Besides being an accomplished bassist, Ron Bienstock can best, and most accurately be described as a music industry mogul. He has and continues to act, as legal council for some of the most important and historical musical instrument industry cases, in addition to continuously fighting for the rights of artists in the realm of intellectual property law.
Music publishing is an arcane and byzantine world for most artists. It does require some study, and no one should ever be afraid to ask about this topic.
AI – Hello Ron, Thanks so much for taking time out from your incredible busy schedule to talk with me, and share your experiences with the readers here at Andy’s World of Bass. Let’s just jump right in with you sharing a bit about your early days. What brought you to a passion for musicianship, and particularly the bass, and also please share a few of your early experiences that helped you to realize music would be your life long path.
RB – I think everyone has that moment when that spark, or revelatory moment hits them – that they have found their instrument. I was a bad (not in the cool sense) trumpet player in grade school. I wanted to play drums – but we could not afford a kit at that time in the late 60s – so I bought drumsticks and a pad. I eventually found an opening in the junior high orchestra when I noticed NO ONE wanted to play the tympani. I had a most patient orchestra leader as he let me not have to sit out (tacit) for 112 measures – at a time and instead let me play other percussion as well. I came up just short of adding timbales to Beethoven. In high school, to be in the music program, you had to be in marching band, and let me assure you it was NOT cool then. No” Drumline” movies, just heavy polyester outfits with plumed hats that were hot in fall and cold in winter. I jumped back and forth between trumpet and drums – whatever was easier to march with at the time.
Then – I went to see my friend play bass at a rehearsal with his “band”. After rehearsal he told me that he did not think he was very good and he just did not get the bass. I said- if he ever decided to sell – I would buy it from him. Two months later – he called and my guitar playing friend Jay and his brother drove me in a hot rod green GTO with my $240 (all the money I had) to buy a 65’ white Fender Jazz bass (matching peg head) and a Guild Thunderbass amp with 2×15 Utah speakers. My friend Jay (soon to be in my first band) showed me the notes on the E-string up until A. I knew right away that this instrument was me- bass was my instrument. I booked our first gig four months later – that was 45 years ago. I played all though high school with increasingly older players and bands. I lucked out with a keyboard player friend as a mentor (the amazing Robert Schindler a/k/a Robeone) who lent me LP after LP of great bassists and bands to listen to. Played all through college with a great (now excellent dentist) guitar player. I auditioned for the best band playing in the area after college (they had an offer from RCA) got lucky again and played all through the northeast and Canada. I started playing in studios at that time and began to receive the calls for the gigs no one else wanted or would bother with. No cell phones – you used a service that you called into to see if you got any calls. I had decided early on that I would continue playing and be an entertainment attorney- so I applied to law school while on the road (at the time that was an unacceptable way to leave a band) and lucky again – played all through law school. After law school I played with several bands with minor deals in LA- while working for a few entertainment firms. On a friends urging ( I read every music magazine known ) I answered an ad in the NY times for an editor ( I had been the editor of my undergrad and law school papers) of a musician magazine called International Musician and Recording World. Planets aligned and I became the publisher and editor of the magazine in the early 80s. I started my own practice in NY at the same time with the studios, producers and rock photographers I knew, while running the magazine. I did our bass tests at gigs and I became friendly with many of the manufacturers and artists. Many are still my friends and clients today. This is how I met Roger Sadowsky, Mike Tobias, Hartley Peavey, Stuart Spector, Hap Kuffner, Bill Bartolini, Richard Cocco ( La Bella strings), and a host of others in MI. I went to my first NAMM show in January ’84. I was asked to join Hoshino (Ibanez and Tama) as general counsel – and at that young age – that was way too cool of a gig to turn down. When I left Ibanez and Tama- I started my own office in NYC in 1987.
One band I had signed to Atlantic , that just did not work out there, morphed into The Suits in the late 80s– a band that I was a founding member of. That band became my unexpected success story as an adult . We released an initial LP and became the house band for a show on CNBC and played on Conan. We also played all over the US, as well became the “go to” opener in NYC. We played with Ziggy Marley, The Doobie Brothers, Eric Burdon and the Animals, Jim Messina, Hot Tuna, Foreigner, Leslie West, Curtis Mayfield, Rory Gallagher amongst many others. That band had a parade of talent in it, Jonathan Mover, Lib Devitto, Andy Bigan, Terry Brock, Paul Bernhardt, Candyace Giaquinto, Trina Hamlin…we do not get together (as of 2011) as much as we did- as everyone has moved too far away- but we have occasional gigs and releases of material.
