It’s easy to get caught up in the buzz of your music career taking flight, so here are five reality checks to ensure a record deal and label are a good fit.
Congratulations! All those long nights of band practice and hours of perfecting your sound have paid off: you’ve landed your first record deal! It’s every music artist’s dream. Or is it? While garnering interest from a record label can be a definite sign of success, actually signing the contract comes with its own caveats. Once the initial excitement has worn off, you’ll be left with some big decisions about the future of your music and yourself as an artist. Before signing on the dotted line, here are five things you should do.
1. Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate
Contracts are meant to be negotiated. Many musicians who are just starting out don’t realize they have no obligation to accept the contract in its original draft. In fact, a record label will usually design a contract to favor them and expect the artist to ask for a revision. This is your chance to negotiate any numbers or details that you aren’t willing to commit to. Take advantage of this and come back with a counter offer. After all, this is your music and your music career, and you don’t want to compromise the integrity of your work just so someone else can make money off of it! A contract is a partnership, and it must be mutually beneficial for everyone involved for there to be any chance of it leading to a long-lasting, profitable relationship.
2. Hire legal counsel
It is always a good idea to get legal representation before entering into a binding agreement with another party. Signing a contract is a huge deal and not something that should be taken lightly – don’t just assume the honesty and integrity of the record company. Protect yourself and your music by letting a third party decipher the legal jargon you may not understand. And should things go south, you’ll be covered against legal battles that arise. To avoid any conflicts of interest, make sure you hire your own attorney, not one that has been recommended for you by the label.
3. Audit the record label
Unfortunately, record labels essentially have all the power when it comes to your pay day. Though there is a lot of trust involved in a working relationship with your record label, you can’t always be certain it’s being 100% transparent about sales volume and royalty payments. That’s why it’s a good idea audit the company so you have a record of exactly how much you should be making. If you believe you are being underpaid or sales are being misreported, looking into an audit is worth it – though it’s time consuming and costly. Be sure you’re out a large sum of money before going to the bank, otherwise the label could penalize you.
4. Understand your rights
Though signing a record deal is an exciting and momentous experience, one of the biggest negative connotations comes from the fact that artists are often asked to give up some of their creative freedom. You may find that your input will be limited on things like video production and direction, publishing, recording budget, remixes, song selection, style, and the artwork associated with the album and merch. To combat this, work to obtain a right of consultation to retain some sort of creative control in each aspect of the contract.
5. Anticipate termination
This sounds silly, but it helps to envision what the end of the road could look like when the contract expires or terminates. How long is the term of the contract? Under what circumstances can the record company terminate the contract? What will happen if your band splits up or one member goes solo? Preparing for all of these scenarios will help avoid any unnecessary conflict or misunderstandings later on.
If you’ve made certain the record deal and the label are both a good fit for you and your music, you’re ready to take the leap and embark on this new journey. It’s easy to get caught up in all the buzz and chaos of your music career taking flight, but don’t lose sight of why you first started. After all, you made it here by being yourself and creating music that makes you happy – and that’s the most important thing!
If you’re a musician interested in learning more about beginning or advancing a successful music career, check out The Music Building in NYC and consider renting your own rehearsal studio space. The Music Building has helped music professionals and recording artists reach their full potential and develop their musical pursuits.
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