Wolf Kampmann (2010)


Protocol of the tragedy of a label

The label Free Music Production, FMP for short, is an institution, without which the history of free improvised music is hard to imagine. Ever since its foundation in 1969 there has never been any doubt about this. Apart from musicians the likes of Peter Brötzmann, Alexander von Schlippenbach or Peter Kowald it has been inextricably linked with the name of Jost Gebers, who has been navigating it through out the decades, uncompromisingly and free from any effects of the prevailing Zeitgeist. FMP has always been more than a label. Whoever bought an FMP record was not only aware of exactly what he was holding in his hands but also reliably knew who was behind it. Jost Gebers was able to afford this freedom because he was never dependent on the earnings of FMP. He had made the conscious decision to take on a day job which would provide a secure income and to run the label independent of his own basic requirements for living.

The year 2000 was marked by an abrupt break which was incomprehensible for outsiders. Suddenly, there seemed to be two versions of FMP. Behind one of the FMP’s was, as usual, Jost Gebers as producer, behind the other one, Helma Schleif. What at first seemed like a difficult-to-untangle joint venture, soon turned into a ‘Theatre of the Absurd’, with its dirty laundry being aired in the courts and the media. As if the world of improvised music wasn’t much too small to be able to afford a daily soap of this kind. But - one step at a time.

In 1999, Jost Gebers was looking back on 30 years of FMP. That look at the past, however, didn’t stop the idealistic pragmatist from developing perspectives for the way ahead. Already in the middle of the nineties he had come to a decision to stop in the foreseeable future. The double burden of a fulltime job and a company had simply gone way beyond his personal capacities. At that time, the company Free Music Production (FMP) was a lot more than just a record label. Alongside the label FMP/Free Music Production - An Edition of Improvised Music with its divisions production, production handling, recordings, distribution, sales and marketing as well as the corresponding infrastructure which had grown over the years, it also acted as concert promoter with the associated areas of planning, organization and realization. Both were in the hands of Jost Gebers.

Since 1992, there was also the self-contained music publishing house FMP-Publishing in Borken, independent of label and concert promotion. This publishing house was run by Anna Maria Ostendorf, and held also the pre-existing rights to various LP productions which had been discontinued in 1991, as well as the corresponding tape archive with the masters and additional original tapes, documenting innumerable FMP concerts.

From 1989 - 1999 Gebers received an annual funding from the Berlin Senate for the company Free Music Production (FMP) of - finally - 224.000 DM a year, the equivalent of about 114.530 Euro. The funding agreement stipulated that the remuneration of a full-time employee, working 40 hours a week, including ancillary labour costs, was to be covered by this sum. This employee was Dieter Hahne. These costs amounted to an annual 58.000 DM. The allocation of the remaining sum of 166.000 DM was subject to the condition that a financial plan should be drawn up for the corresponding year, offsetting all expenditure with the expected revenues. “The allocation of the money,” Gebers says „was left to my discretion and, over the last years, was mainly used to finance the concert projects Workshop Freie Musik (until 1998) and the Total Music Meeting (until 1999). In addition to this, until 1995, there was often financial support for the Rathaus concert series and the Summer Music concerts in the Haus am Waldsee.”

So much for the structural and financial setup of FMP at the point in time of Gebers’ decision to wind up the company. Gebers didn’t leave anything to chance and set up a precise plan for his withdrawal which included the following steps: The existing label FMP/Free Music Production should to be taken over by FMP-Publishing, in order to be continued for a limited period of time. The precondition set by Anna Maria Ostendorf was that Gebers should make himself available as person responsible for the production. It was agreed that a distribution partner should be found for the marketing of the CD’s. The sound engineering equipment was to be sold and the Berlin-based company Free Music Production (FMP) was to be wound up.

There were different models for the implementation of this plan. “If we hadn’t found a distribution partner” Gebers remembers, “I would have acted as licensee for the label over the remaining period of time from 2000 to 2002, I would have had a clearance sale and would have brought the CD’s that were in preparation on to the market. This would have been the worst case scenario. The first thought, however, was to affiliate the label to a pre-existing company. After all, it was only about having the CD’s manufactured and distributed as required, on the basis of what had developed over the years. All discussions along these lines, however, turned out to be fairly disillusioning and, ultimately, to no avail.”

