Is K Records a 'Broken, Sinking Ship'?

Legendary Olympia Label Struggles to Stay Afloat as Kimya Dawson and Other Artists Demand Unpaid Royalties


"But somehow, the news that K Records owes so much money in back royalties, and to some of its most successful artists, is harder to stomach. "


The whole cash-poor/merch-rich thing makes it sound like a bit of a ponzi scheme, but hey isn't that how banks work? Cash in loans out? K is not just cash-in merch-out, it is cash-in, operations continue... I could believe that somebody like Kimya Dawson would expect/deserve to be cash-rich and I guess if the system can't support that, it needs to be revised. Get a real bookkeeper, hippie.
Back in 2010 Calvin and Phil were guests on Radio8Ball and their Pop Oracle reading hoolds some insight into the issues in this article.

Here it is.…
In the context of other allegations that have been an open secret in the musical community for at least a couple decades, the revelation that Johnson is also unethical about money...not really a shocker.
Considering the happiness that Calvin's music has brought me over the years, if I ever make millions of dollars, I'll pay off every dime he owes. Unfortunately I don't have any money at the moment either.
Build things up don't tear them down! This story and this whole debate are unnecessarily derisive. K records and Calvin Johnson seem like they are paying people back and doing their best to deal with an incredibly difficult situation. Can't we just look to the future and maybe support them so that they can compete and survive against such difficult odds? If you want to blame someone for the problems in the world, your time and energy could be used for a much greater good. Look around. It is not going to help anyone to try to destroy the reputation of a small label who's aim is genuine and has consistently done its best to survive in a world where people would rather shop at Amazon because "it's so cheap" than walk down the street to buy something from an independent artist/business.
"Lucrative recording studio" is a serious contradiction in terms. Nobody gets wealthy running a studio, not for a long time now. If that was his one egg he had to put in the basket, it's not surprising he's broke.
I run a independent label, and while no financial impropriety should ever be excused for any reason whatsoever, there is often a tension that develops between money coming in and money going out. About four years ago, it became clear that some musicians touring were earning more at shows through merch sales then we were making through distribution. We were set up like K, in that we gave bands as many copies as they wanted to be able to sell on tour and just did a "paper charge" on their royalty statement. However, it became clear that we were heading towards the need to repress copies of records while not having sold enough through other means to cover the cost. So, we had to start charging bands up front for what they sell at shows. It was a difficult move - you're suddenly telling a band they owe you money on something they figured they'd just see as a deduction in their royalty statement - but it was necessary to be able to keep making the very thing that's helping them earn money while touring. Like any business where the person who runs the company didn't have the idea of being a businessman as their main goal or talent for starting up, it took awhile to realize this and make the change, as well as adjust ethical approaches and philosophies that no longer worked. Calvin started his label looking at it as a creative project I bet, like an addendum to his music, much like I started mine because I'm a terrible musician but wanted to be involved somehow. When that first band of yours actually starts making real money, there's a shock of realization that you have to figure out the financial end pretty fast and make it solid. Again, this doesn't excuse anything legitimately being owed to anybody, and a label like K has been around more then long enough that it should have worked on and fixed any financial issues as they came up, but it's a fact that 90% of people who start a label with the same lofty and artistic goals in mind are not prepared to handle what comes up in terms of being a working company, and without those, as commented above, "hippies," a lot of great music may have been forgotten about without ever being noticed.
Yeah, but Beat Happening was so good
#9 is offering to help out!
@5- There is never an excuse for fucking over the people who's work facilitates your lifestyle. This in non-payment of back royalties, that is cash that has already been earned after expenses were recouped. Essentially like you making direct deposits into your checking account, and the bank deciding they were instead going to use your money for something else. Calvin doesn't get a pass. It actually is so much worse because many of the artists made short-term sacrifices to work with K, and their DIY ethos, when there were likely other options available to them.
