists' legacies alive. We also look into some high-profile music estates, such as Elvis Presley's and the ripple effect it has had on the industry.

Explore the influence of streaming services on music rights and the implications of artist estates on the music industry. Listen in as we discuss the infamous Marvin Gaye 'Blurred Lines' lawsuit, and the impact it has had on musicians' creative autonomy. Plus, we also discuss the future of music, touching on the implications of AI and voice cloning, and how hologram tours are opening new avenues in the industry.

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Episode Transcript

Machine transcribed


Welcome to Music Tectonics, the podcast that goes beneath the surface of music. And wait, wait, did you hear that? What was that? Yeah, it was pretty. I mean I'm glad I'm not hallucinating, but you know, this time of year I have to tell you I can't help but feel a little on edge with all the spirits walking the earth and stuff like that. So you know, just between us, I'm curious. Maybe the podcast video is a little haunted, or is the entire music business haunted? Okay, okay, you guessed it.

This is our annual Halloween episode and I am your ridiculously spooky host, Tristra, Newyear Jaeger, recovering goth and also Chief Strategy Officer at Rock Paper Scissors, the Music Innovation PR firm. Today, I'm joined by a journalist and music business thinker, Eamonn Forde, who has thought a lot about dead artists and their continued impact on the industry. Eamonn's name should be familiar to most of you, especially if you read the Guardian Music Business Worldwide, iq and Music Allight, which you should be reading, among many other outlets. He's also the author of an in-depth history of music estates called Leaving the Building the Lucrative Afterlife of Music Estates, and it's an incredibly encyclopedic and thorough work. It's really impressive. So hey, Eamonn, thanks for joining me today.

0:01:33 - Eamonn

Hello, very nice to be here.

0:01:36 - Tristra

So first I think, before we go any further and before I make any more ridiculous puns about the holidays, I would love to just talk to you for a second about some really basic stuff. So we talk about artist estates. Everyone kind of has like a vague idea of what that means. But what actually is included in an artist estate? What do we really mean legally when we say that? What's usually involved in figuring things out after an artist passes away?

0:02:05 - Eamonn

All right. Well, there are lots of different moving parts, which is why, when you see costumers rips lists, why artists tend to dominate. Every year forms does its list of richest and celebrities and it tends to be dominated by musicians because there are lots of different parts. So you've got recorded music rights, you've got publishing, you've got neeming into likeness, you've got brands all of these different things. So not all artists cover all of these areas, but most of them do.

So they're making money, or is that sorry? Their estate. They're making money in a variety of ways compared to, for example, you would see in the board with Swiss list, we see chart shields, which is obviously that state makes most of its money up Snoopy or Arnold Palmer from Gulf products, things like that. But when you're looking at a mega-one and dead musician, there are lots and lots of different ways that they make money. They also could have interest outside of music, obviously, things like property or investment in other companies and things like that. So generally you're talking about a business with a lot of different component parts, most of which can generate significant sums of money and collectively can generate phenomenal sums of money.

0:03:30 - Tristra

Are all of these different rights stipulated in a will or are they just included when someone's alive? When they sign a contract, Does that automatically translate if they pass away into these estate rights? I don't know if I'm even asking the question correctly, but do artists have to have a will for all this to be in place, or are there other means to decide this?

0:03:55 - Eamonn

It's like anyone with a will. So there are obviously what country or what state you're in about what the right passage of ownership is dependent to. Automatically we default to a spouse or to children or to a mere family, and then no mere family can be tracked down. It can go to a standard family. So there are various different stages. Someone dies with a will about who gets it and then eventually, if they can't track down anyone and it goes beyond the standard family, then I believe the government will take it.

But that's incredibly rare that that would happen. There's always some family member somewhere. That's obviously if you don't leave a will or, specifically, if you're in the biggest state, if you don't leave a trust, which is much more about the control of those assets. A will will generally decide who gets the asset, who gets the money, who gets the rights, whereas a trust will qualify a bit further what they can and cannot allow it to happen with their the rights or with the name, with likeness and things like that.

So, unlike in the non-celebrity world, you will be horrified and surprised to learn that lots and lots of artists don't leave wills. They don't leave updated wills, they leave multiple conflicted wills and they can leave a terrible, terrible mass behind for the heirs. Yeah, considering how much money is at stake, it's surprising how many musicians die without leaving proper wills or watertight wills of that and they'll be in, drive through the courts or go through probia and it's just a terrible mass and everything kind of gets pushed to the side or put on hold until this is sort of high and they kind of lose momentum around the estate as well because no one can do anything. And there are, I'm sure we can get into it. There are many, many huge, high-profile examples of artists who had no estate planning or very bad estate planning.

0:06:09 - Tristra

Yeah, and how are labels or publishers involved in these scenarios where there isn't a clear will and where things have to go through probate? Do they get involved legally or do they sort of wait until those things get sorted out in your? Just in general.

0:06:30 - Eamonn

For the most part they tend to stay out of things. Obviously, if you're a label, particularly in the streaming area, you can continue to make money from that. Obviously, if there are royalties due, they may have to put that into a hold of the kind until it's decided who gets that money and things like that. So they generally tend to stay out of things. Although, even though he wasn't directly, I guess he was directly involved. But in the long drawn out Bob Moroney estate, which kind of it was a dried-on pre-geared by who you are and things like that, chris Blackwell, the founder of Olin, got involved. But I guess he also had to share the interest because he had a partial share of Bob Moroney's publishing. So he was kind of he had a cut of the publishing so he had a vast interest in that.

