Freedom Isn’t Free

By Errol Michael Henry

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I am just a man. People know that I am a prolific musician, songwriter and producer. History indicates that I am a capable entrepreneur, yet when I look in the mirror: I see none of these things. I just see a man who thinks and feels deeply about the world I inhabit and what my role might be in making things better.

My daughter sees a father, but ultimately, I am just a man facing problems that need to be solved. Any man is ultimately measured by his core values, his beliefs, his standards and his lifestyle. I decided quite some time ago that of all the wonderful things that I hold dear – freedom represents the most precious gift of all.

Freedom attained – but not without ‘cost.’

I suspect that most people have some notional sense of the value of freedom – but how many are prepared to ‘lose’ everything in order to keep hold of their personal freedom? I have written another article entitled ‘Freedom Is Invaluable’ where I explain in detail the many ways in which people ‘pay’ for the privilege of freedom, yet few people ever bother to ask: “why is there a price to pay at all?”

Discussions about mental health are currently in vogue but talking about mental health issues – without getting to the bottom of the contributing factors that cause, exacerbate or extend them, is futile. ‘Talk is cheap’ and few things accelerate the decline in mental health quicker than the realisation that nothing is likely to be done when evidence is presented of wrongdoing.

In any society where morality has been ‘traded’ for some lesser principle, anyone holding fast to ethical values will pay economically, socially, practically and almost certainly with their personal sense of well being.

In a world where theft, abuse, arrogance, manipulation and indifference are rewarded – anyone ‘standing for something’ will absolutely be made to pay for his or her ‘temerity’.

The Work.

I have worked for 3 decades in a decadent and largely unregulated industry. Don’t let the smiling faces beaming back at you from album covers fool you: the music industry has a terrible history of robbing, abusing and then discarding people to the extreme detriment of those individuals’ well being. I know this, because I have experienced it firsthand.

Quite early in my career I was told in no uncertain terms that I was ‘far too decent’ to make it in the music business. The person who said this also declared that: “the music game is a wicked business run by wicked people and the likes of you won’t ever fit in.” When I asked him why so? His answer was quite startling. He said: “We know that we are evil at our very core and ‘goody goodies’ like you represent an unwelcome reminder of a benchmark we have no desire to see.”

The man who spoke those words to me is now one of the most powerful executives in the world and exerts significant influence on the prospects and opportunities for millions of people. He decides who ‘succeeds’ and who will be consigned to the creative dustbin. He decides who will make millions – and who struggles to make minimum wage: decisions that ought to be determined by a persons’ talent, dedication and work ethic alone.

The Deal.

I was told nearly 30 years ago that I would be made to pay for being an ‘outsider’ and despite fully understanding what was at stake – I consented to ‘pay in full regardless.’ Yes: it has been much harder to progress through life refusing to surrender my core values, but ‘selling out’ was never an option.

Yes: I have made considerably less money than I could have by refusing to be party to elaborate schemes that would result in genuinely talented people literally receiving nothing for products that generated millions of pounds. I was ‘banished’ from the secret ‘inner circle’ for declining to participate in a multi-million pound ‘fraud’ to fool the public into supporting an artist that was 100% fake, 100% talentless.

‘Freedom isn’t free.’ My refusals to cheat, steal, or facilitate any wrong doing, has ‘cost’ me time and again – yet I would not change a single thing. There is a price to pay for freedom, but in my opinion, the true cost of surrendering it is far too high and could never (in my opinion) prove worthwhile. Easy words to say from a safe distance, but I have repeatedly ‘paid’ to live that way – and I am still paying the relevant ‘tariff’ today.

My family are extremely important to me and it naturally follows that I want the best for them. I am also a realist, so I educated my daughter from an early age that some of what I hoped to give her, might not be forthcoming whilst I refused to consent to what I knew in my heart was wrong. I could have ‘followed the money’ and provided a lifestyle that would have been the envy of many – but how can one properly estimate the worth of a clear conscience?

Yes, I could have driven nicer cars, lived in bigger houses, travelled to more exotic locations and deemed it evidence of ‘success’, but what would the price I’d pay in terms of my own long-term mental health actually look like if the real price of this kind of ‘success’ was the total abandonment of heartfelt values? ‘Freedom isn’t free’ but I simply cannot afford the alternatives.

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The Deal (again)…

I signed a multi-million dollar recording deal in 1998 with Atlantic Records. The related publishing deal with Warner-Chappell Music Publishing was worth many millions more, so when presented with hard choices by Craig Kallman (President & CEO of Atlantic Records Inc) I was very well aware of what I stood to lose.

