Gloria Gaynor Will Survive
Q&A with SXSW Music panelist/disco queen Gloria Gaynor
By Greg Beets, 5:38PM, Mon. Mar. 5, 2012
Gloria Gaynor is coming to South by Southwest, but she won’t be performing “I Will Survive.” Instead, the New Jersey-based disco diva will be discussing changes in the Copyright Act at a Music panel. I couldn’t help throwing in a few questions about her glory days.
Austin Chronicle: Tell me about why you’re coming to SXSW to talk about reversion rights.
Gloria Gaynor: They called and asked me to be a part of it. My song that's so popular throughout the world was recorded in ‘78 and that's the base year for reversion rights. It’s still popular. It’s still being played and the record company is still making lots of money on that record, very little of which I am getting.
AC: Have you sent notice to the record company to exercise your termination rights?
GG: No I haven’t. I think it’s premature.
AC: Termination sounds like a difficult legal process. Do you have any thoughts from having explored it?
GG: Well, I have lots of thoughts. We haven’t really been able to do anything about it until we convince Congress that this has been unfair. I see it as the record company having had their hands in the cookie jar for many, many years and now we’re asking them to take it out. They see it as a loss. I see it as termination of a theft.
I really didn’t know the laws at that time. The record company told us and the lawyers kind of went along with it because they’re seemingly more ignorant than I am, but that’s how it is because you think that you’ve hired people who know what they’re talking about and you suffer for it.
AC: It seems like the artist could use the right to terminate as a negotiating tool.
GG: Well, it would be a great negotiating tool if the artist was interested in having the machine of the record company, so to speak, behind you for distribution, promotion, and ready monies for those things. But nowadays, with the Internet, the artist doesn’t need the promotional or distribution machine that was necessary back in those days. The artist wouldn’t need it as much as they would’ve back in the day.
AC: What about the issue of protecting the copyright? Would the record company be in a better position to handle that than a solo practitioner?
GG: Probably so, because they have these things in place already. They have tools in place to fight these things. Artists don’t have the tools, they don’t have the experience, they don’t have the knowledge.
AC: I noticed you’re licensing a new master recording of “I Will Survive” from your website. Is this the original recording remastered or an entirely new recording?
GG: That’s a new recording, because of course I don’t have access to the original.
AC: What do you think is going to happen in 2013?
GG: Well, I’m hoping that we’re able to convince Congress that we’ve been under the thumbs long enough. We need to convince them that a recording is not a work for hire. I’m more than sure we’ll be able to do that because it absolutely is not a work for hire. The artist doesn’t sing a song and then walk away, which is what a work for hire is. We’re constantly there promoting. If I hadn’t been there singing “I Will Survive” around the world and if I hadn’t recorded it in the first place, it would not be constantly played and it would not be making money for the record companies. It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever that I should be making pittance from it while the record company makes all this money because they put up the initial money.
Record companies essentially give you a loan. If somebody gives you a loan to start up a company and you pay that loan back, that’s the end of it. You don’t say you’re going to get 95 percent and I’m going to get five percent for the rest of my life. That’s what the record company has done.
It’s my legacy. Not the record company’s. All these years, the record company has been making money off my record. They haven’t been putting that money in the mattress. They’ve invested that money. So the money they’ve already made has grown tremendously. Not only has it grown, it has enabled them to make further investment in more artists. It’s been exponential growth for them. What has it been for me? Nothing. It’s crazy.
AC: Do you remember the first time you heard the nonstop dance mix of “Honey Bee,” “Never Can Say Goodbye,” and “Reach Out, I’ll Be There” from the Never Can Say Goodbye album played in a disco?
GG: I can’t say I remember the first time, but I have a flood of memories about the places where people seemed pleased that they didn’t have to stop dancing after one song. That was the beginning of DJs mixing records. That spurred it. Before that, you played one record and you waited for the guy to put on another one. Three minutes, that was it. So that was revolutionary and very well-received.
AC: I guess most DJs didn’t have faders in the booth back then.
GG: No, they didn’t. Tom Moulton [who did the continuous side one mix on Never Can Say Goodbye] was the first one to come up with something like that.
AC: Do you ever long for those days when “Never Can Say Goodbye” and “I Will Survive” ruled the charts?
GG: No, I long for new songs to rule the charts! I’m kind of a now person, you know? I live in the moment.
AC: Around the same time as “I Will Survive” hit No. 1, there was a major backlash against disco, at least in the United States. Why do you think that occurred?
GG: I’ve always had a theory that it happened because the growth and popularity of disco music was having a negative effect on the bank balance of somebody who did not produce disco music, and so they needed to bring it down.
AC: That’s interesting. I’ve never heard that theory before. So you think it was someone in the music industry, then?
GG: Yes. One of the reasons I came up with that theory is because it made no sense to me whatsoever that people who hated disco music should have so many disco records to bring to burn. Those people just got sucked into a mob mentality and got swept up in it. I don’t think they had one thought about what they were doing.
AC: In your mind, why has “I Will Survive” endured like it has?
GG: I first read the lyrics before I ever heard the melody and before we began recording. I read the lyrics and I thought to myself, this is a timeless lyric that anyone can relate to. I myself could relate to it at that time. I was recording the song in a back brace because I’d had surgery on my spine. It had nothing to do with the unrequited love that the song speaks of.
I also related to it from having recently lost my mother, something I thought I’d never survive. Again, nothing to do with the unrequited love the song speaks of. So I thought if I’m doing that, and I haven’t even heard the melody or a recording, I believe that anyone will be able to relate to that song. And that’s what has happened.
People hear the words, “I will survive.” It’s an infectious melody, it’s an infectious beat, and so you get swept up in that and think, yes, I can survive this. I can muster up the strength and the courage and whatever else I need. It calls on the tenacity of the human spirit to face whatever adversities life is bringing to you.