Def Leppard break digital deadlock as entire catalogue goes online


Def Leppard, one of the last multi-platinum digital holdouts, have licensed their entire catalogue to download and streaming services. It is available today (19 January) on all the major streaming and download platforms.

The band, whose global album sales top 100m, were conspicuous by their absence from iTunes, Spotify and more. This was partly down to disputes with their record label (Mercury/Universal) over licensing but also tied to the band’s dissatisfaction with digital royalty rates.

That said, a number of their later albums and some live recordings were already on digital services – Mirror Ball (2011), Viva! Hysteria (2013), Slang (2014) and Def Leppard (2015). But this deal sees the albums that catapulted them to superstar status – notably 1983’s Pyromania and 1987’s Hysteria – appear on digital services for the first time.

Several of the band’s influences and peers had dragged their heels in regards to streaming, but all eventually made the transition. Metallica ended its dispute with Spotify in December 2012, Led Zeppelin followed suit a year later and AC/DC licensed their catalogue for streaming in June 2015. Other notable holdouts who crossed the floor recently include The Beatles (December 2015) and Prince (February 2017).

David Rowe, co-MD of Universal Music Catalogue, was keen to put a positive spin on the deal and a settling of the issues that saw the band publicly and repeatedly attack the label over the years.

“It has taken four years of collaborative work – very close collaborative work –  between us, the band and their team to get where we are today,” he told Music Ally.

“The one thing that everyone agreed on from the off was that, as those services matured, more and more Def Leppard fans would be migrating to them. The importance of making that catalogue available became more and more clear. It has taken some time to make sure that all the commercial, legal and artistic aspirations are aligned; that is not always easy to achieve. But the positive approach from the legal team, the band themselves and the label has been immense and we are absolutely delighted to be there now.”

This will put an end to the band’s inflammatory comments in the past about digital and their relationship with the label.

In 2012, the band re-recorded what they jokingly referred to as “forgeries” of some of their biggest hits – notably ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’ and ‘Rock Of Ages’ – to put on iTunes themselves. This all had echoes of what Simply Red did in 2005 after a dispute with their label over similar issues. Speaking to Billboard at the time, singer Joe Elliott said this was as result of being “at loggerheads with an ex-record label”.

He added, “Our contract is such that they can’t do anything with our music without our permission, not a thing. So we just sent them a letter saying, ‘No matter what you want, you are going to get “no” as an answer, so don’t ask.’ That’s the way we’ve left it. We’ll just replace our back catalogue with brand new, exact same versions of what we did.”

They did, in fact, only re-record a handful of tracks, but relations remained sour for several years. Elliott did not mince his words in 2013 when asked by Classic Rock what was happening with their catalogue digitally.

“We’re trying to wrestle back our career and ownership of these songs,” he said. “Until we can come to some kind of humane conclusion to this ridiculous stand-off, we’re going to say: ‘Fuck you!’ We were offered a great deal two years ago and shook hands on it. And then some other twat at the label put a stop to it. It’s our life and our music and we’re not going to let them exploit us to the extent that they’re trying to.”

He added with a flourish (in what is perhaps one of the greatest artist-versus-label statements of all time), “Between us and Bon Jovi, we fucking built that company. We built their penthouse sushi bar, wherever it may be, and they just treated us like shit. We can either roll over like little dandelions or we can stand up and punch them in the bollocks. And that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

By 2015, however, their broadsides were starting to be aimed more at the services rather than their former label.

Asked by CTNow in July 2015 about Taylor Swift pulling her catalogue from Spotify, guitarist Phil Collen said, “I love what Taylor Swift has done. I have a friend who is a songwriter, and he had a song that got over a million plays on Spotify, and he received £12, about $18-$19. That really sums it up. It’s [as] bad [as], if not worse, than the whole Napster thing and downloading when it started. Again, a CEO from [Spotify] would make an amazing profit, whereas the artist is taken advantage of. I’m not a fan of that.”

The terms of the band’s contact, according to the singer, gave them a veto over how their music was used and packaged – including licensing to compilations (a clause similar to what The Beatles had with EMI). But royalty rates appeared to be the real sticking point.

Elliott told the Hollywood Reporter in 2015, “We want to get the same rate for digital as we do when we sell CDs, and they’re trying to give us a rate that doesn’t even come close. They illegally put up our songs for a while, paying us the rate they chose without even negotiating with us, so we had our lawyer take them down.”

Last year, however, the first sign of a thawing in relations emerged as the band promoted the 30th anniversary boxset edition of Hysteria. Speaking to talkSPORT in August 2017, Elliott said, “Our back catalogue is not up on iTunes or anything like that because we didn’t have an agreement with the record label to do it. But we’re just working on that now. So hopefully all our stuff will be up.”

Fast-forward to today and those disputes have been resolved, although with the decline in downloads in recent years, the band has effectively skipped a format – going from CD to streaming.

“What happened in the past is not something that we have spent a great deal of time discussing with the band,” says Rowe when asked how this licensing impasse was ended. “We have had an entirely future-thinking conversation with the band and agreed with them that the digital launch here represents a new era for their fans – and for that connection. This is a responsibility that UMC takes very seriously.”

He added, “UMC is devoted to ensuring that culturally important music continues to thrive in the digital age. We share that vision with the band. The details of how we got there are a lot less important than the fact that the music is now there for them to enjoy […] I just think that as it stands at the moment, the explosion of streaming is an irresistible opportunity for the band to get the music in front of their fans. It is fantastic that we have been able to work so collaboratively with them to get there. Yes, it has taken time, but the band, their team and the Universal team have been incredibly supportive during that. This opportunity, as it stands, with support from the artists, the label and the services themselves has been a fair reflection of the global status and importance of Def Leppard.”

The deal covers all of the band’s studio albums, including the deluxe versions of Hysteria, Pyromania and Adrenalize, as well as Vault – The Greatest Hits.

Rowe also suggested that this year will see a major physical reissue campaign from the band and label – including “an incredible schedule of vinyl and other physical products” – as well as other digital initiatives.

Written by: Eamonn Forde