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Recent news stories have re-ignited the belief that the music business is still an unfair world that heavily favours label bosses and executives. Despite a resurgence in the mid nineties and a record high in new bands being offered deals it seems that we are back to the "good old days" of the eighties when bands were being exploited without even realising it. It all boils down to profits. When labels are making lots of money they will offer more deals that are considerably fairer with long term benefits. When less money is being made, labels will offer fewer deals that are far less credible. So even if you are offered a deal it is likely to contain terms that are hugely different to those offered during a more prosperous time.

It seems that this pattern has infiltrated many genres of music most notably dance. Back in the early eighties new emerging artists such as Steve "Silk" Hurley and Farley Jackmaster Funk were signing deals that literally gave them nothing but the chance to get their music heard. The label bosses openly admitted that they were taking all the Royalties and Profits and simply paid the artists a small weekly wage. These artists obviously went on to become hugely popular, as the music was so fresh and groundbreaking. That is not the case now for many new bands that are being offered similar deals only to see nothing come of it.

The current pattern of the industry means that things will change but it is so important now to make sure a deal offered does give the band a chance of success. Bands must be aware of the clauses to look out for even before they get proper advice from a lawyer. Below are a couple of examples of the main headings that would give an indication of the record companies commitment:

This can come in various guises, sometimes in little detail. It is vital that such a clause is detailed focussing on the recording of the music and more importantly how and when it will be released. A fixed schedule of dates is required from the signing of the agreement to the delivery and release of the music.

This means that the band has a firm guideline to deliver his work and vice versa. Such schedules may often be flexible but it is so important to have that initial dual aim.

The length of the deal must represent the realistic aspirations of the record company. If a small label offers you a five year deal but with only the promise of one album then the artist would look to have an option after a couple of years. This would allow a re-appraisal of both the Companies and the artists performance.

I have drafted contracts for both artist and labels and often insist that an initial contract period is followed by an option to extend that period if both parties are happy. This allows the band to weigh up its options if they have attracted interest from another label that may be more suited to them. An alternative would be to have a license agreement that allows the label to assign the band's rights to a more suitable label. Once again the flexibility of the deal is vital avoiding either party being tied down to a deal that they are not happy with.

These are just a few of the elements of a record deal to look out for. A first time deal is likely to be the most important of any band's career. It will hopefully give them a platform to prolonged success. Many labels nowadays are simply looking for a short-term fix due to the changing nature and development of record sales. They may not necessarily be looking to catch you out but will always be aware of their own interests and may well hide this within the terms of a contract. If you require more detailed advice then visit my website at

Elliot Chalmers
Independant Music Law Advisor
14 Vane Close
Tel: 07748 593 758.

Article © May 2003 Elliot Chalmers. All Rights Reserved