Tom Petty passed away after suffering a full cardiac arrest. He was 66.

You know Petty from hits like "Free Fallin',"Stop Draggin' My Heart Around," "American Girl," "Breakdown"...the list goes on and on. His band, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.

You may not know that Petty played what turned out to be his final shows just last Monday at the Hollywood Bowl, selling out three shows to conclude the band's 40th anniversary tour.

But what you almost certainly don't know is that Petty took on his first record label, risking not just his financial well-being but his career--and won.

A little background. Talk to just about any successful musician who started their career in the '60s, '70s, or '80s and you'll find out that their first contract was terribly one-sided. While they were paid an initial advance to sign that contract, studio costs, marketing expenses, touring expenses, etc. also went into the expense column along with that advance...and since many artists signed royalty agreements that paid them pennies per album sold, some never managed to earn out their advance--even if they sold millions of albums.

Petty felt his contract was unfair--so much so that in 1979 he refused to allow his third album to be released after having personally borne the $500,000 cost of recording it. Then he declared bankruptcy in an effort to free himself from the contract he had signed with Shelter Records. (Deciding a contract is unfair rarely constitutes a legal reason to back out of that contract; Petty claimed that ABC's sale of Shelter Record's to MCA served as justification to declare an unfavorable contract he claimed he signed under duress to be invalid.)

As Petty said, he would not be "bought and sold like a piece of meat."

And then he waited. And waited.

And he eventually out-waited MCA, which released him from his original contract and re-signed him to a $3 million contract with Backstreet Records, a subsidiary label created specifically for that purpose.

The first album he released on Backstreet? Damn the Torpedoes, which included singles like "Don't Do Me Like That" and "Refugee" (my then-girlfriend's favorite song). Damn the Torpedoes went double platinum and made Petty a superstar.

And he wasn't done. The release of his next album, Hard Promises, was delayed by a month by another dispute. MCA wanted to sell it for $9.98, and Petty forced them to retail it for $8.98.

As Petty said, "If we don't take a stand, one of these days records are going to be $20."

Sounds like a true entrepreneur to me.

Published on: Oct 2, 2017
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