Legendary music producer Steve Albini starts off his essay “The Problem with Music” with a metaphor about bands swimming across a feces filled trench while fighting with other bands to be able to sign a record contract held by a record industry man standing on the other side. A little over the top? A little vulgar? Yes and yes (and it doesn’t really get any cleaner as the essay continues). But it does illustrate the importance of knowing what the contracts you sign actually say. As he says in the essay, “nobody can see what’s printed on the contract,” but the bands are eager to sign, anyway—because it’s a major label.
No stranger to working with bands on major labels, Albini made his name producing the likes of Nirvana, PJ Harvey and Cheap Trick, amongst many others. “The Problem with Music” eventually delves into a fairly cynical rant about how all major label contracts these days just end up putting the band that signed them in debt. While this is not necessarily true, it does point out certain points to review in any contract you’re signing that can serve as warning signs that the awesome deal you seem to be getting may actually just be a ditch full of poo.