Norman Rockwell vs Norman Rockwell: What happens when a big star co-opts an album title

This is the tale of two Norman Rockwells, one from 2017 and one from 2019. 

One is an album by a multi-million selling artist; the other is a well-respected indie musician. 

When Lana Del Rey released her album, Norman Fucking Rockwell, in August, it was met with all the usual praise and adoration from her many fans. 

One person not impressed was Micah Schnabel, the Ohio-based singer, who’s been touring and performing both solo and as part of Two Cow Garage for nearly 20 years. 

Just before Del Rey’s album was released, Schnabel’s album, Your New Norman Rockwell (released in June 2017) was pulled off some streaming services. 

“I don’t know the exact date that they pulled my record off streaming sites,” he said. “I only found out when some fans and friends messaged me asking why it had been taken down. At that point it could have been down for days or weeks.” 

When this was brought to his attention, Schnabel reached out to the label that distributed his record, Sony Red, to see what happened. 

“They said they had no idea what had happened and were slow with any response regarding when it would get put back up,” Schnabel said.

It took another two weeks for Your New Norman Rockwell to be given permission to be uploaded to streaming sites again, but only through the use of a third-party, Tunecore. Any numbers he had from streams of the album — the way in which artists are paid for their music on such sites — were reset back to zero. 

“It was right around then that the news came out that Lana Del Rey’s record had been slated for release,” Schnabel said. “There seems to be zero rhyme or reason that my record would have been pulled off of streaming services, and ONLY that record taken down. My other records uploaded through the same distributor stayed up” without interruption. 

He has a theory as to what happened but is unlikely to get a solid, clear and valid answer from anyone at his label or Del Rey’s. 

“I think when they ok’d her new album title, they probably combed through and saw the title of my record and cleared me out,” he said. “That’s just a guess, but an educated guess. Forcing me to re-upload and basically start over on streaming numbers and the like, pushing me even further to the back of the algorithm line.” 

Streaming is a necessary evil these days, especially for indie artists. It’s not just that streaming pays a fraction of a fraction of cent per song, and that the money subscribers pay doesn’t go to the artists they listen to but into a bigger pot of money (most of which is kept by the service). 

For a David like Schnabel to go up against Goliaths like Del Rey — even if their work was out in the world years before — can be devastating. 

Schnabel isn’t alone, by the way, although not every scenario plays out the same way. 

In June, a signer-songwriter named Noah Gundersen was set to release an album called Lover… only to be attacked on social media by Taylor Swift fans who thought he was trying to copy her and benefit from her massive fame. 

“It was bizarre to get trolled by a bunch of teenagers who felt like we were intentionally ripping off their queen,” Gundersen told Rolling Stone. “My designer had to disable comments on his Instagram page because he was getting jumped on by all these kids. They thought I was literally ripping (Swift) off.” 

Some people intentionally try to hitch their work to a rising or existing star’s power: A song called “Post Malone,” like the singer, had close to 900,000 streams a day on Spotify while a song called “Hot Girl Bummer,” a weak play on “Hot Girl Summer” surpassed even those numbers. 

Intentionally copying song’s title — or an album’s title — is a tried and true way to get instant name recognition. Swift herself did this to great success, naming a song on her first album after country superstar Tim McGraw. 

In this case, however, Schnabel was here first. Del Rey didn’t name her album after his. But he didn’t benefit at all from her fame. 

*Album art in photo by Vanessa Jean Speckman

Amber Healy

I write about music policy and lawsuits because they're endlessly fascinating.

3 thoughts on “Norman Rockwell vs Norman Rockwell: What happens when a big star co-opts an album title

  • September 24, 2019 at 9:33 pm
    Permalink

    This article rockwelled my world.

    Reply
  • September 25, 2019 at 1:16 pm
    Permalink

    Between a Rockwell and a hard place.

    Reply
  • September 25, 2019 at 1:18 pm
    Permalink

    Rockwell and Bullwinkle

    Reply

Let us know what you think!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.