@10 I am not saying anyone should get a pass. It's not about right or wrong, but what can be done to fix it. It is really unfortunate that this has happened, but they are paying people back. If something can't be undone, (I don't think anyone believes K records is sitting on a fortune) we should focus on ways to solve the problem instead of complaining and expecting that to fix things. I just can't stand all this negativity and grudge holding. What's done is done. Let's focus on solving the problem and doing what is best for everyone involved which means not just the people who are owed money, but the artists on the label, community, listeners/fans and the music scene in general. If KEXP can raise millions of dollars for a new location, K records should be able to get through this with the help of the community. What would you do if you were Calvin Johnson/K records? Sell everything so you could pay Kimya Dawson all of her money back at once? I doubt it. Being upset is fine, but the judgmental reactions of so many people are really uninformed and useless. Hopefully people will be realistic and come together to help diy culture live on instead of burning it down to feel vindicated. I myself would like see it live on.
@11- This isn't 'negativity tearing down a scene' or some other 1996 bullshit. Calvin has maintained all sorts of shady, obnoxious and otherwise objectionable behavior for at least the 20 years I've known folks in his orbit. He has gotten a pass because of who he was. This is a very real and important story, both in its particulars and as a illustration of the realities of working with small labels without strong fiscal discipline.
oh, and as to what to do? It is a private, for-profit. Donations are a poor way to deal with that- better to buy a bunch of records from them- help them and the artists while you're at it. To start, K ought to encourage the artists (especially non-recouped) to return unsold stock. If there is any ability, to repay outstanding debts the bands should do so out of the same DIY ethos that brought them to the label. Secondly, there is a lot of Intellectual Property that can be monetized. K logo shirts and the Beat Happening back catalog can be perpetual money makers, and playing shows is how aging rock stars have payed their debts since the beginning of time. Third, I haven't been to the K space in a long while, but I'm guessing they could stand to have a 'garage sale' to move all the assorted art stuff and some back stock. Make a big deal about it and it could bring in thousands. This is a relatively easy fix as it is just a relatively small accounts payable/accounts receivable imbalance. K is actually in an OK spot to continue releasing music and being a cultural broker. Just need someone with some discipline to set up a system that meets their obligations and is more thoughtful about the debts they allow others to incur.
Wow, so in-depth about Oly drama. What's next? The Stranger does an expose on OFS? 😉
This isn't just about K owing money to a number of artists, and some artists owing money back to K, regardless of your good feels of K (I have plenty) or the desire to keep the dream alive, even regardless of your feelings about CJ good or bad, the problem here is that artists like Kimya had to do her own investigating in order to find out exactly how much she was owed, and it wasn't until she applied pressure to K that she finally started to get paid. Other artists are having the same problem. Maybe Calvin's bad at business, maybe K's owed some money, maybe we should all look the other way because we love what K stands for, but it just seems to me that K is not alone, and that many indie labels are in the same predicament, the difference is that K was not upfront with artists about the fact that they were owed money in a timely manner, and at the same time didn't own up to the fact that they owed artists money until they came and asked for it. Of course none of this excuses the bounced checks written by K, or the horrendous business skills of K. At this point I just don't see what K is offering the community anymore, the most notable artists have moved on from the label and they're almost entirely a vehicle for Calvin Johnson acts, The Shivas, and some distro. Its a shame that in over 20 years they haven't been able to figure things out financially better.
Fuck it, I'll say it.

Just noticed that Teenage Hotdog was taken down/set to private. Anyone know the deal? I wanna guess that K lawyer'd up, but that's pure speculation.
i'm with 16
fuck expecting artists to be adept businessmen
and calvin is an artist
and certainly no businessman
(thank the gods of everything for that)
his gifts are small price to pay for fiscal naivete, maybe even neglect...
hey 17 i noticed that too, anyone here a friend of melissa? the k diaries were pretty funny and updates will be sorely missed
they gave us 6 K for our record production costs in the 91... and never paid us a penny after they recouped.. ignored phone calls emails...disgusting.

number one in the UK for one week.. so units were sold.
i sent out royalty checks to many artists (Past and Present at the time) back in 2004. i dont believe they ever were a money making business and never started as one.