Hanging with Adam Young (also known as Owl City), left,
and Jonny Lang’s crew, right.
Greenberg, declaring that the copyright for the disco classic, which
Greenberg wrote, produced and performed, will revert back to him
35 years after the transfer of the copyright, in accordance with
the Copyright Act of 1976. The fact that Universal Records—which
owns the recording—will likely fight to the death to keep that and
other copyrights, doesn’t seem to faze Abdo.
“They’ll claim it’s work made for hire and we’ll claim it’s not,” he
says with a shrug. “We’ll just assume the author owns it.”
ABDO HAS HAD A FRONT-ROW SEAT TO THE SLOW, SEEMINGLY
inexorable decline of the recording industry. Thanks to
downloading (legal and otherwise) and the industry’s tardiness in
developing a sustainable digital delivery model as CDs fade away,
record sales have consistently declined over the past decade.
While the industry is marshaling its resources to fight piracy, new
distribution models are developing under its nose—and often, out
of its hands. A prime case is that of Owatonna native Adam Young,
who records under the name Owl City. A few years ago, Young began
making recordings in his parents’ basement and uploading them to
a Myspace page; tens of thousands of downloads later, Young was a
star—all without ever having set foot in a record label office.
“The traditional way of finding artists has been turned upside
down,” says Abdo, who now represents Young. “The label’s talent
scouts are just researchers looking at artists who are already out
there. They look at statistics and Web hits. That’s amplified by the fact
that artists can now make their own recordings and distribute them
themselves if they want to. There is no formula to this business.”
Abdo says his firm’s revenues have done nothing but grow even
as music industry profits have shriveled. That’s partly due to the
loyalty of the firm’s clients, but also to the fact that people will
always make music for a living, regardless of whether the record
industry as we know it lives or dies. That insulates his practice
from many of the marketplace vagaries that plague record labels.
“Our good fortune is based upon similar factors that parallel artist
clients, which is talent and luck,” Abdo says. “Luck is opportunity
meeting preparedness. As artists’ lawyers, we find out that the
harder we work, the luckier we get.
“There’s a real question as to where it’s all going,” he adds. “No
matter what the distribution platforms might be, there’s no real
commerce in music without great content. There’s more music now
than ever before—it’s easy to make and easy to distribute. Great artists
are being discovered in different ways, like on Facebook and Twitter.
This is a stable place to be, even though it might not seem so.”
His enthusiasm for their clients and what they do has allowed
Abdo to develop the reputation he has, and the stability of life in
Minneapolis has helped him keep an even keel. While he travels
constantly for work—hanging out on tour buses and having
clients give him sneak previews of their recordings and songs
while they’re being created—he’s never left south Minneapolis
for any appreciable amount of time; he has a sister, a niece and a
brother-in-law working with him along with brother Bob; and he
returns home to his high school sweetheart. That groundedness
transfers to the office, often impressing clients and colleagues
from bigger cities.
“I’m dug in here,” he says. “I like that Minnesota is centrally
located. It’s a great place to develop as an artist, as a lawyer and as
a family. I like being the guy who’s not from New York or LA—that’s
DESERT ISLAND ALBUMS
· Steely Dan, “Aja”
· The Beatles, “Abbey Road”
· James Taylor, “Gorilla”
· Quincy Jones, “The Dude”
· Elvis Presley, “Gold Records”