We're worked too hard, say pop stars

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Britain's pop stars are rebelling against music business bosses who they say are working them too hard.

Bands are being asked to produce what they claim is an exhausting supply of bonus tracks, remixes and alternative B-sides for different record formats. They say the practice, used by record companies to boost singles sales, leads to sub-standard material being released and undermines the credibility of the charts by inducing fans to buy several formats of the same single.

In a statement issued yesterday to The Independent, representatives of some of the biggest names in British music called for a radical shake- up of the record industry.

The announcement by the IMF, the organisation which represents British music management, follows a meeting of its council members at the Royal Albert Hall on Wednesday. Among them were the managers of George Michael, Skunk Anansie, Cast, Mansun, Inspiral Carpets, the Boo Radleys, Bryan Ferry, Paul Young and Robbie Williams.

The IMF said: "The creative strain of having to write and produce dozens of additional tracks at great cost combined with the time pressures of a hectic promotional schedule frequently leads to sub-standard material being released across several formats to help maximise sales and achieve a high chart position." The group said it would be calling for major changes in the singles market when it meets shortly with officials from the British Phonographic Industry.

It is likely to call for a reduction to just two record formats for singles - probably CD and seven-inch single - with an A side and one B side. A separate 12-inch vinyl chart for dance music only is also likely to be proposed.

Currently it is not uncommon for the same single to exist on a 25-minute CD (four tracks), a second 25-minute CD (with the same A side and three different bonus tracks), and a 40-minute CD (A side remixed several times). The same single could alternatively be released on cassette single (different bonus tracks), seven-inch vinyl (still different bonus tracks) and 12- inch vinyl (up to 40 minutes of remixes).

Robert Swerdlow, manager of Cast and Mansun, said that with each single bands were giving away almost an album of free material which was not covered by their contract. "When a band gets signed to a recording company it is for albums and singles alone," he said. "Now the record companies are getting free of charge an extra 16 tracks a year in their catalogue which they could use to put out a B-sides album or a box set." And he added: "It is material that the bands are probably not happy with 100 per cent."

Single sales have enjoyed a huge revival in the last two years as record companies have increased their efforts to use them as a promotional tool for albums. Britons buy more singles per head than any other country - except Japan - and sales are greater than at any time since 1982. Nearly 50 million singles were sold in 1996, a rise of 23 per cent on 1995.

Many sales are achieved, however, because shops can cut prices after receiving singles free from record companies. Ian McAndrew, manager of the Brand New Heavies, said: "It gives a great advantage to major labels who can afford to give away a large volume of product, but independent labels and less established artists who want their records sold at full price cannot compete."

Record industry sources said bonus tracks often involved little work from the band. "They can be live tracks, interviews or B-sides that have been recorded before," said one. "Bands should realise that no one makes money from singles, which are a vehicle to draw attention, through radio, to the album."

David Hughes, of EMI, added: "The view of the public was that the capability of the CD was such that only giving them the old A and B side was not giving them value for money."