Considering signing a record contract? Here's some advice
from Prince - don't do it. NPR reports that in a recent meeting
with journalists Prince said "record contracts are just like
– I'm gonna say the word - slavery".
It seems that Prince doesn't understand the concept of
slavery, because last time I checked it didn't involve getting
paid millions. In any case, Prince has had a number of very public
disputes with record companies, so it's not surprising that he
feels this way. Then again, it's easy for Prince and other high
profile artists to tell people not to enter into a record contract.
After all, he's one of the top selling artists of all time so
he's hardly trying to get his name out there.
So what can record companies offer artists? Record companies develop,
record, promote and distribute music recordings. This was
particularly useful in pre-internet, pre-digital times. These days,
however, there are plenty of alternatives for producing and
releasing music without a record company. It used to be pricey
producing music with analogue technology, but in the last couple of
decades cheap recording tools have come about thanks to
improvements in digital technology.
Not only that, the historic functions of record companies can be
easily performed independently via the internet – think of
sites like bandcamp, facebook and streaming aggregators. However,
keep in mind these internet services have their own contracts and
other legal considerations. Historically, artists have
relied on major record companies to generate the exposure needed to
succeed in the music business. These days the internet makes it
easier to spread the word about your great (or terrible/average)
While it's not necessary for artists these days to sign to a
record label, there are still benefits for artists such as
expertise in music promotion and established distribution networks.
At the end of the day,
as an artist it comes down to what you want to achieve and how you
want to get there. It certainly doesn't hurt to have more
With all this in mind, let's consider the consequence of
getting into a record contract. To put it simply, a contract is an
agreement. If properly formed, a contract is legally enforceable,
which means if a party to the contract does not do what they agreed
to in the contract, the other party can enforce the agreement by
suing. A record contract provides the security and framework that
is required in a relationship between an artist and record company
in order to create and market recordings. At law, generally once
you sign a contract – even if you don't understand what
you are signing or didn't even read it – you are bound by
it. If you are considering a potential record contract and you go
cross eyed when you try to understand it, but still sign,
you're most likely to be locked in even if it is a bad deal for
you and your music. This is why it is important to have a lawyer to
help interpret the contract before you sign it. A lawyer can
explain the reason behind and effect of each term in a contract,
and help you negotiate terms. At the end of the day, the best way
to prevent so called "slavery" is to understand the terms
of the contract – if entering into a record deal is the path
you decide to take.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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Do not depart from the contract terms, or encourage the other party to do so, unless you plan to alter the contract.
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