AI – Besides being an accomplished bassist, you can best, and most accurately be described as a music industry mogul. You have, and continue to act, as legal council for some of the most important and historical musical instrument industry cases, in addition to continuously fighting for the rights of artists in the realm of intellectual property law. Will you please share with us what lead you down this path, and share a few of the successes you’ve had, in addition to the challenges you face in this sometime tangled web, defending creative rights and or ownership.
RB – We represent a fairly broad spectrum of MI companies. This is what happens when you hang out long enough at NAMM shows. When I first starting working with Ibanez and Tama – intellectual property (IP) in the MI business was not taken very seriously. There were some patents that were taken seriously- but trademarks in particular, were not. The first IP run-in I had early on was with Yamaha. They were opposing (suggesting that they were generic) three headstocks that Ibanez was trying to register. As general counsel (all of 29 at the time) I picked a firm to work with and we won both at TTAB (Trademark Trial and Appeal Board) and on appeal. Those headstocks became the Ibanez trademarks you still see today. Through the years I have represented and still represent many companies in IP disputes and all around/ general MI matters. One of the more notable cases, I suppose, is the Stuart Spector et al vs. Fender Musical Instruments decision. This decision became the precedential decision as to genericism and guitar body shapes (as product configurations).
AI – Will you please give some advice to all creative people now. For example – How might a musician who intends to publish original music be best equipped with the legal infrastructure, knowledge and skill set to earn and also manage a sustained career in 2017?
RB – Music publishing is an arcane and byzantine world for most artists. It does require some study, and no one should ever be afraid to ask about this topic. I have written many times about the need to make the transition to becoming a writer and publisher in order to supplement the journeyperson world of working gig to gig. While that peripatetic life can be most rewarding it still can be a tough gig- particularly when there are less venues and lowered pay scales. I can even site you to a Bass Player article I am in from November 1999, where I explained that bass players do not own bass parts as drummers do not own drum parts. These contributions are not necessarily part of the copyright of the composition, as lyrics, melody and chord structures make up the composition. If there is a “riff” that is part of the song itself – then it may be considered part of the writing. Bands need intra-band agreements to clear up how they will split income, how the writing will be allocated ( i.e. percentages if not all equal) and who will own the trademark of the band name. How band members enter and exit an act would be governed by this language. Thus the band carries on – without an argument -if someone leaves. This language should be included, for example, in an LLC operating agreement – if the LLC is the band’s “corporate” entity.
AI – You are active with many creative projects of your own will please share with us what you are up to, and what is on the horizon for you over the next 12 months?
RB – Here I am- still performing and recording, I play in several bands. I also do a lot of subbing in the NY area- when friends and clients come to the area and need a bassist I will fill–in for them. For example my friends band from San Diego, Blue Largo, is headlining the Cutting Room in NYC- I will be playing that gig. I also look forward to playing at every NAMM show. The bands I perform with run the range from funk/blues to corporate party bands to jazz acts, all the way to my latest project, Flying Dreams . Flying Dreams is a prog/jam band that started as “hey, will you play on a track” to a full LP to headline dates. Flying Dreams is the brainchild of Ryche Chlanda, who was the guitar player in Renaissance. Kendall Scott is our keyboard player. We have used several drummers. There are some YouTube videos of recent gigs. You should see these players – they are remarkable musicians. We recently had to take a break when Ryche became quite ill from a dangerous internal infection- but he is recovering nicely and we are writing the second LP already. I am really proud of the Flying Dreams LP, it has upright, 5 string fretted and 5 string fretless all over it. Gordon Bahary mixed much of the LP. Gordon also mastered it- that great overlooked human touch shine and gloss that is often dispensed for a plug in.
AI – Thank you again for sharing your extensive experience with us Ron, It is truly an honor to learn from you and your unique insights.