You will see things like Universal. For example, after Amy Winehouse died they put out one album, Lyin’ Ass, which had art takes and demos and things like that, and then they claimed whether or not they did it's open to debate they claimed that they deleted everything else to stop the kind of vaults being read it. So you had an example of a label taking a very proactive approach there. Okay, that's it. That's everything that's ever going to be released under EV Winehouse's name. There's going to be no new material. There's going to be no kind of AI due acts or anything like that. So those are very, very extreme examples, though Most of the time the label will kind of step back and let the errors sort of out.

You may have someone who brought in, as in the case of the Prince estate you had a bank, was basically brought in to kind of run things until all the errors result kind of what shares they were getting. So they brought in some outside experts to help with the our colleagues. So product had come into the market. It just didn't stop there. People like Troy Carter was involved for a while. They had Prince's old catalog manager from Warner's got involved. So things that didn't stop just because, just because the ownership of the estate wasn't completely nailed down, wasn't completely legally defined, it doesn't necessarily mean that the market and the run that estate has to stop, although in some other cases for example the James Brown estate, because it was so ugly to drive through the courts for so long, pretty much everything was on the hold just because they couldn't figure out who or what and there was injunctions and lawsuits flying left, right and center. It was just an absolute mess that took like 10, 13 years to finally get resolved.

0:09:38 - Tristra

This is very, very interesting. I see why you got intrigued by artist estates, but I would really love to hear how you started going down this very large and complicated rabbit hole. What drew you to documenting estates and taking a look at I mean, they're almost like little weird portraits of the music business writ large, but I want to hear how you got into this. This is pretty interesting.

0:10:04 - Eamonn

Yeah, well, I guess the most obvious reason to get interested was general newsiness. There wasn't much written about music as a space and what was written Tended to be quite scandalous, like music as music as they tended to be covered when everything went wrong. So when if someone died in the hand left a whale or airs were fighting amongst themselves and it was always always the negative side of the states that were being written by, and I wanted to understand that as, yeah, that's absolutely part of it, because that is a consequence not leaving a whale or fight to her ownership and fight to her right or nothing new in the music industry just becomes much more complicated when the, the creator of those rights, or park creative, those watches no longer alive to join in the debate. So I wanted to figure out what this business was, what it involved. It's a thing, it's an area that doesn't really publicly blow its own trumpet that much, which I guess me that much more interest in me. I didn't think that they would be a duplicitous or that they were trying to hide something. It was just, maybe partly the reason that people feel a little bit uneasy, that there's a very clear business behind this, that people are acting on behalf of a dead artist, but I obviously I've been following, I think since I think it was 2000, 2001 Forde started doing its posthumous rich list, so I saw that every year. I was always intrigued by the names of a crop bar, but it was also interesting seeing what names fell in and out of the top suit team, as they used to list it.

I freelance for the Gordy and I was asked to write a piece about the posthumous rich list and kind of who are the winners, the riders and so forth in that rich list and I thought, well, that's interesting, but it's basically just a rigor to see and what Forde said and I said I'd be much more interested in speaking to the people who run these estates. So I got commissioned to do a bigger piece which is basically use the Forde's numbers as a jumping off point and actually go and speak to people who run the stacks. So I spoke to a few people I knew, record companies at a starting point to see how they dealt with the marketing of a dead artist. And then, through someone who will remain nameless, I got an email contact for John Branker who is co-executor of the Michael Jackson estate, and I just called, emailed him and said I'm writing this piece for the Gordy and can I speak to you. And incredibly he got back to me and went yeah, I'll speak to you. Wow, so, and this is obviously the most lucrative and in also probably the most controversial music estate right there. And then I also because I was just interested in this person as an artist and also just the fact that they became posthumously more famous I spoke to Kelly Callum and who runs the estate for Nick Drake, the English singer somewhere. He only did three albums and there's lifetime. They didn't really sell much but kind of over the years he's legend and grown.

So that went into a piece in the Gordy and obviously I had the kind of the two extremes of the states in that sense where I had the person who runs the Michael Jackson estate, the blockbuster music estate, and then I had the person who runs the Nick Drake estate, a very, very small estate but one that has been kind of stabbling, building and kind of keeping that, making the artist more famous in that than they were in life. So I thought between those two extremes I wanted to kind of fill in the gaps. So I was pitching different big ideas to Omnibus. I'd already done. Actually it was the first. That was the first thing I pitched to them. I, they, they. They asked me to pick some ideas, and I was working on on the estate piece at the time, but then I'd also written a piece about years before for another magazine called word about Tara Firm as a very short lived and somewhat disastrous acquisition of EMI, which they bought in 2007 for just over four billion pounds. They lost control of it within about three and a half years and then they got caught up. So they Omnibus in their wisdom I think they were like to do so doing the EMI book.

And then when I, when I did that, I'd picture the second book, I said it has to be estates. I'm not even pitching another idea. They went, okay, do states. And the timing was good because by that point, the gap in between things like hologram tours had become much more prevalent. By this stage, you had things like Maria Callas, Whitney Houston, Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, and these were were being put on the road. These were touring hologram shows. Well, they're not holograms in in the true sense, it's just an optical illusion from Victorian times called Pepper's Ghost, which is basically reflects an image onto a transparent surface so it appears like they're they're on stage, amazing, so things like that had kind of come along. So I think that was a really interesting kind of meeting point of technology and rights and the future. And then, obviously, knowing we've got things like and it's much more pronounced AI and what it can do so the.