In spite of its claim of autonomy with regard contents, however, FMP did not exist in a vacuum. As previously described, it was to a large extent supported by public funding. In 1997, once again, cuts in the Cultural Senate in Berlin were scheduled. Without a doubt, FMP would also have been affected. Gebers, however, got together with Barbara Esser, person in charge at the cultural administration at that time and her co-worker Clemens Teske, announced his withdrawal and described the conceivable scenarios. Esser and Teske promised to keep silent about the plans and exempted FMP from the cuts, “because they didn’t want to take anything away from me anymore, since I was to quit anyway, two years later.”

The first talks with Helma Schleif then took place in 1998. She was saxophonist Wolfgang Fuchs’ partner and thus ideally connected within the free improvised music scene. At that point Gebers had known Helma Schleif for 20 years and trusted her. For the man from FMP, she had the perfect makings for the kind of collaboration he had in mind. “Everybody knew she was hard-working and always on the go. She had the room to set up a storage space and her various different activities provided security for her subsistence.” Gebers and Schleif got together on many occasions until, in the summer of 1999, they reached the agreement that Helma Schleif would take over the marketing of the label’s CD’s.

Specifically, the agreement included the following points:
The taking over of the label through FMP-Publishing.
Helma Schleif to receive an exclusive licensing agreement from the owner of the label, the company FMP-Publishing, for the marketing of the CD’s of the label FMP/Free Music Production. The duration of this agreement was to be five years, with four to twelve new releases per year plus five years of sell-out time.
Helma Schleif acquires from Free Music Production (FMP) the inventory of CD’s (15.255 CD’s & 648 Double CD’s) at a price of DM 6,- per CD and 12,- DM per Double-CD, and, for a lump sum of DM 694.-, a shelving system, ladder, pushcart, parcel scales, together with customer and suppliers addresses. The sum total came to 100.000 DM plus 16% VAT.
Free of charge, Ms Schleif shall receive the existing inventory of CD printed matter, 49.000 booklets and 57.000 inlay cards, 350 promo CD’s, packaging material, CD cases and trays, all FMP files, i.e. customers, media, musicians and sellers as well as the rights of use of the registered and protected names of Free Music Production and Total Music Meeting, however, in both cases only with something added to the names to distinguish them from the original trademarks.

In addition to this, Gebers made arrangements with the Cultural Administration of the Berlin Senate so that Dieter Hahne could continue to be paid for the six months during Helma Schleif’s working-in period. The costs amounted to 28.000 DM. Even though the Senate Department at this point in time did not know who would be taking over the marketing of the label’s CD’s, their decision in this matter was positive and Helma Schleif received a funding agreement for this sum in the year 2000. The venue Podewil wanted to buy the entire sound engineering equipment from FMP. Discussions regarding this matter were already going on and the Cultural Administration had received an application for support.

On November 29, 1999 Gebers and Schleif had an appointment at the Cultural Administration of the Senate with Barbara Esser and Clemens Teske. The idea was for them to get to know Helma Schleif. The plan was also to talk about the details of financing Hahne. Prior to the meeting, Gebers and Schleif had a coffee at the Rosenthaler Platz. To Gebers’ total surprise, Helma Schleif brought up the question if one shouldn’t, after all, broach the subject of further financial support for the Total Music Meeting, with the idea of continuing the Festival together. “At this point, I should have become suspicious,” Gebers rec kons today, “because all our discussions and negotiations since the middle of 1998 were exclusively about the distribution and marketing activities. It was absolutely clear that all live activities would be terminated along with the end of Free Music Production (FMP). A brief consideration and lack of awareness of the fact that there is yet ‘another’ Helma Schleif brought me to consent to this matter. After all, the infrastructure would still be available during the time of liquidation, Dieter Hahne was in Berlin, I would still be there, as well - why not try it?”

During the meeting in the Cultural Administration Gebers then brought up the question about continuing the Total Music Meeting with the corresponding further financial support. Esser and Teske were rather astonished since they knew that Free Music Production (FMP) would not exist anymore and the public funding would therefore be terminated. Consequently their answer was that there would have to be a new application for financial support for a continuation of the Festival.

At the turn of the year 1999/2000 the takeover of the stock of CD’s and fixtures took place. Helma Schleif not only had the keys to Gebers’ offices but also to his flat. Gebers himself had been in Borken since December 18, in order to talk over all the details with Anna Maria Ostendorf and organize the work lying ahead. On January 3, 2000 he returned to Berlin. Schleif and Hahne in the meantime were engaged in listing the inventory and counting the CD’s at Helma Schleif’s place, in order to be able to issue invoices and delivery notes. This work operation was accomplished by Hahne and received and signed by Ms Schleif on January 7, 2000.

