Contracts in the music business

LESSON 3. Contracts

A contract is an obligation to do or not to do a something. It could be an action like paying for studio time, getting paid for a performance, or even transferring ownership in your copyright.

A valid agreement comes into being when:

  1. There is consensus: you understand each other
  2. Performance is possible: your obligation can be achieved physically and legally
  3. You have capacity: your can create legal relationships and are not underage, insolvent or insane
  4. Required formalities: for example, the transfer of ownership of copyright has to be in writing.

The major agreements you may encounter when you begin in the music industries are:

  • Songwriter and performer royalty splits (you pay for recordings)
  • Digital aggregation (to get those recordings into online stores)
  • Live performances (when artists get gigs)

Later, you may be asked to agree to:

  • a music publishing contract (for your music)
  • a recording agreement (to perform on a recording paid for by someone else)
  • a booking agent agreement (when you’re can’t book your own gigs anymore)
  • a publicist agreement (when you can’t handle the heat from social media anymore)

Be careful, as sometimes contracts can include a variety of rights. Take a look at this contract that gives ownership to both sound recordings (master) and music / literary works in favour of the record label (owner) with a royalty split to a performer / songwriter.

Listen to Mark Friedman, Nick Matzukis, Jonathan Shaw and Ivor Haarburger (2011)

Lesson 3. Questions

3.1 Which formality is required for the transfer of ownership of copyright?
3.2 What are the requirements for a valid contract?
3.3 Which contracts will you need to enter into when you start your career in the music business?

Back to lesson 2?

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