You get a band together, book gigs, learn how to sell your music on iTunes, get discovered, and receive an offer for a record deal. This might seem like a dream come true – but are you sure you should accept the deal? Being locked into a bad contract can be worse than not having one at all, and it can make or break your career. Here is what to look for and what to avoid when signing a record deal.
Do: Sign a deal with a label that (genuinely) cares about your music
There’s a big debate over whether signing with an indie or major label is better, or whether truly indie labels even exist. Whether you are considering a large or small label, make sure they genuinely like your music, want put it out there, and want to help you succeed. This may seem like a no-brainer, but a lot of labels are more concerned with profits and producing music that is radio-ready rather than music you actually want to make. A positive, supportive staff at the label is extremely important.
Do: Keep the rights to your music
If you sign a contract that gives the label control over your masters, they can do anything they want with them – place your songs in movies, tv shows, commericals, and more – and not have to pay you a dime. They can also retain control over your music even after you leave the label. There are a few ways you can avoid giving up your rights. You can make a revenue sharing deal, pay to record your own album and count on the label only for distribution, or agree to have your master rights given back to you after a certain period of time. There are many options, but you should make sure to retain master rights in some way.
Do: Understand what the label is allowed to recoup
Some record companies will spend money to record your album – then take the profits from selling said album until they have been repaid for their investment. If the label spends 100,000 recording the album, and it only makes 90,000, you won’t see any profits. Don’t let yourself be blindsided by a provision like this, and make sure the terms are favorable to you.
Do: Ask for help
Getting a lawyer is recommended, as a record deal is a legal contract and can be very complicated, and lawyers understand industry terms that labels use that you might not be familiar with. Friends, family, and colleagues who have been through the process or have insights to provide are invaluable resources as well.
Don’t: Get locked into a long term commitment
There are countless examples of musicians and bands who become unhappy with their labels but are unable to leave, sometimes for years, due to contractual obligation. Record deals that have limited options are always better, and you should try to get a deal that specifies a length of time rather than a number of albums. If the label has the option to extend your contract, they can – even if you don’t want to. And if you are obligated to produce a certain number of albums and the record label delays production, you could be stuck.
Don’t: Sign a 360 deal
Some industry experts say that sometimes 360 deals can be favorable if artists sign them under certain circumstances and with caution, but we think it is better to just avoid this risk altogether. A 360 deal means the label takes a certain percentage from everything you do, including advertisements, live shows, merchandise sales, appearances on talk shows – everything. As an indie musician, this would be a very restrictive contract and unlikely to provide much profit once the label takes their cut.
Don’t: Be afraid to turn it down
More and more indie artists are choosing to remain unsigned, and are doing so successfully. A record deal might seem like the Holy Grail you’ve been working to find, but if the terms are unfavorable, don’t feel obligated to sign your life away to something you could regret. Music distributors like SongCast will help you learn how to sell your music on iTunes, streaming services, and on other platforms, and getting publicity is easier than ever with social media. So be sure to make the right decision or you and your bandmates, and choose the path that allows you to succeed as an artist.
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