First Time Deals
General Introduction to Music Law
My name is Elliot Chalmers. I am music law adviser with a passion for music. I deal with record deals; management contracts letters of agreement, indie deals and small publishing agreements in the Brighton and London area.
I have always known that music law would interest me most. This isn’t because it’s easy and leads to meeting famous musicians although that is good ! I enjoy explaining and translating the law to musicians who often care little about such things. I always emphasise though that at any level of performing and writing music, it is essential to have knowledge of the law. No longer can you get a gig without some form of document involved, even a “gentlemen’s handshake” can have repercussions. The minute a song is written it is important to be aware of the rights that are created and the protection the writer has from anyone else (band member, manager etc…)
I have found that the actual law that governs contracts gives record companies a lot of scope and in some cases bands are likely to be fooled by cleverly worded clauses. Often the simplest looking clauses can lead to problems. Below are some examples taken from real recording deals that illustrate the potential problems that an artist may encounter :
One of the main issues that an artist must be aware of is the assignment of their rights. Under U.K. Law any composer/ singer/performer will attain various types of rights that relate to their work. These can include moral rights for composers to performance rights for live appearances. It is very important as an artist to be aware of all rights that you will initially own. It is therefore worth having a look at a copy of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 (Part II) and noting the sections that relate to you. With the majority of Record deals it is commonplace for the record company to have control over all artists rights in order to properly exploit the artists work. Below is a stock example of the beginning of a rights clause:
The artist assigns to the Company with full title guarantee all rights (including but not by way of limitation audio-visual rights) in all master recordings made by the artist during the term
As you can see the Record Company requires these rights in order to release and then distribute the work. It is important for the artist to realise that these rights only refer to those in the music made within the timescale of the contract. So all other music written or performed before the deal will remain the artists and cannot be exploited by the record company unless expressly stated. If though the last three words were missing from the above clause then the Company would have rights over all previous work done by the artist. This could be a major issue as that artist may have assigned those rights to someone else or simply not want earlier material to ever be heard!
Many first Recording deals will have various options that are bound to excite the budding new artist but may only be in the contract to fool them. An option is a common legal tool that gives the Company the choice to continue “plugging” the artist if their early releases are successful. This sounds fair enough but can lead to an artist effectively being dropped but still bound to the label for a number of years. An example of this can be seen below. Here is a clause dealing with release targets which may appear to contract the artist to a long term album deal but could allow the company to back out after the first single:
The Company shall release an Album within 4 months of delivery by the Artist and shall use its reasonable endeavours to procure its release dependant on the commercial success of the first single
This is a commonly worded clause in which the Record Company has an option to release an album but only dependant on a single commercial success. It is obviously important to define success so you would want some measure such as sales figures stated in the contract. For a first deal though you are unlikely to have such a definition. It is thus vital that there is a clause stating that if no album is released then you the artist can terminate the contract. There may be details of an album and further singles in the clause but this may not be enforceable due to the way the clause has been drafted. This can cause a major problem to the artist, as they will be bound by the contract and unable to record for anyone else.
When advising an artist I make sure that they are comfortable with every aspect of the legal issue. Unlike some lawyers I will not hide any details or try to cover them up I will explain them fully and come to a conclusion with them. This makes the artist realise how simple many of the clauses are once they’ve been decoded! It is amazing how interested they then become. With this knowledge you can avoid any problems that get in the way of the most important thing-the music! As you have seen from these simple examples there are many pitfalls in a Recording Deal especially if it is your first one.
Elliot Chalmers © Copyright 2006