Trax Records has made the wrong kind of headlines this month. Not long after Adonis called attention to the royalties he alleges the seminal Chicago house label owes him, Tap Music Publishing has filed suit for similar grievances on behalf of Larry Heard and Robert Owens.
Heard released deep house as Mr. Fingers, and as Fingers Inc. alongside Owens. According to a Tap Music statement obtained by Music Week, the lawsuit submitted June 23rd seeks damages for alleged “exploitation of the artists and their works, including unpaid royalties.” Music produced under both projects found a home on Trax in the ’80s, when the label famously popularized the Chicago house sound.
“After doing several releases independently, it was so disappointing that my earliest venture into the music business was with a label in the community that turned out to be dishonest, like with many other artists that we hear about all too often,” said Heard. “We are simply seeking justice and fairness. Maybe our efforts will shed light on the many predatory practices that have been in place for a long time in this industry.”
The lawsuit arrives at a time when recent events have brought the historic exploitation of black artists to the forefront of electronic music fans’ awareness. Demuir uploaded a YouTube video about race and dance music not long after after Black Lives Matter protests spread across the globe. This week, Awakenings were called out for failing to include electronic musicians of color on the lineup for their digital makeup event.
“Larry Heard and Robert Owens have filed this lawsuit to begin the process of righting the wrongs they suffered,” said Robert Meloni of Meloni & McCaffrey, the law firm who filed the suit. “Our hope is that it may inspire other similarly situated African-Americans to stand up for their rights as well.”
Trax Records’ reputation for unsavory business practices often overshadows its history of shaping house music. Label co-founder Larry Sherman, who passed away in April, himself admitted to misdeeds during interviews like the one in Chicago house documentary Pump up the Volume.
Label President Rachel Cain issued a statement in response, claiming that Canadian investor Casablanca Trax Inc has retained all rights to music by Heard and company despite her best efforts over the past 15 years. “Since 2002, Trax Records has had no control over the Trax classic catalogue, which we intend to rectify,” she wrote. “I would like them to know I have not been in control of the classics and have been fighting to get them paid.”
Read Tap Music Publishing’s lawsuit against Trax Records in its entirety here.