The timing was right because it's something. It wasn't just going wow, the stopping point is streaming at YouTube and that kind of it. Then suddenly you had this whole new thing, a thing that wasn't previously possible, which was putting the downloaders back on the road. Whether, like, moral, ethical quibbles aside, is fascinating as a piece of business, as a market and exercise, all of those things. So I think it was the timing was good to do that book. Second, so because there was more to write about. I think technology had impacted in a wholly unexpected way and summer states had chosen to run with that yeah, I think we should talk about that at length in just a second here.

0:17:04 - Tristra

But first in your book you have a super interesting sort of almost like a starting point for the modern music estate and how it was defined, and you cite Elvis and his estate and the way it was managed as kind of like setting the tone for a lot of other future blockbuster estates, and I'm sure there's a lot of resonance with Michael Jackson's estate, for example. So I'm really curious if you could tell us a bit about that history and what's still relevant or defining in the decisions that were made by Elvis's manager after he passed. You know, what's still relevant to today's artists and how or today's recently deceased artists, I guess and how is that still impacting the way people approach their estates today?

0:17:48 - Eamonn

yeah, well, the book is called leaving the building for a very, very clear reason because yes and the title didn't come to me until about are we pretty much written about three quarters of the book. So I've done all the interviews. I was piecing it all together and just in every chapter there was always a thread or a very, very clear, solid rope going back to the Elvis estate. It wasn't the first estate, it wasn't the first one to, because we obviously had things like Robert Johnson had been kind of rediscovered in the late 50s, early 60s. You had Otis Rabbins sitting on the Dr the Bay was the first posthumous number one which was a song which wasn't quite finished before he died but was kind of completed and then quickly brushed out. You obviously had things like Buddy Holly had a degree of posthumous success and none of it was was new.

But nothing had happened on the scale of what happened with Elvis, because it's at the point where it became industrialized, I think, where it became a huge machine that went beyond just that here's a single or here's an anniversary or here's a new compilation album. It was much more encompassing than any of the other states and obviously Elvis was a huge, huge name as well. So you obviously you're dealing with a superstar who died relatively young and was an icon of almost religious proportions by the time he died and he really only had what a 22 year career. In relative terms it was a pretty short living and it's important to remember at that time as well that lots of Otis, this nostalgia part of the business, this oracle part of the business, didn't really exist there. That was like you. You read interviews with people like Paul McCartney or Mick Jagger in the mid 60s and they're all gone. We think we've probably gotten another couple years left and that's it. This idea of just going back to history didn't exist. So the Elvis estate was kind of born out of necessity because Elvis Elvis wasn't an incredible performer, elvis was a far from incredible businessman.

Elvis made incredibly, incredibly stupid business decisions all through his career. He gave over half of his earnings to Tom Parker. There's a great quote from Tom Parker which someone said. It's normally in the UK a manager takes 20%. I think in the US it's 15% tends to be the Cohen riff. Tom Parker was taken at least 50%. He also had set up a company called Boxcar for Elvis's merchandise, of which he was also kind of funneling somebody from that. So Elvis was badly in that also.

He had an incredible approach to the IRS. In that lots of artists tend to run away from the IRS and pay as little as possible. Elvis felt that it was his patriotic duty to pay more tax than he was actually due. He also was a an incredible spander of money as well. He lived an extravagant lifestyle, so Elvis was drastically living beyond his means. So when he died, basically the estate was circling the plug hole of insolvency. Everything was going terribly, terribly wrong for them. So they had to make decisions very, very quickly, and you also had things like Tom Parker had done astonishingly bad deals for him. He sold all of his recorded music rights back to RCA I think it's everything up until about 1972 for a pet, of which he obviously took 50% or more. And there's a line.

Someone said how do you feel having taken 50% of everything Elvis ever earned? And he said, no, no, no, you got it wrong. Elvis took 50% of everything all you ever earned. So you had a very ruthless business manager in the shape of Tom Parker, and you had a very pliable and not smart artist in the shape of Elvis, who was given away too much of his money on bad deals and also, and then what was left was just being burned through a perucious wave, which is in part, why he was kind of seeing his final days in Vegas, because he was just. He just needed to be out there earning money.

So the estate basically they looked at the finances we just got this whole thing is going to collapse. So they had to very quickly rush product into the market and they also had to make that very, very emotional decision to go well, we need to make money quickly. And their decision was to open up Graceland as a tourist attraction, and this was they could only in the early days. They only opened up part of Graceland. It's not what it is now. We're like you can walk around and see everything On the first floor. One of Elvis's aunts and her dog was still living there while kind of visitors were kind of trampling the line looking at the rooms where Elvis used to live. They had an enormous, enormous tax bill because, like, lots of estates get stung by this, where they have an inheritance tax or things like that. So they very quickly needed to raise money. So the only way they could do that was to open up Graceland and it was going to take a while to fix Graceland to turn it into a tourist attraction. So they sold tickets in advance and those tickets in advance were basically there to pay the tax bill.

