Buzz band takes legal action over religious tag
Staff and agencies
05 March, 2006
By Todd Martens 42 minutes ago
LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - Rock act Mute Math is so frustrated at being branded a Christian band by Warner Music Group‘s Christian outlet Word Records, it has taken matters into its own hands, self-releasing its debut album February 1.
And last September, Billboard has learned, Teleprompt Records -- a label co-founded by Mute Math keyboardist Paul Meany -- filed suit against Warner Bros. Records and Word.
The suit is for breach of contract and negligent misrepresentation, and seeks punitive damages. Warner, however, might be somewhat pardoned for the marketing approach.
Mute Math was formed by Meany, formerly of the unabashedly Christian act Earthsuit. Mute Math claims to have sold about 10,000 copies of its debut CD in one month, relying on word-of-mouth among its largely Christian fan base. The album followed an EP -- released by Word Records -- that sold nearly 30,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan, with the bulk of sales coming from the Christian market. The act‘s buzz began when it played a string of Christian festivals last summer. And in October and November, the act supported fellow Christian band Mae.
All of which would be just fine, but for one nagging detail: Mute Math does not consider itself a Christian act.
Meany says he never wanted an EP to come out on Word, a well-known Christian brand. "It was just assumed that because that‘s where I once was, that was where I was always going to be," he says. "I had no desire to be the Christian version of a real band."
Teleprompt argues that releasing the EP via Word caused significant damage to Mute Math‘s brand. It claims it was misled by Warner Bros.: When the Nashville-based label agreed to a joint venture with Warner Bros., Meany‘s attorney Kevin Kookogey says, it was under the impression its releases would not carry the Word name.
"We had an offer to do a deal with the EMI Christian Music Group," says Kookogey, who is also a Teleprompt partner, along with Meany and producer Tedd Tjornhom. "We did not do that deal because we were not promised that we would have direct access to Capitol and Virgin. We wanted total mainstream credibility, and then have it sold back into the Christian market if it were successful in the mainstream."
For Meany, it was never a question of faith. He is openly Christian, and so is the rest of his band.
"We‘re not the first band to share these challenges," Meany says, "and there are going to be a lot of Christian fans upset. But I believe the majority of our fans in the Christian community are in support of what we‘re doing."
Mute Math routinely sells out 500-capacity venues, and Kookogey estimates that Mute Math‘s full-length album is selling about 100 copies per day via the band‘s online store. Teleprompt financed the disc, which the band is selling on the road and online.
"Warner Bros. was yanking our chains," Meany says. "We were being fed a bunch of lines to comply and give them the new CD. But they were going to market it the exact way we didn‘t want."
A Warner Music representative says the company is unable to comment on pending litigation. Kookogey says Warner Bros. recently made overtures to settle and inquired about going forward with the band.
Mute Math has yet to decide its next move. It was recently offered a slot on the Vans Warped tour, and sources say other labels are hot on the band with Sony BMG‘s Columbia said to be actively pursuing the act. The Mute Math camp says Warner Music voided their contract when it was breached. But Meany also acknowledged that his band cannot sign elsewhere until the lawsuit is resolved.
On January 16, Meany posted his disgust with Word online. "While I recognize that there‘s a purpose for the type of music carried on Word, we simply do not share that purpose," he wrote. "It‘s sad to me that, at the end of the day, no one at Warner cared enough to intervene and take our vision as seriously as was promised us."
Kookogey says, "There‘s a credibility gap. Mute Math is not a worship artist. They don‘t preach from (the) stage. They don‘t preach in their interviews. Those things are required of you when you work in the Christian market."
As Mute Math‘s feelings spread across the Internet, the band risks alienating some of its most diehard fans. John DiBiase, president of 10-year-old Christian Web store still sells Mute Math‘s CD. But, he recently posted on myspace.com, if the band "so desperately wants mainstream attention without support from the Christian community, why release the EP via Word . . . Why tour with other artists branded as ‘Christian‘? And finally, why play Christian festivals?"
Kookogey says the band has received regular feedback on the topic from fans, but that no one has said they would not buy the record. But other comments, the attorney says, run more toward the "sad and empty."