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Aimee Mann won't play nice for others

Aimee MannThere are some people in this world who just shouldn't work for other people.

Aimee Mann could be their spokeswoman.

Ever since her initial success in the '80s as the vocalist for the band 'Til Tuesday, which had a hit with "Voices Carry," (itself a song about a woman struggling for independence, albeit of a different sort), Mann has had a history of battling with record companies. Her fights against corporate judgment have been so severe that they left her legally unable to record and release music for almost a decade.

From 'Til Tuesday's disagreements with Epic Records to Mann's fights with Imago, Geffen and Interscope, Mann's history with labels has been abysmal, a clear indicator that Mann is not one to compromise her music.

Given the reaction to her solo work -- the latest of which is "Lost in Space," her fourth solo album and the second on her own SuperEgo Records label -- it seems Mann was right all along. All her solo work has been critically acclaimed, and her work on the soundtrack for the 1999 film "Magnolia" raised her fame quotient tenfold. The movie, which writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson says was inspired by a line in one of Mann's songs, featured her music throughout, and the soundtrack earned Mann nominations for an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and three Grammys.

Despite her inclination to focus on music above all else, her music industry experiences have forced her to become something of a businessperson. Mann formed SuperEgo with her manager (and former 'Til Tuesday drummer) Michael Hausman. In addition, Mann formed a music collective called United Musicians with Bob Mould, Pete Droge, and Michael Penn (Mann's husband) as a way for them to pool the resources involved in releasing music independently. While she credits Hausman with handling much of her business, her travails have made her somewhat of an icon for musicians seeking success on their own terms.

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Bankrate spoke to Mann about the harsh realities of the music business.

Bankrate: You became a virtual symbol of everything that's wrong with the music business. Was there ever a time when you doubted you'd record again?

Aimee Mann: There was certainly a time when I doubted I'd ever be interested in making a record for a major label again. It was just a constant struggle to maintain any musical integrity. People weren't supporting the records anyway, and I wasn't making any money, and they really found a lot of ways to make it not a lot of fun.

Bankrate: How did all this affect your personal finances? Were you in a "can't-make-the-house-payment" kind of position?

Aimee Mann: I can make a living through other means. Moving to Los Angeles opened up avenues where I licensed songs for movies, that kind of thing, and that helped a lot. But it's such a waste of time to constantly argue with these people about whether your record is commercial enough, or whether the songs are good enough, or whether you have the producer you should have, or whether you should use some big genius producer who has had more hits. I don't think those decisions should be the label's. Those are artistic decisions. It would be one thing if they didn't know what sort of music they were getting. But I've dealt with this with every single label, including being signed to a label after we had already finished and mixed a record they heard, a record they had months to listen to and live with. And as soon as I was on the label, they talked about changing it. That's crazy. It's like, "You knew what you were getting. Don't sign me if you don't like what I'm doing -- drop me." Finally I was able to seize the opportunity to leave, when they let me know I'd be allowed to go if I wanted to go. I couldn't get out fast enough.

Bankrate: Tell me about SuperEgo Records and United Musicians. How did these come about?

Aimee Mann: SuperEgo is my label. United Musicians is more a collective, so that if another artist is trying to release their own records. The resources that me and Michael Penn and Pete Droge and Bob Mould have are access to distribution and major retail outlets and marketing and promotion.

Bankrate: For United Musicians, will you be looking to increase the membership?

Aimee Mann: Yeah, we'd like to put out more records. The person who does the lion's share of the work is my manager, Michael Hausman. We have one assistant, and we just hired somebody to help with the label stuff, but just working my one record is so much of a workload for them that we can't really consider putting out another record until that's over.

Bankrate: Is that different from SuperEgo?

Aimee Mann: SuperEgo is the label that has the distribution deal. That's sort of the entree to distribution because it's impossible for one artist to release one record and get distribution for that one record. So to do it through my label, you need a way to get into the stores. Michael (Hausman) is the guy who's really trying to set it up. For me it's a bit more theoretical. I'm out there working, and there's not a lot I can do.

Bankrate: He was a bandmate in 'Til Tuesday, right?

Aimee Mann: Yeah, he was the drummer. There were a lot of ups and downs in 'Til Tuesday. There was a period when we were on Epic, and there was a change in regime at Epic, and the new regime informed us that they didn't like what we were doing, but they wouldn't let us go. They wouldn't drop us. So we spent three years waiting for them to release us because under the circumstances, I refused to make a record for them that would go directly into the toilet. I just didn't see the point. So there was a three-year limbo period, and during this time Michael started managing a friend's band. He had always been the money guy in the band, the guy who would look over the contracts.

Bankrate: "Bachelor No. 2" (Mann's previous release) was the first record on SuperEgo, right?

Aimee Mann: Yes.

Bankrate: How many copies did it sell?

Aimee Mann: 200,000

Bankrate: For an independent release, that's fantastic.

Aimee Mann: Yeah, it's pretty phenomenal for two people in an office and a fax machine.

Bankrate: Are you and Michael Hausman actually partners in SuperEgo?

Aimee Mann: We're certainly partners. I don't know what the technicality is, if that's like a legal term.

Bankrate: Do you think this type of strategy of starting your own label and taking a do-it-yourself approach, do you think this signals where the music industry is headed?

Aimee Mann: I definitely think that's where things are headed because major labels have ignored artist development to the point where they are completely dependent on real pop-heavy Top 40 acts, and you can feel the tide turning against that. I don't think they're in touch with what people really want.

 

-- Posted: May 9, 2003
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