By SHAWN MACOMBER
Sunday Citizen Correspondent
pictured, owns Exeter Records on the Wall, a business that
polices the use of recorded music for an impressive list of
Jon Hichbornís Exeter Records on the Wall office is as hip as
Planet of the Apes figurines look down at his desk with frozen
plastic primate eyes (characters from the original í60ís series,
that is, not the excessively unhip remake, he notes). Backstage
passes from various concerts flutter in front of the air
conditioner. There are framed pictures of Twisted Sister in
performance, and signed pictures of a couple younger acts Hichborn
promises will be "huge one day very, very soon," on the wall.
Literally thousands of CDs and DVDs are stacked neatly in bookcases.
But Hichborn also has something most people donít have: Gold and
Platinum records hanging on the wall. And he didnít get them on
eBay, either. The records are from his years as a music supervisor
at Universal Studios, where he oversaw the selection of music that
made its way onto the soundtracks of such seminal TV shows and films
as "Miami Vice," "Knight Rider," "Back to the Future," and "The
At Universal Studios Hichborn tracked down artists whose music he
wanted to use, and bought the rights allowing him to do so. The
payment, a "royalty" in music industry parlance, gives artists a
small percentage of every sale of a project in which their music
Hichborn learned the royalty system inside and out during his
four years at Universal Studios. And today this former insider uses
his knowledge on the outside to help musicians, often unsavvy
businessmen, get their due.
His fierce advocacy on behalf of artists has earned him the
nickname "the royalty bounty hunter."
"You have to be in this because you love the music, otherwise
youíd go crazy with the details of it all," said Hichborn, whose
wife Lisa is part owner of the business. "Itís incredibly sad that
so often the artists who create the music have the least to show for
it. If I can help, in any way, an artist get what is due them, I
will do it."
To many musicians, Hichborn has become a heroic figure, the one
person who has taken their plight seriously. Take for example the
case of Allen Wentz, former member of the band Wild Cherry, whose
1976 "Play that Funky Music" continues to this day to be a staple on
the radio and at Vanilla Ice concerts. (Yes, Vanilla Ice still
tours, even if heís only playing to eight very confused people.)
"Basically we got screwed, and saw very little money from that
song," Wentz said. "We were young and stupid and signed bad
contracts. You want to be a rock star all your life, and somebody
who can make it happen puts a piece of paper in front of you. Youíre
not going to read the fine print."
With statute of limitations laws being what they are, Hichborn
cannot really go back much further than three years. But moving
forward, "Play that Funky Music" continues to be a popular song on
compilations and in film.
"It was amazing luck that we found Jon," Wentz said. "Heís really
fought for us, and for the first time Iím actually seeing some
Hichborn said the problem of unpaid royalties goes unnoticed, at
least in part, because it goes against the grain of what most people
believe about celebrities.
"People generally believe that everyone in entertainment is
filthy rich," he said. "What most people donít realize is that
eventually the artist is expected to pay for everything. They get
big advances, but the record company expects to be paid back for the
recording, the advertising, tour expenses, everything. Every penny
they put out, the band eventually has to put back in.
"And when itís all said and done, the record company owns the
rights to the finished products," he said. "It just seems so unfair.
How many things do you buy and donít own?"
To understand the present, you must first revisit the past.
"When I was 16 a very good friend of mine told me if I didnít
know anything about music, no girl would ever have anything to do
with me," he said. "He gave me an Aerosmith record and a Kiss
record, and I was just blown away."
(In a case of things really coming full circle, Hichborn recently
took his 10-year-old son to his first concert ó An Aerosmith-Kiss
During high school and throughout college Hichborn, stayed as
close to the music as he could, playing DJ at frat parties,
weddings, anywhere people would pay him to spin records, really.
Connections made during those days led to the job with Universal
Studios, where he was immediately thrust into the strange, exciting
world of entertainment.
On one of his first days he went to meet with a client, who
turned out to be Burt Reynolds.
"I had a lot of fun putting music to movies and television,"
Hichborn said. "But music is the last thing that gets put on a
project. So the budget is always running out, and time is always
running out, and you really just have to be able to work well under
All good things must come to an end, however. In 1988 Universal
Studios brought in a new president with a new staff, and Hichborn
found himself beating the streets for a job. After a short,
unfulfilling foray into the world of talent management, Hichborn
answered a music publisherís ad in Billboard Magazine. That man,
Stephen LaVere, was a former insurance agent and a blues and jazz
LaVere had a "gut feeling" that blues legend Robert Johnsonís
songs were not in a part of the public domain as everyone thought at
the time. And if the songs werenít public domain, a lot of money was
owed to Johnsonís heirs.
"It turned out LaVereís hunch was right," Hichborn said. "It was
quite a task, but we eventually collected in the neighborhood of
seven figures for the Johnson estate."
Hichborn learned a lot from the experience, and believed there
were probably a lot of artists out there facing similar problems. He
decided to start his own business and based on word of mouth he has
picked such luminous clients as Dr. John, Foghat, Bob Welch,
one-time member of Fleetwood Mac, and Spiral Starecase.
"I feel like you canít go forward without fixing the past,"
Hichborn said. "Musicians and publishers donít have the time to
search for discrepancies in their royalty reports. If they did, I
wouldnít have this business. Iíd probably be working somewhere as a
florist or something."
Hichborn has created a huge database of his clients, their songs
and who those songs are licensed out to. Then he scours the
Internet, magazines and movies for music his clients arenít being
Hichbornís prey may be an obscure Robert Johnson cover on an Eric
Clapton record, or a clientís song used as background music for a
"Itís a lot of detective work," he said. "Itís very gratifying
when I uncover something a client isnít being paid for. Sometimes
itís just dumb luck, a fluke, being in the right place at the right
time ó like seeing a commercial when I should be sleeping with a
clientís song in it. Youíve got to always keep your eyes open."
Hichborn then calls the distributor or record company and asks
them to rectify the problem. It takes persistence and firmness, but
in the end most people want to do the right thing, Hichborn said.
Not that it matters much to him.
"Whatever the reason, it goes in one ear and out the other," he
said. "IĎm not here to judge them. I donĎt care if it was an honest
mistake, or if they were trying to rip my client off. I just want to
get someone on the phone and get my client paid."
Hichborn maintains an office in Los Angles and keeps himself a
presence in Nashville and New York City, as well. But when it came
time to find a place to base Records on the Wall, Hichborn came back
to New Hampshire where he had spent summers as a child with his
grandmother in Andover.
"California is just such a transient culture," he said. "Everyone
you meet is in the entertainment business. You donít want to raise
children in Los Angeles, thatís for sure. So we came here. We love
it here. And with communications technology being what it is, being
here has not hurt business one iota."
The community has embraced Hichborn, as well, making him a panel
judge for last yearís Seacoast Idol contest. As for future plans,
Hichborn hopes to continue working with musicians and enjoying the
fringe benefits of his trade ó free concerts and CDs. He would also
like to work with a certain rock group from Boston.
"Thereís so much money Aerosmith isnít collecting, I just know
it," he said. "Steven Tyler talks about all the bootlegs of their
stuff he sees on tour. But thereís a lot of layers to get through to
present an idea to that group. Managers and all sorts of people.
"Iím just going to have to wait for an opportunity to arise for
me to make my case personally," he said fancifully, obviously
relishing the idea. "You know what? One day Iím going to sign those
bad boys from Boston."
For more information visit www.royaltytracking.com or call