Blog•January 6, 2015 4:35 PM ET
band calls out Sumerian Records for Road To The Sphinx competition
So, around a year ago, Seattle, WA "electrometal jazzcore" band Numbers supposedly won "The Road To The Sphinx" battle of the bands competition that entitled them to a record deal with Sumerian Records. However, the band claims that not only were they forbidden from announcing that they had won, but they were offered a really bad contract that essentially signed away all control of the band (e.g. "you can write your own music, but if we don't like it, we're going to change it").
In the video below, Numbers member Kyle Bishop explains what went down, and why the whole situation was "unfair," "frustating," and "messed up." While Bishop begins the video by saying that he isn't out to "bash" Sumerian, he clearly isn't a fan of their approach to discovering and signing relatively unknown bands.
For the record, we have no inside information regarding Bishop's claims. We can neither confirm nor deny the veracity of his statements.
UPDATE: Not long after we posted about this video, a lengthy, if not long, conversation took place between Sumerian founder Ash Avildsen and Numbers' Kyle Bishop via YouTube comments. Here you go:
Avildsen: Hey Kyle, my office phone number is public knowledge, as is my email. You could have called or emailed me at any point to discuss. Rule number one: Never rely on your lawyer to guide your career. You should have just reached out to me directly, artist to artist, rather than relying on two attorneys. Unfortunately you paid hundreds of dollars to an attorney who advised you wrongly on what to do. Shoulda called me to discuss your deal instead of putting up this video. I told you Numbers was a breath of fresh air because I believe that. Still like your band, best of luck.
Bishop: This is really interesting coming from you, Ash; considering we sent you an email the day after the event, stating how excited we were to have won and were looking forward to working with you, but you never responded. Would you like me to forward you that email from over a year ago again since you seemed to have missed it? Either way, I regret going to a lawyer as well, considering the contract wasn't negotiable in the first place, according to your own staff.
Avildsen: Numbers clearly hasn't seen other contracts from established labels to compare what is "garbage" and what isn't. First off - our offer was not a 360 deal, which is what most labels are offering today. We do not touch tour merchandise or show income whatsoever. We offered a minimum of a $10,000 advance to make their first album. That's not "garbage money" for a band this size. As for the amount of records, 5 album deals are still very standard these days for bands with no sales history and have been for many years. Slipknot is still on Roadrunner from their original deal. If a band wants to be signed for less records, then they need leverage and proven previous history of being a successful act to demand that. We never said we control their music or their band members. The contract said that if a band loses members, we have the option to drop them from the label, since the new line-up wouldn't be what we originally agreed to invest in. So if the band calls us the day before they start tracking and go "oh by the way we just lost our singer and our guitarist who wrote the songs you signed us for" we have the ability to say no thanks, we're not sending money to put you in the studio. As for this accusation that we control the music they get to write, that is simply a lie and not in the contract anywhere. However, any real record label has what is called A&R where the label helps the band make the best album possible. That is why artists thank their labels, a&rs and producers when they win Grammys and other awards. As for having the option to not release songs we don't think are good, yes of course we can decide not to release a song just like the band can decide not to play a song. Nowhere in the contract does it say they have to change their songs to what we say "or else" That is simply a false accusation or a bad attorney advising the band. With that said, it's a partnership, not a "hey here's some money now go do whatever you want and we'll just blindly hope we make it back." So naturally any label that is actually relevant and has a proven history of breaking bands has real a&r skills, which is a sense of teamwork between the label and the band to make the best albums possible. Go watch the documentary "Atlantic: The House That Ahmed Built" about Ahmet Ertegun, who started Atlantic. Listen to bands like Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones talk about their label guy. Go watch the movie CADILLAC RECORDS which is a true story about Chess Records and one of my favorite movies of all time. It will help you understand what labels really go through with their artists and what having a real label owner who is an a&r means. Unfortunately, this Numbers scenario is a case of their lawyer charging them money and tossing them to the side, rather than advising them properly on how to handle their situation. I have never spoken to Numbers directly except in person at the event when I told them how I felt about their music, and still do.
Avildsen: The point is you never reached to me out after you received the contract. I think the deal you were offered was very fair. If this is a money thing, you should have asked other bands on the label about how we spend money and treat them. We go over budget all the time. We've also re-signed many bands and re-negotiated deals as the bands grew. Bottom line is I come from a time of DIY before Facebook or Youtube where you had to tour your ass off and build a following from word of mouth and true hard work, before you could rely on social media to get fans. As a band at your size, saying the offer is garbage is like saying you've already played hundreds and hundreds of shows and sold tens of thousands upon thousands of records and sold thousands and thousands of shirts. After years of DIY touring, booking my own shows and investing all of my money from my day job in to my band, I finally got offers from Prosthetic and Eulogy (which weren't even as good as the one we offered you) and we were ecstatic. Sumerian is known for getting their bands on real tours immediately upon signing and supporting them on tour, buying/fixing vans, covering road expenses, etc. We are a very artist-friendly label. This era of internet bands who think they deserve this that and the other because they have likes on Facebook but haven't done the real work on the road or for themselves is not something I get down on my knees to appeal to. My advise would be to go use our offer as leverage to get interest from other labels or read over the contract again and do some soul searching. I want to see you guys succeed but calling our offer garbage shows your naivety, IMHO.
