Written by US Music Attorney with 20 Years Experience
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A Look At Music Contracts
It has been said that a verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. And for many bands, singers, DJs, producers and many others whose work is in a creative field, it’s often easier to just have that verbal agreement than to worry about the financial aspects of their art. Too many times, however, the lack of a written contract has cost artists money, ownership of their work and, in some cases, even their careers. Music contracts are too important to overlook just because it seems easier to trust that those working around you will always do what they say they’re going to do.
And the world of music contracts (and any legal contract) is a convoluted one, filled with dense legalese that often can be hard to wade through by anyone without a law degree. But these contracts are ones that you will have to not only read, but also understand as you enter into partnerships and working relationships with others to help your career grow. Often, you will find you need a lawyer to look over the contracts to ensure that you understand exactly what you are signing, and that the contract will be a benefit to your art. When your career reaches a point that you need to employ an entertainment lawyer, you will even need a contract for your lawyer’s services. Though the amount of contracts is seemingly endless, once you begin to recognize your needs, you realize just how helpful these contracts will be in the future success of your career.
In the following section, we’ll lay out some typical cases in which you need certain types of contracts. This is by no means a comprehensive list, and it will vary from artist to artist, but it will give you an idea of what contracts you’ll need and when in your career that you will need them.
Band Partnership Agreements
If you’re in a band, this should be one of your starting points as you begin to look at making a career of music. Your best buddies may be in the band with you, but even the best of friends find ways to fight over money and song rights.
Managers can play many different roles depending on artist type and success level, but as soon as your career succeeds to a level that you need someone on the outside to look after the affairs of your career, it’s time to find an manager and ensure, with a Manager Contract, that everyone agrees to work for fair terms.
Record Label Contracts
Oh, the dream…that elusive record deal. You’ve been starry-eyed over this one since you first strummed a guitar (or sang into a mic, or sat behind a piano, etc.). But these can be some of the most dangerous and career killing pieces of paper out there. Record companies, no matter how dedicated to their artists, exist to make money, and tales of artists’ careers dying at the hands of a record label are all to common. On the other hand, a good contract is still the dream, and record contacts make dreams come true, as long as you understand what’s in it for you.
These contracts are important whether your songs are being recorded by someone else or if it’s your own band performing the songs. From the outset, a contract should specifically state who wrote what percentage of each song; this will help prevent fights and lawsuits when the money starts coming in later.
Again, this is by no means all the contracts that should be looked at, nor is it all the contracts available on this site. But it should start you thinking about which contracts you will need as your career progresses, and how to ensure you get a good deal on each one you sign.