Mr Kallman chose his moment to ‘corner’ me by waiting until I had invested thousands of man-hours in a project that was extremely dear to my heart. He waited until I had invested substantial resources of my own into the aforementioned project before making it abundantly clear that if I did not betray my most sacred, long-standing beliefs – he would destroy me.

He threatened that he would deny me opportunities to progress within key market sectors where Atlantic possessed ‘leverage’ and stated that he would use his considerable influence to ensure that associated Warner Music Companies ‘black balled’ me. He promised to do everything in his power to harm my future – if I dared to refuse his command to ‘sell out’ just as so many others had done previously.

I lost my recording studio: a facility that had taken me my entire working career to build. “Why’s that a big deal” you might reasonably wonder? Think about a mini cab driver that has no car to drive or a plumber who has had all of his specialised tools stolen and the picture should become a little clearer.

I lost all of my most valued possessions, all of my recorded back catalogue (and with it another means to generate income), let alone the simple means to create new recordings: thereby providing basic necessities like food and clothing for my family.

‘Freedom isn’t free.’ My desire to safeguard my good conscience cast me into a seemingly bottomless pit of trouble, yet those very same core values saved me from the deep despair that has gripped so many people who are currently wrestling with mental health issues.

I lost a lot of money, I lost a host of (supposed) friends, business opportunities and forward momentum, but I never lost sight of hope.

In the end, where there is freedom (in thought or deed), the prospect of hope cannot die and whilst hope is alive and kicking: depression cannot take hold of an individual’s heart and mind.   

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The Recovery.

My battle to recover my music from Atlantic Records taught me a great deal about how life-affirming ideas like freedom, artistic integrity and heartfelt ‘life principles’ provide those who hold fast to them with strength that others simply cannot estimate, let alone resist.

More recently I discovered that large conglomerates like Universal Music Publishing and Warner-Chappell Music Publishing were abusing my rights and stealing my money. I reported my concerns to The Performing Rights Society for Music (PRSfM) who have the power to protect writers from such abuses – only to be confronted by a wall of indifference and obstruction that made no sense to me until I began to dig deeper.

It is no small thing to attempt to compel such an influential body to change rules from which vastly influential companies generate what they themselves refer to as ‘free money.’ People laugh and joke about the serious mental health issues that have blighted creative people; but that’s only because they have never themselves invented anything that someone else considered worth stealing.

Creativity and trust cannot be separated. Cynical people lack the ‘blind faith’ necessary to commit unreservedly to an idea that didn’t exist until someone else thought of it. It requires faith to develop the skill, expertise and know-how to transform an idea into something that other people are ultimately ‘moved by.’ The work, dedication and belief necessary to be good enough to make your mark in a business where everyone else is also talented (to some degree), committed and ambitious – is not to be sniffed at.

To go through all of that struggle (often augmented by significant fiscal hardship) – only to discover that everything you have worked for is being wilfully subverted by someone else, wreaks absolute havoc on that person’s sense of well being.

The upside of an entire career spent fighting (which was in and of itself a consequence of refusing to sell out early on) is that I know exactly what to do when confronted by bullies, liars, cowards and crooks. I have seen documentation indicating that Universal Music Publishing, Warner-Chappell Music Publishing or PRSfM can’t quite understand why I would risk so much to fight them – particularly when so much of my effort is being invested in order to help people who I have never met in my entire life.

Only someone who truly appreciates the value of freedom could begin to understand the price someone else is prepared to pay in order to safeguard it.

‘Freedom is most certainly not free’ but ask anyone who fully appreciates its true worth what they’d pay for it and you’ll get the same answer: “everything.”

Mental health is currently trending but consider this: injustice (however you choose to define it) ‘damages’ personal well-being in ways that cannot easily be estimated.

The Key Question.

Is the rise in the number of people being adversely affected by mental health issues directly linked to the global expansion of a corporate, governmental, educational and systemic belief that freedom is indeed something worth ‘trading’ and that the guilty should be afforded an escape – if they are rich or powerful enough?

Injustice is evidence that freedom exited left at some point and until more people are prepared to fight sincerely to preserve ethical values, to defend the right to self expression and to defend freedom to the hilt – all of society will pay with exponential increases in the number of people (young and old) collapsing under the weight of mental health issues.

I am just a man, but I know that I am a free man. I know exactly how much my desire to remain free has cost me, but a clear conscience represents a price I am more than willing to pay. No, ‘freedom isn’t free’ but the alternative is simply untenable in the long run and the alternative would mean surrendering decency, honour, uprightness, integrity and creativity – is that a price any of us can truly afford to pay?

©2019 Errol Michael Henry/EMH Global Media LTD, All rights reserved.

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