Bishop: Thanks for the perspective and advice. I appreciate the education on how the industry works, and I don't deny your effort and hard work getting you to where you are now. Like I said in the video, I'm sure your artists are happy with their deals, and are happy to be working with you and your team. I'm just speaking from my own personal experience with the event, and everything I said was my opinion on that experience. You can disagree and call me naive, but it doesn't change what happened and how all of this went down. Also, we were told to contact Nick about the contract and to not bother you with the contract. You keep saying that you were available, and maybe you were, but your own team told us specifically not to contact you. As I stated above, you didn't respond to our email to you. You're a busy guy, so we didn't bother after your zero response. Now, all of a sudden, a video is broadcast of me explaining what happened, and you are vocally pinning the blame on my band, and our poor decision to go to a lawyer to negotiate a contract (which sounds pretty logical to me). Come on, man. Good luck to you, and your label.
Avildsen: I'm not pinning any "blame." You are implying you were in some way scammed. You were promised a recording contract, which you received. If you wanted to know the details of the contract you'd be winning, then you should have asked Headbang or Sumerian that before you competed. We are fully transparent in showing bands the deal they would win beforehand. I'm saying it was a poor decision to leave your judgment on what to do solely up to your lawyer, not for hiring one. Naturally your lawyer will tell you to not take our deal when we say we aren't going to negotiate it because then he doesn't make any more money. The best thing your lawyer can do for his pockets is to go back and forth with Sumerian as many times as possible, charging you his hourly rate. The honest thing for him to have done would be to tell you "This is a battle of the bands competition prize contract. The label didn't fly to Seattle to discover you and try to court you. You don't have other offers to leverage against them. The contract is what it is. You're guaranteed a worldwide album release, money to record, financial tour support, music videos, a publicist and promotion, along with all the label help and brand power of Sumerian to grow your career. This deal is far better than sitting at home unsigned." But naturally most attorneys will be insulted that they don't get to go back and forth with the label wheeling and dealing and charging their client (you) a high bill since that's what they normally do.
Bishop: Our lawyer wasted no time with us explaining your very vaguely written contract, which ~wasn't~ even written or available prior to the competition; evidenced by the email from Nick telling us the contracts are finally written two months after we won: "I have actually been waiting for the "developmental deal" to be drawn up and it is now finished." – 1/10/14 (I can forward this email to you as well in case you missed this too) You just lied directly to me that the details of the deal were available prior to the competition; when, in fact, the deal was imaginary –– unless Nick was lying. What else have you said in this thread that you just pulled out of thin air? You're the owner of your business, aren't you supposed to know what's going on with new bands that you wanted to potentially sign? It seems like you were left out a lot in these matters. Or you just weren't really interested. You redirect this thread back to us getting scammed by our lawyer instead of the subject at hand: you, your label, and a bunch of local bands that feel pretty ripped off because of you and the event that you hosted. You just avoid the points I bring up. You screwed us and a bunch of other hardworking bands over with this competition. We're all out thousands of dollars because of you. You made money from the event that we played. No band saw any compensation because it was a "competition." You sat in your VIP corner with your bodyguard and your drinks, and got all of your buddies to come witness a bunch of talented bands that competed in hopes to impress you and your team. You announced five winners, but wouldn't let the winners announce they'd won. You built up our hope. You got us to believe in you and your label to be the same answer that your label has been for many other successful bands that we all look up to. And that's the truth, too: we respect the bands on your label. We looked up to you when you announced our names on that stage, and now we're looking down on you.
Bishop: I should have just asked? Again, how is this not pinning blame? You're accusing me of not doing something I should have done in the first place, according to you. To me, that's pinning blame. Can you not admit that this competition may have been poorly handled? Is there not one single cell of humility left in you, or are you just that full of pride? Sitting at home unsigned is actually where musicians are created. Sitting home unsigned is where artists become artists, and where they continue to refine their own creativity and hone new skills and abilities. Sitting at home unsigned means I can compose the most creative, imaginative, awesome music I can possibly think of and I think that's worth something. I don't care that you had to grind for months on end, and you signed some crap deal and got stoked and now you're Ash from Sumerian. I did hope that you'd notice me. I hoped just about any label would notice my band. All bands hope to be noticed. But after your clear display of magnificence, I'd rather be home unsigned. I'll play and write music and try to make a living doing it until I'm dead. There's nothing else I'm better at.
