Update on The Beachles: An Interview with Clayton Counts

Last time we wrote about Clayton, it was in disgust at the $30 million lawsuit EMI was throwing at him for creating a mash-up of two of the label's most popular and iconic albums of all time: The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds. He called this record The Beachles' Sgt. Petsounds and released it for free on his blog. People downloaded it, so EMI also demanded the IP addresses of everyone who would do such a thing as "be curious about music." Oh, and let's emphasize that Clayton "released" this album only as a free download; he wasn't selling it, advertising it, or promoting it. In fact, he only posted the album to one forum once. (Papaya's headline said it all best: "'Beachles' Mash-Up Creator Becomes World's Richest Man Overnight; EMI Merely the Innocent Victim of His Insatiable Desire for Power.")

Well, I contacted Clayton to see how he was doing — and if he was dead yet. Answer: he's alive. Whew. The world cannot stand to lose someone blowing their nose on corporate bedsheets like this right now. And apparently Clayton's legal situation is getting better too, as he has not had contact with EMI in a long time.

"For the most part, our communication has ended. For a time, we were sending email back and forth to determine the 'amount to be discussed,' " wrote Clayton in an email. "I asked them, directly, how much was owed to them, and they ignored the question completely, so I'm guessing it's mostly blown over. But you never know with these guys. I have a few lawyers willing to go the distance for me, but that's probably the last thing EMI wants."

"I did feel that it was my obligation to inform the public about them wanting IP addresses," wrote Clayton. "To my knowledge, no other cease and desist has demanded such a thing. And even if it has, I'm the first to have pointed it out." From what we can tell too, this was the first case with a demand for the addresses. "A weaker-willed individual might not have been able to see through their threats, which from a legal standpoint were mostly empty, so I wonder if others have complied with such demands in the past."

Clayton received a lot of attention for The Beachles, and not just from the usual suspect blogs. The Rolling Stone blog wrote about the lawsuit, memorably saying, "Dude, you should be thanking EMI for giving you free publicity for your 'art.' BTW? We heard some of the tracks, and let’s just say that the whole was way, way less than the sum of its parts." Similarly, Stephen Cole of CBC.ca wrote a review with the sub-head "Beatles + Beach Boys = one headache-inducing remix album." Clayton's response:

"You know, I think it's funny. I mean: in the CBC newsletter, Stephen Cole amended his article to say that my record illustrates an 'utter lack of talent.' I guess he thinks that more talent is to be found in one of his articles about the season finale of 'West Wing.' I dare say that his is not the final word. Likewise, Rolling Stone gives lip service to anyone with a record contract, so I'm not sure that their opinions are necessarily unbiased," wrote Clayton (who really knows how to dish it back!). "But this record has been downloaded more than any experimental record I can think of, as well as any mash-up record this year, so I'd say that it's due some respect."

"It didn't just fall together by accident, although it may seem that way. But the truth is, this record demonstrates a good measure of talent, regardless of what anyone says. I've been working with digital audio for more than a decade, and it's only too easy to say that because I opted to leave things out of tune, or rather in tune with the originals, that this somehow makes it amateurish. It is giddily cynical, but not in the least bit sophomoric, and any attempt to characterize it that way is laughable."

I also asked him what he plans for the future, mostly because it's hard for me to imagine what you do before you make The Beachles and after you make it. I mean, was this a crazy record or what?! But it turns out he used to be a DJ in good ol' Chicago, and now he's concentrating on a "space-rock bossa nova record, which is thus far exceptionally melodic and easy to listen to" and doing re-mixes in his spare time.

He also mentioned future anti-major label actions, something that makes me want to high-five my enemies (who are, coincidentally, the major labels).

"Since all of this happened, though, I have been contacted by several investors who are interested in helping me start a record label, so for the next couple of years I will likely be spending a great deal of my time dismantling the major labels in every way I can," wrote Clayton, our hero. "Every dollar I make will help to demolish the old model of distribution. And seeing how my website is still getting several thousands of hits a day, I'd say that I'm off to a pretty good start."

We think so, too. Clayton will be speaking at a few colleges about his legal troubles come 2007, although none of the dates are scheduled and the only college he could confirm at this time is Belmont University in Nashville. He will be speaking as a guest of the Belmont Copyright Society.

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