An Apocalyptic Day for Physical Media

Do you hate the silvery sound of CDs? Then you can rejoice because a bunch of them just got crushed. Do you think LPs are just scratchy pieces of plastic? Then be happy because a load of them just got crushed too. In fact, a misunderstanding between two bands with automotive-inspired names recently resulted in an apocalyptic day for physical media.

Car Seat Headrest is an up-and-coming band headed by singer, guitarist, and songwriter Will Toledo (pictured). Their new album, Teens of Denial, originally contained a song titled "Just What I Needed/Not Just What I Needed." It used a guitar riff and briefly quoted lyrics from the Cars' 1978 hit song (and debut single), "Just What I Needed." Toledo changed a line from "It's not the ribbons in your hair" to "It's not the way you cut your hair."

Car Seat Headrest's record label, Matador Records, thought it had obtained sufficient permission from Universal Publishing Group which handles the Cars catalog for Lido Music, a company owned by the Cars' Ric Ocasek. Acting in good faith, Matador prepared to release the album in download format and also in physical formats with about 10,000 LPs and CDs. In fact, before the May 20 release date, copies had already been shipped to distributors and stores. Then things went badly wrong.

Universal notified Matador that Lido Music does not allow changes to the lyrics of its songs; as a result, Matador did not have permission to release Toledo's song. To avoid violating copyright law, Matador had no choice but to recall the physical copies of the song and destroy them. Ouch.

Leaping into action, Will Toledo quickly revised the song, reworking it to remove the legally offending material, and changed the title to "Not What I Needed." Meeting its May 20 deadline, Matador released the album with the revised song as a download, but of course, restoring physical media will take time, particularly the vinyl. The original pressings came from Germany. Fortunately, the newly opened Independent Recording Pressing plant in New Jersey can have the new LPs available by early July.

This isn't the first time that Matador Records has had problems with physical media. In 2009, the label lost masters, vinyl lacquers, records, and sleeve films when the record pressing plant 33-1/3 went bankrupt and shuttered its doors. If the label wanted to reissue the records on vinyl, it would have to start over, paying to have them remastered. Ouch.

There are at least three important lessons to be learned here. First, whenever dealing with legalities, be sure to read the fine print. Second, physical media can be a PITA. Third, if you somehow have obtained an original copy of Teens of Denial with its banished song, for heaven's sake, don't play it. Actually, don't even break the shrink wrap. Thanks to copyright law, you just made a tidy profit.

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