And from that there was a judge, was looking into the business dealings and basically found that Tom Parker was had far too much influence and was taking far too much money and eventually he was going. He'd basically forced Elvis's funeral. He'd basically forced Vernon, elvis's dad, to extend his management contract on the day of the funeral, which is a business strategy. It's an interesting one as a form of emotional leverage. It's a morally questionable one and Elvis's father, elvis, wasn't a good business person. His father was infinitely worse. So he basically signed an over to keep Tom Parker going. So there's that quote about Elvis didn't die, the body did it's business as usual. And then there was another line he said like if someone said that they saw tears in my eyes at Elvis's funeral, they were wrong. It was just someone was squeezing my wallet in my pocket and things like that. So it was like it was lots of little lines from Tom Parker and you would want him as a rack and tour at the dinner party. You wouldn't want to run your business because he would take absolutely everything from you.

So eventually what happened was that Priscilla kind of took over the running, and I think if there's any one individual who can be defined as the architect of the modern estate, it's without doubt Priscilla Prasley, because she took what was a moribund business operation and turned it into something phenomenal. She repositioned Elvis. This is obviously someone who was separated from Elvis, because Elvis was how do I put this? Polite? The Elvis were very tough, tired gentlemen, and it wasn't necessarily just confined to Priscilla. So there was all of that going on in her head, so, but she also was acting on behalf of Lisa Marie. So Lisa Marie was had was this sort of beneficiary of as well. She got Graceland, all the money that we do through merchandise and things like that. So Priscilla had to step in and just go. Well, my daughter's entire legacy and and income is at risk here. So she completely brought in a team of very insightful, driven people and she basically turned Elvis into this posthumous brand of a scale that had never been seen before and that kind of that kind of curry flu. She still effectively a spokesperson, although there was obviously huge kind of fall out from after Lisa Marie died and took over a stand and the kind of the role that Priscilla would play. But basically all through, if you, basically from the early 80s really late 70s, very early 80s when Priscilla took over and what she did with the Elvis was phenomenal. She turned it into this financial juggernaut and for many, many years up until I guess just until Michael Jackson died Elvis had the most lucrative music estate up until that point. So she's done an incredible job of keeping him in the public consciousness.

I say in the book that the state only has two jobs it's got to bring in money and it's got to keep the audience relevant and by any measurement Priscilla Presley did a phenomenal job on both cards. So all the things that she did or in some ways she would have made mistakes she maybe did some really bad deals that I either didn't pay off or didn't get a sufficient enough cut, but she kept the Elvis name alive. She kept the Elvis business alive. So everything that kind of comes in her way is basically following her template or trying to perfect her template. I just became a parent all the way through the big register.

But the Elvis estate did that and this is just directly followed on from the Elvis estate, so it's the blueprint. So that's why. Well, obviously there was a lovely pan in the building, but I didn't want to make a book about Elvis, but I could not, say explain just how important, how significant the Elvis estate is. Obviously it's been taken by other states to make more money, but none of them could have done what they did with Elvis, because it kind of changed the public perception of how dad or at least, can be marked in it as well. So everyone else is. Even if I don't think they're following the template that Priscilla created, they're certainly benefiting from the shipping culture that she facilitated.

0:29:11 - Tristra

So I want to ask you really fast, Eamonn. I mean, obviously I think Elvis is alone in having a mysterious cult where people believe he's still alive, right, and that sort of died down a little bit. But when I was younger that was actually still kind of a thing and it was always sort of half and just, and then very few artists make their homes into shrines for tourists to visit. But what did Priscilla do exactly? I mean, in very general terms, that was the template. Was it the way she managed his recordings, or was it more of this quote unquote branding that allowed her to be so successful?

0:29:52 - Eamonn

Yeah, it was more the branding side of things, because the recorded side of Elvis' stay is a fraction of its total income. Because, as I said, like up until 71, 72, all the record at rights had been bought by RCA, which obviously not a part of Sony. So they don't make money out of a lot of those recorded rights. Obviously, elvis didn't write music but Tom Parker was a very candy man who he cut Elvis in and himself obviously in all the share of the publishing. So they've obviously got some writers that go do you want Elvis to sing your song and you have to give up X percent of the royalties. So they would go do we want 100 percent of nothing or do we want 75 percent of a huge amount of money? We'll take the 75 percent.

0:30:48 - Tristra

A very rational decision, yeah.

0:30:51 - Eamonn

Yeah, so that's. I don't know if it's a 25 percent split, but I know that they certainly did some behind closed doors dealings.

So you had that but really it was Graceland, which it loves to proclaim is the second most visit of the house in America after the White House. It's a huge, huge tourist of it. You look at they, you go in there and you're like, if you want to get the full experience, it's a couple of hundred dollars just to go and see all of the different parts of it. They also and I think the true genius thing they did in the 80s was that after he died, obviously people would flock to Graceland. They turned Graceland into this tourist destination but in the streets around it, just like these kind of quite souvenir shops would spring up sell an Elvis merchandise, artificial Elvis merchandise or whatever, and there was very little that they could do. So very quietly the Elvis state slowly bought up all of the regular state they got. They obviously didn't want people to know that it was the Elvis estate because then they would be charged through the nose. So they basically bought up most of the property around the estate and were able to drive out all of the terrible tatties souvenir shops. So they took over everything. There was a long term investment about how do we actually basically control the emotional real estate around Elvis and the physical real estate around Graceland. So they did things like that.

