I've been in the music industry for a couple of decades now, as an indie country music singer/songwriter and a vocalist for hire. It's been a wild ride, sometimes a painfully slow one, but definitely never boring. I've learned a lot of lessons the rough-and-bumpy way, and one of the most valuable lessons I've learned—several times over, actually—is that a contract means absolutely nothing unless you have the means to sue the other party if they don't uphold their end of the deal.
Here is my story of dealing with a so-called record label for the past 16 years, while they exploited my music without my permission or knowledge, and then neglected to respond to, or comply with, my countless requests to terminate our agreement, whether such requests came directly from me, or via my attorney.
I'll try to simplify the story to make it more readable, while staying true to the essential core of events.
Disclaimer: This is my experience of what happened. I have over a decade's worth of emails and screenshots saved, along with a signed contract, which was completely disregarded by this company in terms of what they appeared to think they had the right to do.
So, here we go.
Back in 2006—yes, I know, a very long time ago—I was living in Melbourne, Australia, and I had released my first album. I had written all the songs, and my then-husband and I borrowed and bargained our way to getting the album recorded on a less-than-shoestring budget. I released the album independently, promoting it my damn self, without really knowing a whole lot about what I was doing. I was just learning as I went. I would stay up nights, emailing, posting, pushing. Every day, I would take promo packages to the post office to mail out to... well, you name it.
Due to all my efforts, the album did quite well for an indie album by an unknown artist. One of the things I managed to get, was a digital distribution deal for iTunes and whatever other digital music stores were available at that time.
Throughout the first year after the album was released, I submitted my songs to countless online opportunities. One of them was for a charity compilation album through a company called Blue Pie, that was located in Sydney, Australia. The artists were supposed to get a small percentage of the royalties, but a big chunk of the proceeds would go to the Salvation Army in efforts to help victims of hurricanes like Hurricane Katrina. With a young, idealistic mind, I figured this was a great opportunity to help out in some small way, and I was quite excited when my song was enthusiastically accepted.
Blue Pie asked me to just mail them the entire CD, and they would extract the track from that, in order to add it to the compilation. I didn't think more of it, mailed the CD off along with whatever else I was mailing off that day. I was also sent a contract, which quite clearly explained that this was a non-exclusive, one-song deal for this compilation only, with options to terminate by simply giving notice. I signed the contract and sent it off too. (I actually faxed it. Some of y'all might not know what that means.)
A few months or so later, I got an email from my digital distribution company, saying there was a duplicate copy of my album in all digital stores. "What now?" I confusedly replied, and went to have a look. And yes, there it was, one version of my album by my own digital distributor, and a second one labeled Blue Pie Records. "There must be some mistake," I said, "I'll get in touch with them right away and sort this out."
And that's where it all began.
I started out politely and patiently asking Blue Pie to please remove the duplicate album from online stores, since it would otherwise cause me to lose my distribution deal due to breach of contract. I emailed, and I called Blue Pie, spoke to the CEO himself. He responded by saying something along the lines of: "Well, we've only made a couple of bucks off your music anyway," to which I wanted to retort: "Well, then taking it down wouldn't be a big deal, then, would it?" But I was still too damn polite, and when he said he'd have it taken care of right away, I believed him.
Months went by, nothing was done from Blue Pie's end, and I ended up losing my digital distribution deal because of it. My distributor was not happy with me at all, and didn't seem to believe that I had even tried to rectify the problem. I sure burned a bridge there, through no fault of my own.
In the meantime, life happened, and I moved countries twice, first to Sweden, then back to the US. One thing that didn't change, however, was the constant stream of emails from me to Blue Pie, asking them repeatedly to stop distributing music that wasn't theirs to distribute. I had not been paid a dime by them—and I still haven't to this day, actually—and I had been given no real response other than things like: "Oh, didn't we take it down already? We'll do it on Monday." Then Monday would come, and nothing would be done.
There appeared to be a revolving door of employees at Blue Pie, new names each time I actually got a response. My messages were forwarded this way and that way within the company—usually to someone who had no idea what I was talking about.
However, one email I received from Blue Pie's CEO in 2010 goes as follows:
I will have this chased up and we will get the album taken down. We did ask for this to be done 6 months ago and will follow this up again.
Mr. Big Shot."
(I added that last part. That's not actually his name.)
At times, the music would be removed from stores, just to be added again soon after, with a different release date each time. Whenever someone might search for my music, the older album through Blue Pie would be shown as the newest release, even though I had by then released two more albums on my own.
In 2016, the album showed up on Amazon Music under Blue Pie Records, yet again as a new release. By then, I was fed up. Part of my long-winded, pissed-off email to Blue Pie read as follows:
"Remove it! From ALL of your distribution channels, your website, everything that I have not agreed to be part of. My attorney is ready to go on this, and is not nearly as patient as I have been."
