Compass records is a small, independent music recording company and co-founded in 1994 by musicians Alison Brown and Garry West. Compass is a new breed of roots-music label: eclectic, sophisticated, and artist-friendly. It is called “one of the greatest independent labels of the last decade” by Billboard Magazine, Compass Records has provided a thriving haven of creativity for artists and a reliable beacon of quality for music fans. Its 2006 acquisition of the Green Linnet catalog and the 2008 acquisition of the seminal Mulligan Records label has made Compass the place to go for Celtic and roots music.
Alison Brown a Harvard graduate, record label co-founder and owner, mother, and, the role that most people know her in: banjo virtuoso. An internationally recognized musician with a wide-reaching and loyal fan base, Brown first came to national prominence when she was asked by Alison Krauss to join her band Union Station in 1989. Brown had already made a name for herself prior to that by performing extensively with fiddler Stuart Duncan, and on occasional pick-up sessions with artists such as Vince Gill, Byron Berline and John Hickman.
Brown’s journey to a professional music career took a detour while she attended Harvard, studying history and literature, then UCLA, where she secured an MBA and went to work as an
investment banker. After taking a hiatus to return to composing and recording music, Brown assembled the material for her solo debut, the GRAMMY nominated Simple Pleasures. A three-year stint with Alison Krauss and Union Station and a year serving as band leader for Michelle Shocked followed as did bluegrass music’s highest accolade for an instrumentalist: the International Bluegrass Music Association Banjo Player of the Year in 1991.
In 1995 Brown put her financial background to work, founding Compass Records with her husband Garry West. Celebrating its 15th anniversary in 2009, the Nashville-based Compass Records Group is an internationally recognized label group with a catalog of over 600 roots music releases across the Compass Records, Green Linnet, Mulligan Records and Xenophile catalogs. Compass Records Group is home to artists such as Colin Hay, Catie Curtis, Lúnasa, Solas, Martin Hayes and The Waifs, and has been called “one of the greatest independent labels of the last decade” by Billboard Magazine.
Recording contracts were agreements between a record label and an artist whereby the label had the right to promote and market recordings of the artist’s music. Under such contracts, the record company could either license and artist’s finished recordings for a limited period of time or produce the
recordings and own them indefinitely. Under a license contract, the record label licensed a work that had already been recorded and packaged. It had the right to exploit that recording only for a predetermined period of time, typically five to seven years. Unlike a contract to produce and own a master, a licensing contract obligated the label to pay the artist and up-front fee which was intended to defray some of the costs the artist had incurred in developing the album. Compass generally negotiated advances of $3,000 to $5,000 and additional costs included updates to the album’s packaging around $500. But, if the company opted to produce and own a master recording, the artist received no payment up-front. Recording contract customarily gave record companies the exclusive right to record an artist during the term of agreement. If an artist’s failed to fulfill her obligations, most contracts permitted the company to suspend the contract.
Royalties and Recoupment
Record labels paid royalties to artist for the use and sale their music. The mechanical royalties were paid to songwriters and music publishers for the use of their musicals compositions and recording artist royalties paid to an artist for...