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Contracts In The Music Business – How To Manage Contracts The Best Way

Contracts in the music business are arguably the base of it all. Copyright law was first internationally established in 1886 with the Berne Convention (Switzerland).

It was probably one of the first internationally agreed laws in order to protect artistic works. Since then, a lot has changed. Or has it? To this day contracts build the foundation in order to earn money with your music.

What is more, it also builds the basis of your professional relationships. How long will your record label be able to sell your music? What rights is the publisher administering? What percentages of your income will your manager get?

It’s best if you write down those important steps with contracts. Here’s the thing: musicians are highly creative people. Signing a contract can feel like a limitation to their artistic expression.

Important to realize, however, even if you don’t sign a legal contract, you still will enter a verbal contract anyway. This is crazy, verbal contracts are really to be aware of.

Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer. However, in my time in the music industry, I’ve written a lot of contracts myself. Now, in my job as a consultant, I help musicians a lot of times with contractual questions.

Contracts in the music industry are one of those hidden topics nobody likes to talk about. Nevertheless, you only ever hear people asking for advice when things already went wrong.

In this post, I’ll try and layout actions you can take today to handle contract management like a pro! Experience is one thing you can’t get for nothing, read on to learn more about contracts in the music industry.

How to set up proper contracts management

This might sound like a total obvious move, store your contracts in one folder! I know this is a literal facepalm. However, you wouldn’t believe how often I have been asked for advice only to find out that there isn’t a coherent way of managing contracts.

In the first place, proper contracts management must not break your bank. Get a simply folder from the Cent Shop.

Collect all your music industry contract together. Now sort them after fields like record label contracts or publishing agreements. Make sure to also sort them after the date of signature. That way you can easily browse your folder.

One thing to keep in mind is that nowadays a lot of contracts are mailed via the internet. Make a point and always print them immediately. Nothing is worst than having a problem and now you need to get through all your mail in order to fish out your contracts.

Create a cover page for your folder!

Moreover, create a cover page for your contracts folder. Here, list all contracts either in alphabetical order or after the date of signature. Next, mark the contact person for each contract. This can be a life-saver in a later time when you need to talk to a representative about your contract.

Make sure you have contact details that will also work in some time. That means, write your contact and perhaps the boss as well as the companies general information. People can change their job, make sure you have contact details even if you need to get back in ten years.

As a matter of fact, one of the most disputed issues is the term of the contract. How long will it run? Mark this behind every contract on your cover page.

This way you always have an overview of your contracts in the music industry. Even the smallest remix head of agreement can get you into trouble if you want to reuse the track at a later time. Given you don’t know or remember the exact terms and conditions.

Important to realize, most musicians work in the industry for a long time. Before you think twice you have contracts that have been signed ten or more years ago.

Again, proper contracts management will help you to always know what is going on, even in ten or twenty years time. This is one of the careless things a lot of young musicians do.

Surely, if you only just have signed your first contract, you won’t think you need contracts management. However, before you think twice you have signed a record label contract, a publishing agreement and also a management contract.

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Always let your contracts being checked by a lawyer before you sign them!

After all, contracts are the base on which you will earn most of your money in the music industry. Yes, there is Patreon and Bandcamp.

However, it’s still industry standard to work on a contractual basis. Make sure to always consult a music industry lawyer before you sign anything.

I hear you, lawyers can be expensive. Important to realize, many music industry support networks like Music Pool in Berlin offer very affordable lawyer consultation.

As ever, rather spend some extra cash on a good lawyer then loosing money with a bad contract!