To which the response was:
I will check with the catalogue manager and get this taken down. Apologies. "
I ended up having to get in touch with Amazon directly, and claim copyright infringement. Amazon removed the album right away. Blue Pie did nothing whatsoever.
Around this time, I googled "Blue Pie", along with "scam", "fraud", and various combination of such terms, and lo and behold, I found pages and pages on online forums of angry entries by other artists who were going through exactly the same thing. Trying to get Blue Pie to stop distributing their music without permission, but getting no substantive response.
(Interestingly enough, if I run the same Google search now, those online forum entries appear to have been taken down. I'm only sticking to the facts here, so I'll make no insinuations as to why that is.)
As several more years went by, Blue Pie continued to be a thorn in my side. Their version of that album of mine was still up in several stores, I had not been paid a cent in over a decade since they'd first crossed my path, and the situation was at a standstill. Then, one morning in 2021, I got an email from SoundExchange.
For those of you who aren't familiar with SoundExchange, here's a direct quote from their website about what they do:
"SoundExchange collects and distributes digital performance royalties from the use of sound recordings on behalf of more than 155,000 recording artists and master rights owners (typically the record label) and administers direct agreements on behalf of rights owners and licensees."
What they also do, apparently, is to provide an open door for people to go in and claim rights to music owned by others. Then it's up to the two parties in question to sort out amongst themselves who actually owns the rights. (I could write a whole other article on SoundExchange, and maybe I will. Many of my music entrepreneur friends reading this are probably a bit shocked at me criticizing SoundExchange, but for a company that prides themselves in protecting the rights of artists and songwriters, they have only responded to a single one of my numerous messages, several months after I sent it, just to tell me there didn't appear to be a problem anymore, and my ticket was then closed.)
The automated email from SoundExchange I received that morning in 2021 let me know that the CEO of Blue Pie himself—using the same email address I'd been emailing him at for almost 15 years—had gone on the platform and claimed 100% of the master rights to several songs from my first album. Even though I maintained that I owned the rights, the songs were now in "dispute mode", which means that no one is getting paid for the music and it's frozen until the two parties—in this case me and Blue Pie—come to an agreement about who the rightful owner really is. This is something that might work well in theory—unless you're dealing with someone who shows no regard for another person's property. Then you've got a problem on your hands.
(And, just as an observation, according to the Blue Pie website, they now have offices on several continents, and the number of artists listed on their roster appears to be in the multiple hundreds. I stopped counting at 75 artists, with several more pages left to go. Yet, the CEO has the time to sit on SoundExchange and claim rights to individual songs by an artist who, in his own words, has only earned them "a couple of bucks". Things that make you go hmmmm.)
It was time to finally involve that lawyer I'd threatened Blue Pie with already back in 2016. I hired a Los Angeles entertainment attorney, and paid her with my hard-earned money to hopefully help me get my music removed from Blue Pie's servers. I wasn't expecting to make that money back in unpaid royalties from Blue Pie. No, this was about me setting some boundaries, and hopefully finally getting some peace of mind.
At the time, my attorney and I both thought a cease and desist letter would do the trick. I thought that by bringing her in instead of there just being a stream of angry emails coming directly from me, Blue Pie would finally just go: "OK, OK, fine. We'll remove it." So, in December of 2021, we got started.
My attorney was shocked at what subsequently happened, or didn't happen, as it was. The complete and utter lack of professionalism on Blue Pie's part was astounding even to an attorney who had come across the good, the bad, and the ugly in the music industry. After numerous messages to the company over a period of 10 months, there's been one single response that was of any relevance whatsoever, and even that is pushing it. In February of 2022, we got a response from the Blue Pie Accounts Manager, where she sent us a copy of that contract I signed back in 2006. (Side note: Blue Pie had never sent me back a copy of the contract signed by them, until now. I had to read through it to make sure they hadn't changed the terms after I had signed it, but no, they hadn't. So I don't believe the Accounts Manager had even looked at it. If she had, she would have noticed that the contract only confirmed what we were already saying anyway: That Blue Pie were only allowed to use that one song for that one charity compilation album, and nothing more.)
The Accounts Manager also reiterated that I could just log into the Blue Pie artist portal to see my numbers.
Let me tell you all a little bit about this artist portal. First of all, it didn't exist back in 2006. According to the contract I signed, they would keep me updated on the accounting themselves. At some point, they had sent me a link to this new artist portal, which only directed me to an error page, and I had no working login info. I had never been able to log into this artist portal until February 2022. My attorney talked me into going on there to check things out, and with a bad ache in my stomach, I did.