And then obviously there were you had things like in the 90s you had a reissue of lots of singles. You had that junkie exile, a little less conversation remix which was like I don't know, it was being number one in the UK. I kind of remember what it did in the US. And then that goes all the way up to the Baz Luhrmann film from what two, three years ago, because they just kept working it. They were never really quiet. There was always stuff happening around the Elvis estate, so there was merchandise, there was always re-releases of stuff and obviously there was the Elvis movies as well, although they are not exactly great art statements. But there are another thing that People like them.

Yeah, well, yeah, for people like a lot of things, that's true. Elvis didn't even like Elvis's films and Elvis was in them. So there was all of those things, and I think merchandise was a huge, huge part of it.

0:33:37 - Tristra

That's so important.

0:33:38 - Eamonn

Yeah, and then probably they got a much. They probably make a lot more money out of merchandise than recorded music. And then obviously you can build up a very successful business if you do not have this profligate person still alive spending money like it's going on a fashion. So suddenly you turn off the Spam tab by Elvis and then you increase the flow of money into the banks. It's a good business. It's like is that all? Please say you'll be here about record executives or the record industry would be great if it wasn't for artists, the estates or what happens when you take that artist out of the equation or take their agency out of the equation. You could make a lot of money. There are a lot less demand then and they do what they're told to do, which is probably the ruthless record executive is drained client.

0:34:33 - Tristra

Well, we're going to take a quick break on that and we'll come back to where estates are today and the impact they're having on the business right now. Okay, we're back with Eamonn Forde to talk about how technology and the current financialization of music is impacting the way estates operate and what they mean for the business. So before we get there, though, I'm going to throw in a little bit of a curveball, Eamonn, and I'm sorry to do this, but I was just thinking about Marvin Gaye's estate and how they have had a huge impact on, in some ways, on the creative side of music, in that they've mounted some legal challenges to some pretty big hits on some interesting new grounds that did set some precedents for the business that are quite astounding. So the blurred lines Gaye's comes to mind. I'm curious what your thoughts were as you were working through all this material and thinking about estates in such depth. How do dead artists and those who represent them impact the way living artists make music?

0:35:57 - Eamonn

That's a really interesting question. As you say, marvin Gaye is the kind of the pertinent example. I think that was more driven by his airs rather than the estate per se Got it and you had lots of people who would have been content with Marvin Gaye going. Please don't pursue this lawsuit, or the ruling is really, really bad. They all felt that Marvin Gaye would have been against it because in the blurred lines cast it was more about the mood and the feel. I think there was a kind of smug and gum quote from an interview with Burrell where he said we wanted to go for this, the kind of Marvin Gaye's feel, that kind of polly in the studio feel, and that very much went against them.

I think that certainly if you look at the way that Motine worked, obviously Marvin Gaye kind of have and kind of come up as a session musician and a writer, a lot of performers on the right. The way that Motine worked and the way that it referenced that's used in inverted commas other music, sometimes a previous hit. Motine was an incredibly self-referential machine itself and Marvin Gaye had gone through that machine and he understood that musical ideas spring clearly from other musical creations and obviously you don't want to rip something off completely, but you can't deny that everything you've ever listened to shapes your creativity. I think the blurred lines cast was a really extreme example of that being pursued to the latter in a legal way that I think is inherently awful for creativity. I think that's basically saying Amazon that sings vaguely like it could have been by another artist, so outside of the laws of parody, and pastiche suddenly becomes fair game. So now you've got a lot of artists and a lot of songwriters becoming incredibly nervous about the songs that they write, and I think that leads to a much blander songwriting perspective. You have a really good idea. You're paranoid that it's come from something else.

I'm always reminded of that story of Paul McCartney writing yesterday. So it, like it arrived. The melody arrived fully formed in his head and, like he, obviously he hadn't worked out the lyrics, but he had the melody firmly in his head and he was going around playing it to people going, yes, nice, this is, but where's it from Someone? He couldn't believe that this song had arrived fully formed in his head and eventually became convinced that no, this is completely original. You wrote that or you wrote it in your dreams or whatever. But in the modern age. If Paul McCartney would go, that's too perfect and then that song would have been scrapped. Some people might say yesterday's been overplayed and that's probably for the best if it has been scrapped.

It's that idea that artists are very, very pro Paul McCartney. By the way, it's a pop question. I don't want to see that as a slur on Macca he's the greatest of all of us but it's that kind of thing where suddenly that inspiration and I think that it goes back to an idea I've always had about art, which is art, great art should surprise the creator just as much as it surprises the audience. It's almost like you're this conduit you're pulling out of the sky and it's somehow, it's beyond human in a way. It's like to me just go, my God, where did that come from?

0:39:58 - Tristra

Like you might have.

0:39:59 - Eamonn

Like I'm not going to compare myself to Paul McCartney like sometimes you might write a sentence, or a halloween or something like that you go.

My God, that's brilliant, like it's very rare that it happens, but it feels like something. It's obviously coming from deep from your subconscious, but you can't figure out how you got there, you don't understand the journey that it got there. And at a very, at a much, much, much more elevated level, or musicians and sometimes that does come from songs that they've heard before and they subconsciously or unintentionally kind of grab a melody from somewhere. Maybe the, for the most part, most of these artists don't mean to. It's just there's only, there's only so many chords and so many notes out there. So you're working with a limited combination, and a really limited combination. So there will be some degree of crossover or overlapping songs. But I think once you start going down the blurred loans route, I think what you're, what you're doing, is you're layering on paranoia to creatively and that if Hamilton's going to kill creativity, it's paranoia.

