Should you have a music contract?
The answer is YES. With all of the lawyers, recording studio representatives, publishers, agents, and you each having a vested interest in the success of your project, there are an awful lot of fingers in the financial pie. Before you sign on the dotted line, make sure that your interests have been properly considered and that you’re happy with the present and future financial payout that you’ll receive for your work.
Long ago artists whose work has gone on to earn billions have subsequently kicked themselves (and their agents!) for not negotiating a deal that gives them a profitable share of what may have become a megahit. Modern courts have been the arena of many a disgruntled artist vying for his/her share of the profits from a past work. Negotiate a great music contract now, and you’ll save yourself a lot of time, money, and hassle down the road should your participation in the project raise the earnings of that project significantly.
Any time that an agreement is negotiated or renegotiated, get it into the music contract and require the signatures of everyone involved on the agreement document. This will help everyone avoid any misconceptions about where you stand or what’s involved in the agreement.
Let's take a look at some important points a music contract should include,
Who Really Owns the Work
Unless you sell the copyright to your work, you own it… period. And, there are many variations in copyright sales. You can sell a share of the rights, sell the rights outright, and/or sell a copyright for only a certain length of time after which the rights to the work will revert back to you. Since the negotiations and nuances of film and television deals can be quite complicated, it’s best to get your questions answered to your satisfaction and clear up any discrepancies before you sign a contract or agreement. Once you’ve signed, it’s too late!
And, it’s important to understand the difference between a copyright and usage rights. A copyright assigns full ownership of the work and usage rights only permit the “use” of the work for what may be a limited or wide exposure. For instance, if a television studio purchases the rights to your work for use in a made-for-TV movie, they can’t automatically include that work in a series created as a result of the popularity of the movie unless the music contract you have negotiated with them indicates that they can.
In the case of a series pilot, future rights might be part of the deal so make sure that you understand how and in what cases your work can be used and what you’ll receive payment for.
Occasionally copyright negotiations and rights deals can prevent you from marketing your work to other prospective buyers. It’s important to understand how your music contract with one party will affect your ability to negotiate a record deal for example. And, it’s important for you to be aware of how you’ll be paid for your work. For instance, will you receive a lump sum payment, an advance, yearly payments, royalties, etc.
Most of the time, deals are non-exclusive which means that you’ll be free to assign the rights to your work to a third party without penalty. Additionally, many established artists require, and receive, an advance on future royalties. For the most part, this is not a perk awarded to new artists since their ability to produce and supply music to the big crowds have not yet been established.
However, once you’ve written several successful songs, received awards and acclaim for your work, and/or been a primary factor in the sale of soundtracks, you’ll be able to leverage a sizeable advance on your work. So, as you sign on the dotted line, remember that it is the consumer who has the final say so as they sign those credit card receipts for the purchase of the music..
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