How to Read a Recording Contract with These Helpful Tips
Reading a recording contract shouldn’t be done alone. It should be looked at not only by yourself, but your management team as well. Take a look at our tips on how to properly read a contract to keep yourself from getting a raw end of the deal.
You might have been able to guess it, but it’s much more likely that a musician will win big playing roulette than that get signed to a label.
However, miracles do happen, and if you’re staring at a record contract, you might be eager to sign, feeling that you’ve made it. However, along with a lawyer and your management team, you should take a long hard look at any recording contract before you sign it.
Here are 6 things to think about before you put pen to paper.
1. Who Owns The Masters?
When you’re looking at your recording contract, pay attention to who ends up owning your master recordings at the end of everything. If you’re forced to give up your masters, you’re getting a raw deal. You should be able to keep the master recordings so that you can do what you want with them in the future.
Owning the masters of your recordings allows you to control the future of your tracks. If you lose control of the masters, someone else could remix your song while the owner makes money off of it.
They could also do whatever they want with the albums that you’ve put together. If they dislike the order of your tracks, they can rearrange them. If they’re going to remaster the songs without any of your backup vocals, they would be able to do that.
2. Publishing Is Everything
If you won the rights to lyrics and the composition of a song, you could make money anytime anyone plays it or if anyone uses a sample of it. If you hear a song strikingly similar to a song you own the publishing rights to, you can get a portion of the profits that another performer is making.
This is the reason why Michale Jackson famously bought the rights to the Beatles catalog in the 1980s.
You can get constant royalties for publishing. When a song is included in a movie or on TV, you’ll get some small percentage. You even get money when the song is played on the radio.
And of course, you’ll get the opportunity to sell the songs to commercials if you own publishing rights. This is one of the reasons that publishing is so coveted. If someone else owns the publishing rights to your song and you play it in a concert, you’ll have to pay them for the right to do it.
You need your contract to keep the publishing rights in your hands or the hands of your estate if something happens to you.
3. See What Fees Are Covered
There are bound to be fees that are incurred as an artist and performer on a label. Before you have the money to pay for everything yourself, your label will be footing the bill for a lot of your set up costs.
In a startup, this would be considered venture capital, an initial investment to be repaid by future success. Record contracts can work the same way. However, you could get substantially less in your contract if you demand an advance up front.
See that you’re not paying for the fees that your label or your manager should be taking care of. While it’s reasonable to be paying them for some small percentage, you shouldn’t be responsible for keeping the lights on.
Just because you’re hot at the moment, doesn’t mean you will be forever and if you’re under pressure to provide for the label, you might not perform well.
4. Don’t Be Fooled By An Advance
As stated above, sometimes an advance can be more trouble than it’s worth. You could be responsible for repaying the advance before you receive anything from your label. During that period, they could be charging you interest for the advance that they made seem like a gift.
If you don’t need your advance, work without one. That will leave you able to work independently and make the decisions you want. After you’ve paid for a product that you know you can stand behind, you can demand the price you want, knowing what you’re worth.
If you’re sitting on hits, don’t just hand them over.
5. Make Sure The Label is Working
The purpose of being signed to a label is to have someone who has connections working for you. Even though you know all the artists you need to know, you don’t know the people who print the best liner notes and the people who distribute to major shops.
Your label should be working for you on distribution and promotion. If there’s a big budget for that in your contract, especially if it’s coming out of your portion, they should be able to show you real results.
Don’t pay for your distribution and promotion. That should be your label’s job.
6. Do You Get Multiple Records?
Usually, record labels will try to sign you for more albums at a lower price that you might be able to make per single album. If you have a proven track record and only expect to grow over time, you could ask for a higher price or sign a one-album deal.
Otherwise, you might be tempted by the multiple-album deal because of the money it offers.
It’s not a bad idea to sign on for a multiple-album deal if you get along with your label. It’s rare these days to find a label who will help an artist grow and thrive. However, if you feel like your label is prepared to do that, you should stick around for as long as that will last.
You’ll come out the other end a better musician.
A Recording Contract is a Blessing and a Curse
Having a recording contract offers you untold security as an artist. You’ll be able to sleep at night knowing that you’ve got a paycheck coming in. However, if you want to jump on your friend’s track for fun, you might have some roadblocks ahead of you.
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