0:41:12 - Tristra

Yeah, I absolutely agree. Now I'm sorry to do this, we're taking things from the kind of celestial realm down to the nitty gritty earthy realm of money. But you know, with there's been a big shift in the industry about basically monetizing music as an IP right, right as intellectual property right. So music rights have become much more, you know, much more liquid in a way, easier to sell, easier to buy. They can be chopped up, they can. You know there's funds that are doing this and I'm curious how you're seeing this, if you've noticed any change in the way estates are approaching, approaching catalog, because it's, you know, it must have been a more difficult feat 20 years ago to be like, hey, I need to sell my rights, or maybe it wasn't. I'm just curious what your, what your feeling is from all your research.

0:42:05 - Eamonn

Well, 20 years ago, music rights were just to go a buck, to go down the toilet.

0:42:11 - Tristra

That's true. That's true. I picked a bad, I picked a bad era.

0:42:16 - Eamonn

Yeah, the decline in record sales has kind of started by in the post-Napster slump and music was seen as just as a pointless, risky investment. Music assets were really, really devalued until and I know lots of artists and songwriters have their arguments against streaming but it was streaming that completely revitalized the fortunes, absolutely. And so streaming and social media have given estates much more control than they ever had, because, historically, outside of a bit of merchandise and you had to be a superstar to really sell merchandise- it was.

Everything was being driven by the record company. It was the record at. Rights were paramount.

So it was the record label that said we're going to put out with this anniversary album or we're going to put out another great estates or whatever. The estate just kind of had to nod and go along and obviously take the checks as well. But I think in the and obviously then they would have to pay for physical products. You would have to, you would be limited in what you put out because there was production costs, lead time, things like that, streaming. Like I, I give the example in the book of a major artist who died and Someone at the record company a lot to who it was. So we want to press up X million CDs and basically Overrow what their bosses said because they knew that this would be a massive seller but it was still. There was a huge gamble because they still had a couple of. When they basically told a they're sitting, press and plan to stop everything and just focus on this or its greatest hits. I'm a couple of the biggest albums. I've just flood the shops with them and but it was a phenomenal kind of sales boom for them. But there's always. There's always that lag your top, like there's a few weeks between someone dying to get product into Reckon top. It's instant. No, you all you need to do. It takes you. It'll take someone Five minutes to do. This is a certain me. And what dad pop star here?

Greatest hits and but that's also that immediacy of streaming but also social media has put the estate themselves in a much stronger Position where they can do things that previously they had to along the on record companies to do. So I think you're starting to see estate become more autonomous, last dependent on record labels than they were, simply because there's so much more that they can do themselves. If you run the official Instagram and Twitter and maybe even threads, you know, so take cover, kind for an artist, this is all stuff being run outside in most cases. I thought of the control Of the record labels and you're not running to their agenda. And also record companies are Particularly the major. People have huge catalogs and they don't want to be doing intricate Reissued campaigns for every single artist on the books and the things like that and they'll just go and a bookies are easy. It's a marketing thing. But I think what's happened now with social media and with streaming is that estates and this is fundamental to states it's a tough job.

I say make money in GP or, as relevant, they can treat the bad artist as if they're a frontline artist night. They know there could be a steady flow of Content to social media posts, things like that, that go out all the time. So it's the idea of you are constantly remind them people of the past, and it's not just every ten years. Here's another great pitch, or it's 40 years since this artist died by their single again, or something like that, because that was very Calendar driven and I think in the social media, to the streaming media age, you have to be on the present. You can disappear for ten years and then go. Hey, remember me, because a whole generation will grow enough. I'd have forgot about you. Yeah, also, that's where younger potential fans are. They're not gonna go and buy a $200 Moussa box at we issue off some classic Elven. They don't care about that. They go. Are the songs good and do they look cool? Do I want to listen to them? Are they on Spotify or the on Apple music or the on tick tock or the on YouTube? That's fine, that's all you want. And then suddenly that gives the estate incredible autonomy and a whole multitude of Kind of market channels and ways to engage audiences that they never had before they. It was a very slow paced thing, estates, until really you can.

For me, we see it with the arrival of the iTunes music store in 2003, the code of the mainstreaming of paid downloads, other than by the time Spotify comes along later in the decade. I think it was. I think it was 2009, 2010, was it in the US, it was about 2007. Yeah, that sounds about right. Yeah, it's a couple of years behind the US, but boy, let's say, let's say 2012. You had a multitude of, you have steady growth of stream and you had a multitude of social media channels out there and I think by that point, it states were suddenly a lot more powerful and to be a lot more proactive.

They they don't have to run on the labels kind of market and calendar, and also not everything's about. They record it part of an artist's legacy or an artist's career. That's the best of record companies are interested in, of course, but there's everything else, like this, the rights brand and all these other things that the labels may not have the rights to. So why would? Why would they care? Why would they draw things like that? They're not good. They drove. They put the record as central because that was the best for they made the mummy, because they own the rights. But I'm a state is the records are only part of it. No, the states can handle a lot about themselves.