Avildsen: The 17 page developmental contract specifically for your band was written after, yes but a simplified deal memo that would explain all points in layman's terms was always available. The finals event was free and we actually had to pay to rent out the venue. We wanted to make it special for the bands to play the Whisky A GoGo on the Sunset Strip as it's the most legendary venue in rock & roll history. We could have just rented out a practice space and saved a lot of money but we wanted to make it an exciting experience for the hard-working bands like yourself that earned the opportunity to be there that night. There were plenty of other industry professionals in the audience as well. You're not out thousands of dollars because of me. Listen to yourself dude. No one made you drive to LA to showcase for a label. We didn't let any winners announce they'd won before signing a deal because that would imply they were on Sumerian. There is a band who is signing to Sumerian that is one of the bands you tied with and who spent time growing since the competition to ask for certain better terms in their deal, continued to send us new demos to listen to, etc. They'll be announced in the next month. I'm not "accusing you" of doing anything wrong or right. I'm simply giving you my perspective on how else it could have been handled. The contest was you get to "earn a recording deal" not "win a contract of your dreams." You were sent a recording deal, that wasn't a 360 deal, with a real budget to make an album. I made it very clear on stage (which is all on camera) that the band names I was about to read off aren't winning the lottery and magically going to be selling thousands of tickets and making tons of money, but that now the real struggle begins as you try to make a career in the business. No one is out thousands of dollars because of me. No one was promised anything other than to be able to play the Whisky A GoGo in front of Sumerian Records and that at least one band would get a recording contract. We appreciated the bands so much that we offered several more than one deal. Shame on me for trying to help more than just one band who competed. You said yourself in this video that we don't need baby bands and we're already established. That doesn't mean we aren't willing to continue to take risks. We are the ones risking spending money, time and resources on Numbers. You were advised that our offer was junk. That is a matter of opinion. Any non-360 deal in this day and age is a golden egg for a band at your level. I am stating objective facts. You are stating emotional accusations that are bitter in taste. I talked to every single band privately, whether they won or lost that night. I gave them my perspective, personal opinion and advice on their set and music. I gave you a recording deal and offered you what most bands would dream of having. Shame on me for being generous to offer more than one band a deal. I guess it was poorly handled in the sense that I thought a band like yourself would appreciate $10,000 and a shot at having a dedicated team of people working for you, helping you land tours, a manager, a booking agent and everything else it takes to have a real career playing music for a living. You are the poster child for the modern day internet-era band who thinks all labels are evil and the industry is so messed up and that everyone is out to get you. Nah man, I was out to give you money and help you play music for a living, when like you said in your video, isn't something Sumerian needs to be doing. The contest says you get a record contract if you win and that's what you got. It doesn't say you have to sign it and it doesn't say Sumerian has to bow down to your demands. Your sense of entitlement to a "better deal" for tying with 6 other bands in this contest is your perspective, but it was never promised to you. No one tricked you or deceived you. Go get another offer from a label you would consider a peer (Metal Blade, Century Media, Relapse, Nuclear Blast, Earache, Rise, etc.) and then tell me what we offered you is "garbage." Namaste.
Bishop: Oh ok. Never mind, then.
Bishop: For real, though. Ash, Sumerian did pay for the Whisky show to be free and I was wrong for saying you made money off of it. But you did make money off of the semi-regional, and regional rounds of the competition. At least Headbang for the Highway did. Sorry I didn't have all of the facts straight. For what it's worth; I needed to hear all of this from you, and I'm grateful I was able to express myself directly to you both on stage and here on YouTube. Maybe I did respond emotionally, but that's because I thought I was special, as if my band had some spark over others. That's selfish of me. So thanks for helping me realize it. Had we had a simple conversation one year ago when this was all fresh, it would never have had to come to this. I wish I was aware of your opendoor policy. Maybe if you had responded to our initial email the same week we won, and maybe if your staff hadn't told us to avoid speaking to you, it would have been clearer to us that you were available to speak to. I wish (and I think a lot of other bands wish this too) we were aware that the details of the deal to be won were available in the first place so my band wouldn't have wasted it's time and money competing for a non-negotiable deal we would never sign. You can say they were available the whole time, but no band I talked to at the event was aware of it. I'm sure a lot of other bands would have appreciated knowing as well. Good luck to you and your business.
UPDATE #2: I've seen a bunch of comments about Ash Avildsen and his dad's money, and I must speak up in Avildsen's defense. Like him or not, the success Avildsen has achieved is not a result of his father's money. The truth is, Avildsen's father stopped all monetary support to his son when Ash turned 18. He has no relationship with his father, and thus, no access to whatever funds John Avildsen has on hand. You can learn more about this by reading our 2012 interview with Ash.