Already five days previously, the licensing agreement between FMP-Publishing and Helma Schleif had been put into effect. Ms Schleif, who by then had registered a business, at this point in time operating in accordance with the agreement, as Free Music Production Distribution & Communication. However, after all contracts and delivery notes had been signed, the goods were stored in her premises and the first sales could be carried out, she changed her company name to the effect that she added the abbreviation FMP as prefix. “This was deliberate in order to cause confusion,” Gebers believes today.

Within a short time, she registered the protected name Free Music Production, to which she only held the rights of use, with the addition of “Distribution & Communication”, as her Internet address. On her rapidly compiled website not only were various photos by Dagmar Gebers to be found, but also texts from a leaflet of the writers Bert Noglik, Patrik Landolt and John Corbett from 1993 as well as from an internal paper of Free Music Production (FMP), also from the year 1993. All texts were reproduced in German and English. Jost Gebers: “All this happened without authorisation, of course, in parts significantly adulterated and with additions arbitrarily incorrectly amended. I missed all of this completely because at that time I didn’t have an email address and not even an Internet connection.” What has to be taken into consideration in this respect, says Gebers, is that the Internet boom started in 2000. “The Schleif website with its sometimes extremely misleading information was until 2004, which means for five years, the only website with the URL free-music-production to be found on the Internet. This fact, together with the comments in the direction of musicians about ‘taking over FMP’ had to lead outsiders into assuming that this was the genuine FMP site.”

The consequences were severe. Misleading and wrong information is still to be found on the web up to the present day, which is based on texts and infos of the Schleif site. Some of these statements are also still in circulation in the press. Thus Helma Schleif was referred to as the producer of FMP in the ‘Jungen Welt’ on December 10, 2004, the paper ‘TAZ’, on October 21, 2003, insinuated that Gebers had received a settlement to the amount of just under 100.000 DM from the Cultural Senate, which never existed, and even in November 2008, ‘ZEIT ONLINE’ maintained that the rights of use of the name “Total Music Meeting” which had in fact been provided free of charge had been acquired through purchase by Helma Schleif. The list of these kinds of false reports, based on an exceedingly confusing level of information, could be continued almost ad infinitum. Obviously considerable damage to Gebers’ reputation was the consequence.

Continuous violations of the licensing agreement by Helma Schleif led Anna Maria Ostendorf to terminate the contract without due notice, in 2003. By that time, Helma Schleif had also founded her own label a/l/l. To begin with, she published a CD of Tony Oxley on this label which Gebers had previously completed together with the percussionist, who had then bought it back from FMP-Publishing in order to release it on her label.

Helma Schleif filed a suit against the termination of the contract. What followed was a court case which dragged on for over three and a half years. The District Court of Bielefeld in its decision on May 18, 2006 upheld that the termination was legal. In a second instance, a settlement was reached at the Higher Regional Court of Appeal Hamm on November 21, 2006, defining the following: The duration of a sell-out period of CD’s produced under the terms of the contract, a stock inventory and the return of the print lithos and masters made available for the manufacturing of the CD’s. The stock inventory figures were only handed over after eight months following a debt enforcement against Schleif (resulting in the risk of imprisonment or a fine). Apart from this it transpired that Helma Schleif had stashed away a larger quantity of the original artwork, which was the property of the label, and that had even taken place two days after the actual end of litigation at the Higher Regional Court of Appeal Hamm.

In hindsight, Gebers admits to having made some fairly serious mistakes during the many years of FMP. “All of them were rectified quickly and without greater problems. However, the decision to take on Ms Schleif as business partner was a blatant mistake which everybody involved (Ostendorf, myself and, most of all, the musicians) suffered from and which could not be corrected in any normal manner. In the meantime, it has become clear to a lot of people on the web that FMP can in no way be equated with Schleif and that there is no connection between her label a/l/l and FMP.” And, in 2010, Gebers adds in disbelief: “Ms Schleif still violates the stipulations of the settlement as laid down by the Higher Regional Court of Appeal Hamm, the copyrights (texts, photos) and the competition law by offering CD’s which are no longer available.”

Translation: Thomas Watson

from: Book of the Special Edition FMP in Retrospect

The copyrights remain with the aforesaid sources and/or with the authors.