0:48:51 - Tristra

That's really, really important, and I think it's really important to the future of Estates and dead artists, and we'll get to that in just a second. After the break, we're back here with Ewan Forde talking about the future of dead artists. This is a really interesting moment for likenesses and rights of publicity and all of those exciting things because of the advent of mass available generative AI. I'm really curious about what you're thinking, ewan, regarding things like voice cloning, vr experiences and even the holograms, like the ones that toured with ABBA, which seemed like they were a little bit more sophisticated than the projection on a piece of glass stuff of yesteryear. I'm curious where you see these new technologies taking estates, how are estates using them, and do you see any sort of pitfalls or challenges that they need to keep in mind or that fans need to be aware of, as these technologies bring artists who have left us back into the room. They're returning to the building, so to speak.

0:50:43 - Eamonn

Right, okay, just to ruin my big title, let's talk about ABBA first, and then we'll talk about AI ABBA to AI. That's a very short trip through the alphabet. The other thing is really interesting in that if you look at the previous holograms, obviously they're around deceased artists. I think only in the case of Brighton Zappa is there proper historic meaning to him saying I'd love to be a hologram, which is that's why he's Zappa.

0:51:20 - Tristra

I didn't know that that's incredible, that's very Zappa.

0:51:24 - Eamonn

Yeah, and he was fascinated by technology. So the family kind of took that as a kind of approval that he would have. They said he loved technology, he would have really enjoyed this, he would have seen the art, post-modern potential in it and this kind of blurring of the lines between reality and unreality. Absolutely In all the other instances it's the state making the decision on behalf of the dead artists, saying okay, I think they would have been okay with that and obviously it relies very much on family involvement. But also there's sometimes there's public art crime. There was a proposed Amy Winehouse one and then there's the public art crime was sucked that they kind of must bold it. It may come back, it may not. What ABBA is different is that all four members are still alive.

0:52:21 - Tristra

Yes, I think, in my enthusiasm, I just declared I just put them in the same bucket as the deceased and my apologies to the members of ABBA.

0:52:32 - Eamonn

I think in terms of what they've done with technology, because I've seen I went to see the Buddy Holly, roy Orbison hologram tour and I saw the Whitney Houston one and they're calling it. It's basically they get actors who look very like the artist and what they're doing is they've got a live band playing to a click track and they're either using previous live recordings or studio recordings off the singing. So it's not putting words in their minds. With ABBA they obviously were all involved. None of them want to tour properly, but they did this. They obviously have signed off on this. They said because they were involved, they did those search for the little bowls on them so they could do the track, the movement cap.

0:53:24 - Tristra

Yeah, I think I've seen some photos from that session. It's pretty cute.

0:53:28 - Eamonn

Yeah, it's incredible, and there are bits where every one of them individually will speak to the audience. So they've obviously recorded stuff. It's all completely signed off, it's all completely endorsed by them. I think you will start to see other artists either live an artist or dead artist. Look into this technology just simply because it's unlike any other live experience you've ever seen. It's phenomenal, but I think there are only a handful of acts that could really get away with that. You're talking about the kind of acts that could do it. You're really talking about who? You're probably talking about the Beatles. You're talking about Queen, maybe John I've been gassed in the modern era, beyonce or a swift or something. You have to have this artist with decades of hits that also are still relevant and still a pity to new generations, and there aren't that many of them.

0:54:32 - Tristra

I'm surprised the Rolling Stones haven't done this, because it seems like I mean, maybe they just like touring ad infinitum.

0:54:39 - Eamonn

I am absolutely sure that they will be looking at it because it was the line I used. I still look from someone it's a line I used in my EMI but I'm going to like Mick Jagger. Mick Jagger has never seen a dollar note that he didn't like, so if it makes money, mick's going to be interested. It also a math. Well, don't look at that, because it's an acronym that has a rude word in it, the original definition. But to describe something as math is just something that is so utterly, almost cricklingly, uncool you almost want to collapse in tears at how awful it is. So the thing is that you can eradicate the mathness by being directly involved in. You can create a big put in that. So I think you will see, and I still think of it in this way you look at what ABBA have achieved with ABBA voyage and what you have to remember is this technology is incrementally getting better and better and better.

This is almost the equivalent of, at this stage in the technology. This is like the Lumiere Brothers show on films of a tree in a ride, even in the station or working in a factory. Early, early cinema. We still got synchronized sign, we still got color, we still got all of these other massive leaks. Technology wise, this is, even though it's phenomenal, but you know it's going to get even even better. So I think lots and lots of artists will be looking at that.

0:56:20 - Tristra

The other point you raised is voice cloning yeah, let's talk about that. That's now ubiquitous and it's way cheaper and easier to execute than any hologram type setup.

0:56:31 - Eamonn

Absolutely, and I think the issue that is missing here is consent, because the artist or their family are not necessarily in control of what happened with AI, but also, even, as I mentioned with the hologram chairs, that this was based on studio recordings or live recordings obviously the other stuff they are all completely signed off on it which were heavily involved all the way through. They weren't involved in a design and a perfume thing which is basically just take the check of the other day. They were creatively involved all the way through With AI. This is your other point now where things can be said that the artist never said. So. At the extreme end, you could have someone say in I love the NRA and everyone should have guns in schools. It's brilliant.

