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Fame & Fortune: Steve Winwood

The retention of the money that is kept by the major record labels has been a bit of a bone of contention for me over the past. In some cases I'm still living off very, very old deals that were made in the '60s, which means that I wind up getting a miniscule amount of the revenue of which the record company gets the lion's share, which I'm not particularly pleased about. That did prompt us to go to the independent solo licensing deal.

We've actually licensed this record to Sony/Columbia, so it's not exactly the same as being signed to a major record company for me. If you get a small amount of a record and sell 500,000 copies, it's probably about the same as getting a large amount and selling 100,000. It's all a bit of a gamble.

Bankrate: You recorded this record at your own studio. Was that for comfort, or a business decision?

Winwood: It's much nicer to be able to work at home. It can have disadvantages and distractions, but I do have a good facility where I am, and the technology has changed so much that many of the major recording studios, like with the major record companies and retailers and radio stations, are going under.

Several major recording studios here in London have closed, and the mastering suite where we mastered "Nine Lives" is struggling, and I think they wouldn't mind me saying that things aren't very good for them.

Of course, the technology makes it much easier to work in a confined space or home studio environment. The equipment we can get is the same as in any studio. We configured the studio about 10 or 12 years ago, and now it's as good a facility as any other. Not commercially, just for myself and some other odd projects. Mainly, it's not a business.

Bankrate: You started in this business as a teenager. Given how the music business and the media have changed, do you think you could have enjoyed the same types of experiences if you had been starting out as a teenager in this business today?

Winwood: No, although there are some similarities to what it's like over the last two or three years as to when I started. Bands can build a reputation playing live and take it from there. But what happened during the '70s through the '90s is the industry got much more corporate, and that was led by the major record companies being led by people with legal and accounting backgrounds, which meant there were very few executives with real vision or music lovers with the vision some of the executives had when I was starting.

During the '80s and '90s, the executives did have vision, but it was very much a marketing vision rather than one of the craftsmanship of the music itself. I don't think an artist today would be able to release a 20-minute track like Jimi Hendrix, or Traffic's "The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys" unless they released it on their own label.

Bankrate: When you're not recording, what is your life like these days?

Winwood: I've got a fairly young family. My youngest is 12, and I've got a 16-year-old boy and two teenage girls. I do several things. I have a small farm. I do some conservation work on the farm. I find that very relaxing. And I do some consultancy to schools on recording and music.

Bankrate: Is the farm a business or a hobby?

Winwood: We did grow some stuff, and it did go to market sometimes, but we turn lots of it over to conservation work.


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