It was a hot mess. Unlike anything I've ever seen. None of the numbers added up. Royalty rates vs. number of units sold made no sense. There were over 40 pages of duplicates listed of the 9 songs on that album of mine. Some of the songs were listed under a different artist's name I'd never heard of, some of them were listed on an album called "African Tribal Rhythms, Vol. 2" or something along those lines. According to the portal, Blue Pie owed me a pathetic 15 dollars for the past 16 years—although there's no way I could verify that amount—but I would have to pay them 25 dollars in processing fees in order for them to pay me the 15.
Also, nowhere in this artist portal was there an option to go: "Hey, I don't want to be on Blue Pie Records anymore." The only option was to send them an email—to the same place I'd been emailing them with that very same request for the past decade and a half, to no avail. Apparently, once you sign anything at all with Blue Pie, they've got you for life.
In the months following February 2022, the messages from my attorney to Blue Pie would garner one-line responses that were true to form.
"Sorry, she's out of the office until Wednesday. She'll get back to you then."
"We're short staffed due to COVID-19. We'll get back to you soon."
"They're on holiday at the moment, they'll get back to you soon."
And so on, and so forth. Needless to say, we never received any substantive response. I was running out of money, and my attorney said, look, let's go around them and directly to the various digital platforms where they've distributed your music. And she went on to send copyright infringement notices to Spotify, Deezer, Amazon Music, YouTube, and a number of other platforms. This turned out to be the most efficient thing we had done so far. On Deezer, there were no less than two Blue Pie duplicates of the album, one from 2014, the other one from 2015, in addition to my own from years before. Deezer were great, though. They took those dupes down faster than one can say ... pie. Amazon were quick also—just like the last time I'd contacted them about the very same thing back in 2016. YouTube followed suit. Spotify ... well, not so much. There's still a dupe on Spotify with a 2007 release date. They did remove the name "Blue Pie Records" though, that's something.
But that rights claim on SoundExchange? I'll get back to that one in a minute.
Finally, my attorney wrote an termination letter to Blue Pie, to officially declare the end of my relationship with them. We weren't asking for a response, nor were we expecting one. This was more for my sake, to know that I had crossed all the t's and dotted the i's, no ambiguity, no doubt as to where I stood. Closure.
I'm sure it comes as no surprise to you that we never received a response to that termination letter. One of the copyright infringement notices that were forwarded to Blue Pie did get a response though. The Accounts Manager blamed COVID.
A month and a half after that letter of termination, I got another email from SoundExchange. Remember, the Blue Pie CEO was trying to claim the master rights to my songs? Well, this time it appeared he had given up on it himself, but passed it along to an affiliate company that does collection for them. Currently, that album of mine from years ago is now, yet again, in dispute mode regarding whether it's owned by me, or by Isolation Network, Inc., some company I've never heard of before.
That album that was recorded in various bedrooms and home studios, with the help of friends, family, and relatives. Those songs I had written in my tiny apartment in Hollywood, broke and heartbroke, and produced during my first year as a new resident in Australia, bewildered and in culture shock. (One night back in 2004 or so, while recording lead vocals in my former mother-in-law's living room in Australia, there was a flock of sheep right outside the house, adding some faint bah-bahs to my vocal track. "Is this a country album or what?" my ex-husband chuckled as he went outside to shoo them away.) That album that I was so proud of, my very first effort at putting my name and my music out there in the world. Some people in Sydney looked at that album and said: "Hm, we might decide we own that," and 16 years later, apparently they and their affiliates are still trying to convince me and others that they do.
So you're asking why do they bother, if it's not worth any money to them? Well, that would be a reasonable question, wouldn't it? But I've come to learn through all my trials and tribulations that as a normal, empathetic person, there's no way you can understand why some unscrupulous people do what they do. Sometimes it's for monetary gain, sometimes for notoriety, sometimes simply because they like to f*** with people.
(And for those who are wondering, yes, I registered the songs with the U.S. Copyright Office, and with my Performance Rights Organization (APRA Australia) before any of the above happened. APRA/AMCOS have not done anything to help me either, other than saying: "Uhm, we have no idea what's going on here. Sorry!")
I've become a lot more careful when it comes to whom I trust or don't trust in this industry, though. But I won't thank Blue Pie or any other such establishment for that. I thank my own damn resiliency, my ability to adapt to whatever the situation throws at me. I probably haven't heard the last from Blue Pie. Maybe next year, I'll find that album on Amazon again, this time as a new release for 2023.
Through the years, I've received messages from other artists who have been approached by Blue Pie, and who have seen my name on the roster. They want to know if I would recommend signing with them. I can only tell them what my experience has been. Can't tell anyone else what to do, but I'm pretty sure my story would send most people running full speed in the other direction.
Let me close with this quote from Blue Pie Records' Instagram bio:
"We love music and we love our artists."
Oh, I feel the love.