According to Billboard, there’s a mini-trend of bands embroiled in legal actions over membership (and assets). Good times, rock ’n’ roll!
First, there is the case of Gogol Bordello’s Eugene Hutz, who is being sued by Gogol guitarist Oren Kaplan in an action on behalf of the band, claiming Hutz absconded with $950,000 in band funds. The suit alleges that Hutz transferred the monies from the band’s accounts into new accounts he wholly owned and operated. Kaplan also claims that Hutz “locked” (him) out” of the band, and negotiated a sponsorship with Coke on the sly.
While that suit has just been filed and awaits adjudication, the case against Ariel Pink (née Ariel Rosenberg) has seen considerably more ruling: In Sperske v. Rosenberg, drummer Aaron Sperske unsuccessfully sued to be characterized as a “partner” in Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, and thereby enjoy the financial benefits that partnership would entail, upon being kicked out of the band. Said U.S. District Judge Otis Wright:
“Sperske has not proven the primary element of a partnership: participation in the band’s management. Rather, evidence suggests that Rosenberg was the main force behind the band and controlled the band’s creative and business decisions, including personnel decisions.”
There are a number of lessons to be learned here, buzzkilling as they may be. The initial phases of a new collaboration, particularly in a creative medium, are integral to developing the trust and aesthetic language new partners must enjoy in order to make good art. Naturally, nobody wants to make things weird or chill the prospects of fruitful production by bringing up legal scenarios or protections during their honeymoon. But if you don’t take the time to formalize the business aspect of your artistic relationship, you are letting a fly into the ointment, which may well turn toxic if any sort of “success” comes into the equation. And regardless of your intention with respect to success — and in many respects, it could be argued someone like Ariel Pink has taken a hostile position to it, and succeeded almost in spite of himself thanks to his particular strain of prolific genius — it changes people. And nothing is worse than finding out the mutual understanding of your collaborative arrangement was never really mutual at all.
The best way to minimize the the heartache, mitigate the confusion, eradicate the disputes? Talk it out but be sure to put it down in writing, and feel good that you know where you stand.
Or, to borrow the mantra of every chillwave artist circa 2010: Learn from Ariel Pink.