They can say things that politically they completely disagree with or I endorse let's not mention his name, but I endorse that man running for president again. They were a lifeline, lifetime Democrat, for example. Or you could say have the artist on stage, go in. Thank you very much, new York, and please go to McDonald's and buy a big Mac after and get a $1 discount. It becomes crusty. The client at that point, with the people I hear by, endorse this service and our product. That's where already it's ethically complex and morally complex.

But that's only based on what exists. You're only really creating what existed in the past in a different medium. That's all. Hologram chairs are at the minute.

So, like you can cut all the moral, ethical debates. That's really all it is. It's basically just represent an artist in a different medium. This is in the form of a hologram in inverted commas, with AI. All better off. I think that's where everyone has to be incredibly careful because, as we can see, as I talked about, lumiere Brothers parallel what we're getting out with voice, deep plate technology, everything else, but you see YouTube's flooded with the. What if Johnny Cash recorded? Nevermind what would it sound like, and generally it's terrible, but you're going to get stuff that sounds really good, the way that they that iterative AI and the way that they can train it on. I think I read somewhere that you really only need like a minute or two of someone talking to be able to have them to go through enough syllables and make enough sounds for you to start to replicate their voice completely.

0:59:43 - Tristra

For singing, to have a really good voice model. It's what I've heard from people building them right now is about 30 to 45 minutes of excellent recordings like of actual singing performance, but that's not very much. That's a handful right.

0:59:57 - Eamonn

Well, that's half an album.

0:59:59 - Tristra

Yeah, exactly.

1:00:01 - Eamonn

Yeah, so all of that stuff is out there and all of that stuff is anything can be done with it. So I think it's the idea of calling the. Oh. Let's imagine what they would if they wrote the new song today, or if they covered ahead of today. What would it sound like? And as a technological exercise it's interesting. As an artistic exercise it's tedious and pointless. But never underestimate people's desire, at least once, to listen to something awful.

So, if you, if you got 25 million people listening to something awful once, that's a decent trickle of Roy Lee's company, but I think it's much more when it's the spoken word stuff. So it's when they start to say political things or they get involved in in culture, war debates or things like that, and can you cancel an AI creation? I don't know, can you maybe?

1:01:09 - Tristra

Well, and that would be something in a state would feel pretty terrified about, because that's as you mentioned with the Priscilla Presley example it's all about the image and the sort of worship of this past person's legacy, vibe, persona. You could destroy that really fast with the right AI.

1:01:29 - Eamonn

Yeah, absolutely, and I don't know if obviously naming means an likeness of Protector Underloan. But I would need to speak to an OEP lawyer about can you copyright your speaking voice? I don't know, can you?

1:01:43 - Tristra

Yeah, it's definitely an open field right now and the precedents aren't in yet.

1:01:49 - Eamonn

Yeah, the openness of it kind of terrifies me, because I never underestimate people's willingness to push things to the worst degree. So someone, somewhere, will do something absolutely awful. Again, that word math. So basically all the states need to avoid being math because math is the fastest route to kind of ruin a legacy. But I think AI is that turbochorus. I think that could do indescribable damage.

I think you've obviously had there's a new Beatles track coming out this year and everyone was really upset because Paul McCartney said there was an AI at board, oh my God. And he basically said well, actually we're just using AI to clean up the teeth that John Lannons vocals were on, and it's calling to the same technology that they used in the brilliant GapBike documentary that Peter Jackson's been developed to separate audio and I think that's really interesting, because is that any different from garage band or any studio technique or jumping from eight tracks to four tracks? Yeah, the continuation of that. Because it's not. It's not recreating something, it's just making what was already recorded clearer. That's all it is. It's basically just taking a blurred picture and then just adjusting the lens so that it comes into a sharper focus.

So I think things like that are absolutely fine, and you find that a lot where I talked about it in the big guy talked about the guy who was Elliot Smith's producer and being able to studio software had got to the point where they could clean up all like his, his high school band where he was stuck record on a crackly cassette and they can start to clean it up. It said that we're not having anything over doing, it's just getting rid of that. Hit the TPA. Something like that to make it listen about that three years ago was impossible. It's possible, no, but it's not. It's not manipulate the original recording in any way. But AI is entirely about manipulating original recordings to create something new and that that is a very, very ideologically unsigned group that could be gone down. So I think it's that will be need to be very, very careful about how closely they flirt with this technology.

1:04:35 - Tristra

Got it Well. This has been a somewhat and we ended on a good scary note, I think, which is very appropriate for Halloween, but this has been a really fascinating overview and a tour of how estates work and why they matter. Thanks so much, Eamonn, for your incredible insight and historical knowledge, and it's been a really fun conversation.

1:04:59 - Dmitri

Thanks for listening to Music Tectonics. If you like what you hear, please subscribe on your favorite podcast app. We have new episodes for you every week. Did you know we do free monthly online events that you are lovely podcast listeners can join? Find out more at and, while you're there, look for the latest about our annual conference and sign up for our newsletter to get updates. Everything we do explores the seismic shifts that shake up music and technology, the way the Earth's tectonic plates cause quakes and make mountains. Connect with music tectonics on Twitter, instagram and you and that's my favorite platform connect with me. Dmitri Vietze, if you can spell it, we'll be back again next week, if not sooner.

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The Music Tectonics podcast goes beneath the surface of the music industry to explore how technology is changing the way business gets done. Weekly episodes include interviews with music tech movers & shakers, deep dives into seismic shifts, and more.


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