Pioneering British electronic musician Four Tet has become embroiled in a serious battle over royalties with his former record label Domino. 

Four Tet – real name Kieran Hebden – took to social media this week to express his frustration at Domino’s decision to remove three of his albums from streaming services.

Four Tet initially joined Domino two decades ago in 2001: he released 2001’s Pause, 2003’s Rounds, 2005’s Everything Ecstatic, and 2010’s There Is Love In You via the label.

Their battle started earlier this year when Hebden announced he was claiming damages from the label for a historic royalty rate applied to downloads and streaming revenue of his music first released back in the 00s. Hebden alleged that Domino was in breach of contract over its 18% royalty rate, insisting that 50% would be a more “reasonable” rate.

Four Tet posted a series of tweets over the weekend calling out Domino for their ongoing royalty battle. “I’m so upset to see that @Dominorecordco have removed the 3 albums of mine they own from digital and streaming services,” he wrote. “This is heartbreaking to me. People are reaching out asking why they can’t stream the music and I’m sad to have to say that it’s out of my control.”

He revealed that Domino decided to remove his albums from streaming services as a ploy to stop his legal case against the label from progressing. “I signed with Domino over 20 years ago, in a different time before streaming and downloads were something we thought about,” Hebden continued.

“I considered the people who ran Domino to be my friends and to be driven by trying to create a great musical community. As a result Domino own 3 of my albums forever. Music I created that’s important to me and to many of you too.

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He finished his Twitter thread by emphasising the need for serious change in how royalties are managed in today’s music. “I believe there is an issue within the music industry on how the money is being shared out in the streaming era and I think it’s time for artists to be able to ask for a fairer deal,” he said.

“It’s time to try and make changes where we can. I’m not driven by the money, but I have to make a stand when I am experiencing something that’s simply unfair.”

Overwhelming support soon arrived for Four Tet’s stand, including from fellow acclaimed electronic musician Caribou. “Kieran is my musical mentor and I’ve never met anyone as committed to the betterment of musical culture and being an advocate for independent artists as he is,” Caribou – real name Dan Snaith – wrote.

“His decisions throughout this have been consistently motivated by settling a fair precedent for other artists in similar situations rather than by his own self interest.”

Caribou continued by mentioning some record labels who are doing good things. “It’s often assumed that independent labels have the same interests at heart and are benevolent actors in the current music industry climate. Many are – 👋 @mergerecords, @cityslang – but it is clear from their actions, that the management at @dominorecordco are not.

Taking down Kieran’s albums rather than allow a precedent to be set for musicians to receive fair share of streaming revenue can only be seen as a desperate and vindictive act.”

After his story came to the public’s attention on Twitter, Domino moved to release a statement about the Four Tet situation. “Domino are just as saddened about this current situation,” they said. “The decision to temporarily remove the three Four Tet albums from digital services was not taken lightly. We were advised to do so as a necessary consequence of Kieran’s litigation at this time.

Kieran began his claim about contractual provisions in his original 2001 agreement with Domino, on 1st December 2020. Since then, we have offered both in correspondence and in open court to mediate, but have been rebuffed by Kieran and his legal team.

We have continued trying to re-engage with them to find a solution to this dispute: one that is fair to both sides, but to no avail. Through all of this, we have been and continue to be open to discussion and mediation.

While we are equally as disheartened to have to take these steps, we remain hopeful that an amicable solution can be reached in the future.  Our door is now and will always be open for further discussion with Kieran.”

The Music Managers Forum, the world’s largest community of professional music managers, also released a statement about Four Tet’s ongoing legal action. They stated that the removal of his albums from streaming services raised “all kinds of moral and legal questions about rights assignment and the power of labels over an artist’s work.”

“Regardless of the legal dispute between the two parties this is a misguided and self-defeating move, and we urge them to reconsider,” the MMF said.

The Four Tet and Domino royalty battle still has some way to go: the legal case is set to go in front of a court on January 18th. Hebden is seeking damages of up to £70,000 plus costs over the historical streaming and download royalties as well as the aforementioned 50% royalty rate.

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