A Legal Assist for Audio: “The 11 Contracts that Every Artist, Songwriter, and Producer Should Know”

Let’s face it: When it comes to navigating the legal side of their careers, audio pros can feel uneasy.

Contracts are a reality in any industry where people are doing serious business, but they can be extremely intimidating to anyone who hasn’t been trained to speak the Language of Lawyer. Fortunately, a welcome resource has arrived via a new book by entertainment attorney Steve Gordon, The 11 Contracts that Every Artist, Songwriter, and Producer Should Know (Hal Leonard).

“The 11 Contracts” by Steve Gordon is now available from publisher Hal Leonard.

With previous books and 20 years of industry experience under his belt, Gordon is well-versed in explaining law to creative types, and it shows in 11 Contracts. He uses a plain-spoken, approachable style to introduce each contract and then explain each passage as he goes, making it clear which terms are favorable, as well as which ones should be avoided at all costs — as in Chapter 2, “The Contract from Hell Which No Artist Should Sign.” Readers don’t just get examples here, they’re getting real guidance.

As recording studios evolve to encompass publishing houses and labels under their aegis, studio owners, audio engineers and producers alike will benefit from the various agreements Gordon covers, finding solid templates for the deals they may wish to offer, as well as be offered. Included in 11 Contracts are Management Agreements, Production Company and New Artist, Indie Label Deals, Sync Licenses, Producer Agreements, Music Publishing Deals, Composer Agreements, Live Performance Contracts, Music Video Production Contracts, Band Agreements and more. Extensive online companion content is available with each book purchase.

Written from the Real World

For Gordon, writing 11 Contracts was an opportunity to cover previously uncharted territory. “I often get new clients who are emerging artists, songwriters and producers,” he explains. “The inspiration for the book was my actual practice, and dealing with these new or emerging singer/songwriters/producers. My objective was to help people like them deal with contracts they are likely to encounter in their careers.

“If you look online for an artist, management, producer or any other type of music business agreement, you’re probably not going to find anything, because I’ve looked,” Gordon continues. “So this book provides, perhaps, the only place where you can actually see what these agreements look like. I give you the form — but I also explain it, with introductions, and annotations for all the key provisions. You not only have a form of agreement, you know what it means.”

In Gordon’s view, there are clear best- and worst-case scenarios that music producers in particular contend with when it comes to legal matters. “In regard to producers, the worst that can happen is that they contribute to creating a song and do not get proper credit for it, and the financial remuneration that comes from, writing a song,” he says. “The best thing that can happen is if they do.  A commercially successful record can make money in a variety of ways. Generally a producer will get a royalty of 3% to 5% for sales of a record. But the producer can do much better if he or she also has a share of the underlying musical composition. This is because radio, TV, and other music users pay songwriters for the public performance of songs — not recordings. They pay collection societies known as Public Performance Organizations or “PROs” and the PROs pay the songwriters.

“In the U.S., the three PROs, that is, ASCAP, BMI and SESAC collectively received approximately two billion dollars last year for the public performance of songs. If a producer does not receive songwriter credit in their contract, the producer will not be entitled to any of this revenue.”

Today’s pro audio hybrids — those who are songwriters, engineers, mixers and producers all in one — will also benefit from entries like Chapter 10, “Essential Business Actions,” which go beyond explaining contracts.

“That chapter is on business steps that an artist, songwriter and producer can and should do for those people who don’t have the wherewithal to hire an attorney,” he notes. “If, for instance, the reader is a songwriter or producer who creates new songs, they should become members of ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC. They are all free or charge a nominal amount to join, and without them you can’t get paid for your performance of your songs on radio or television as well as the Internet. Also if you join any of these PROs they will pay you for your live performance of your songs if you provide them a set list. I have a client who got paid $1250 each quarter from doing this with SESAC. But BMI and ASCAP have this program as well…

“Another example of a suggestion that I make in this chapter is to register your music with the U.S. Copyright Office. It’s pretty easy to do. You don’t need a lawyer. Just read the instructions at http://www.copyright.gov, and for $35 you can register your song. For $55, you can register a group of your songs. And the reason that this is important is because without registration, you can’t start a suit for copyright infringement, and if you register before an infringement occurs, you will also be entitled benefits of attorney’s fees and up to $150,000 in statutory damages.”

The book’s introduction, as well as a portion of Chapter 5, “Three Contracts Every Music Producer Should Know; How Artists Should Deal with Producers and What a Producer Should Ask for” are excerpted with the author’s permission below.

INTRODUCTION

There are usually two basic versions of even a simple agreement in the music business: one that represents the best interests of creators, including artists, songwriters, and producers, and another that represents the interests of the companies that do business with them, such as record labels, publishers, and managers.  These parties frequently have different or even opposite objectives.  For instance, record labels often will try to tap into artists’ income beyond record sales, such as monies from live performances, merchandise, and music publishing.  However, it is in the artist’s best interest to retain as much income from these other sources as possible.

Other agreements, however, such as contracts between co-songwriters or band members, are meant to delineate the rights and duties of similarly situated individuals in order to avoid disputes that might otherwise arise.  But, even with regard to these agreements, the parties may wish for different things.

In this book, I present the contracts you are most likely to encounter in your music career.  This book also provides introductions on each kind of agreement and commentary inserted into the contracts themselves so that you can understand exactly what you are agreeing to.

I focus on the types of agreements typically offered to indie artists, songwriters, and producers taking the step to the next level of their careers.  By the time you are offered a deal with a major record label or publisher, if that ever happens, you will be able to pay for the services of an experienced music attorney, or the company may even advance you additional funds to pay for a lawyer.  This book is intended to help you on your journey, wherever it may lead.

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