Time is on his side

Country superstar Clint Black resets the clock

Clint Black has always demanded and received full artistic freedom, with a resulting body of work that stands as some of the best country music has to offer. From Killin' Time in the honky tonks to learning how a husband and father needs to Spend My Time, Black has spent 15 years in the spotlight, an eternity by today's standards in the country music business. Over the years, Black has dealt with just about every obstacle one can imagine, and somehow managed to stay near the top of the heap. When he hits the stage on his current tour, Black will be simultaneously celebrating his amazing career to date, and taking his first steps in a new direction.

When Black first hit the scene in 1989 on RCA Records, he impressed everyone with four consecutive No. 1 singles from his debut album, Killin' Time. Six months after its release came the debut by Garth Brooks, who went on to eclipse Black in popularity and sales, but didn't slow him down. Nor was Black fazed when a few months later Alan Jackson released his amazing first album. This trifecta of genre-defining albums launched country music into unparalleled commercial success for the next decade, a trend that continues today. Black went on to win countless awards, sell over 20 million albums, and find his soul mate in actress Lisa Hartman. But not everything was peachy. After all the music business is a "business," isn't it?

In 1992, a nasty and controversial legal battle with his first manager over their financial arrangement became tabloid fodder fueled by Black's decision to hire his mother-in-law as a career adviser. The issue was settled out of court, but motivated Black to become an advocate for the protection of artists' rights. He has spoken on the issues in support of the Recording Artists' Coalition, a group created to increase awareness of the music industry's complicated and top-heavy financial practices, and to provide representation for the artists.

Historically, recording contracts have been structured in a way that literally makes the artist an indentured servant, with all advances, expenses and amenities identified as being "recoupable" from the artist's profit. They create the product, but are the last ones paid after all the bills are covered. Artists generally make their own money from touring and merchandise, but the label maintains the vast majority of the recording income. Accounting practices at the major labels came under public scrutiny a couple of years ago when the Dixie Chicks sued Sony regarding its crafty number crunching, and renegotiated the group a financial windfall.

This traditional arrangement hit home in a big way for Black when it came time to renegotiate his contract with RCA. Even with sales of more than 20 million units, he was told he still owed the label money. Knowing that it wasn't right, Black decided to try something different. Remembering a conversation with former Sony executive Mike Kraski (who lost his job soon after the Dixie Chicks' lawsuit was settled ... hmmm) about the possibility of creating an "artist-friendly" label, Black, Kraski and two other partners formed Equity Records in 2003. Creating a whole new way of financial collaboration between the label and the artists was sure to stir things up on Music Row, and that's exactly what Black wanted to do.

Equity Records is based on the philosophy that artists and executives need to be equal partners in the business, and artists deserve to be paid a percentage of every album sold, as soon as it is sold. In return, the artists are asked to give the label a percentage of concert and merchandise revenues, thus creating a symbiotic and egalitarian relationship.

The debut release on Equity Records is Black's Spend My Time, his first collection of new material in more than five years. It is a logical progression of his trademark sound, with creative melodies, thoughtful and mature lyrics, and a complimentary mix of both hard and cosmopolitan country accompaniment. The record has done well for an independent release, and Black is in full control of his career. Just in time.