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animated band image So Wot's the Deal?
A record deal, also known as a recording contract, is a legally binding document between an artist and a production or record company. Usually prepared by the record companies solicitors, it is then negotiated between them and the Artists Management and the artists Solicitor.

The main purpose of a deal is to give the record/production company rights to use or sell recordings of the artists performances which would then be licensed to the record company by the artist.  A recording of a song and the song itself are both handled seperately.  A songwriter signs to a Publishing Company who would deal with the sale of their songs and not the recordings, whereas the record company licences the right to record the song from the songwriter or publisher.

Contracts are inevitably biased in favour of the Record Companies, who control the master recordings and charge the full amount of production to the artists 'possible' royalty account leaving them with an outstanding cost unless the recordings are hugely successful.  Many stars of yesteryear whose songs are still covered by major artists today are still paid on the basis of their original contracts and receive pennies rather than pounds in royalties.  In addition artists are not paid on the actual number of records sold, instead royalties are calculated on only 90% of sales!  This dates back to the age of 78 vinyl records when an average 10% would break in transit.

The Record Label may pay for the manufacturing costs of CD's, Audio Cassettes etc., but beware! a 'packaging deduction' is taken from the artists royalty, these expenses cover the cost of CD/Cassette Covers, Artwork etc., are hugely overcharged and rarely bear any relation to the actual cost..........Essentially anything that is paid for by the record company on behalf of the artist is re-coupable from their royalties, in effect they act like a Bank who LOANS you money to record your works - the artist has to repay all expenditure.

Even after the costs have been recouped the Company still owns the copyright to the album and if the sales are low then all possible future royalties are taken to pay off the artists debt!

So how does the Recording Industry qualify this practice? Other than the fact that artists often sign long unrealistic contracts for huge advances in the hope of fame, their view is that they spend huge sums developing and signing artists that may never sell commercial quantities of songs, marketing and promoting their current successful artists and re-investing in new talent.

Another sting in the tail is the practice of shelving or ditching an act/band if the A&R person leaves the company or failing to develop or promote the artist or their recordings. This has left many talented musicians out of pocket with no control of their recordings, tied into a contract with a company who no longer has an interest in their material but retains all the copyrights until the artists debt is repaid.

Approaching Record Companies

Hundreds of unsolicited demo's are sent in every week to record companies, many of which are never listened to.  Even the most conscientious A&R person will only listen to the first 20/30 seconds of a song before sending out a rejection letter, so how does an artist/band get their masterpiece heard?

First of all its important to understand that it takes several factors to create a 'buzz' and gain enough interest from an A&R person for them to listen to a demo or make the effort to see the artist live.  Performing in venues frequented by A&R personnel, TV and Radio appearances, Reviews in Music and National Press and Recommendations from respected managers, DJ's, promoters, producers, venues, studios, lawyers, journalists are more likely to help an artist/band succeed!

Research the company to ascertain the style and genres of music favoured prior to contacting anyone, read music press to discover which A&R personnel frequent showcase venues and then speak to the A&R Departments Secretary to get the name of the person to send your publicity pack.

Call A&R departments a week before a gig in well known Showcase Venue in their area of operation (Mainly London but Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and Birmingham also have record label talent scouts.)  Don't be depressed if you don't hear anything for a while or receive a rejection letter, the companies deal with so many demos it could take over a month before you hear anything and many well known artists/bands were rejected many times before getting a deal!

There are several companies who operate as a 'go-between' between the artist and A&R, offering appraisal of your music, showcases and compilation albums for distrubution to A&R. Do check them out before parting with any cash, most will provide a free service with small admin costs (like Taxi and Talent Scouts). Musicians Union members are occasionally given recommendations as are Band Register (UK) users who are accepted for promotion on their compilation.

If an A&R person likes your demo they will ring you or write requesting more new material.  Mark the outside of the package "requested material" with the band/artist name, send it quickly, telephone to confirm its in the post and always put any A&R person who has shown an interest in your material on the guest list for every gig you do (include a gig list with the demo).

Congratulations may be in order if you manage to get a meeting with an A&R person, but don't start getting your hopes up!  At this stage all they require is a chat to get to know you or arrangement to see the band/act live.  Be prepared to take criticism of the songs, recordings and performance (if relevant), be prepared to discuss your goals, career progression and influences or to perform a 'Showcase', which can either be a specially arranged gig in a proper venue or a rehearsal room.  Using a venue are prone to the usual technical hitches, lack of audience and other hassles, although a huge appreciative crowd raises the energy & interest.  Using a rehearsal studio allows you to get the sound right, grab a few mates for encouragement and run through the songs before anyone arrives!

A&R people are notoriously elusive and known not to turn up, but if there is a lot of interest in a particular act/band a Showcase can start a bidding war between several different labels/publishers.

If you have sufficiently impressed them they may offer to put up a demo budget to record further tracks or fund a private showcase.

Luck often plays a large part with artists 'spotted' in the most unlikely places but anyone who is serious about getting a record deal should concentrate on creating their own 'Luck' by Self Promotion, good demo's, image and live work.  Artists/Bands may have to do this themselves unless signed to Management and EVERYONE involved in creating/performing in the act/band should participate in the marketing/promotion.

When a label or publisher makes an offer it is standard practice for an artists manager/lawyer to tell rival record companies in the hope of starting a bidding war, be careful not to sign a deal just for the extra money.......look at the long term picture and aim for a company/A&R person/producer who are easy to get on with and creatively in tune with you.

Several companies advertise for acts/bands to appear on Compilation Cd's which will (allegedly) be sent to A&R personnel or distributed to shops. Take care before signing up to one of these companies and research them before parting with any cash!  Whilst some are reputable and actually play a part in bringing together artists with record/publishing A&R like The Band Register and Taxi, other more unscrupulous companies charge large fees to appear on compilations that are never sold or listened to by Record Companies!

Read Sample Terms of a Recording Contract or browse our list of helpful links to record companies, labels and online promotional sources.

Chart Wars 1.2
Run your own record company with this music industry simulator. Chart Wars is a freeware music industry simulator putting you in charge of your very own record company. In this role you ust hire bands, release and promote albums and singles, arrange tours and much more, all whilst attempting to balance the books, manage the growth of your label and compete with intelligent computer opponents. Click Here to download 223K Windows 95/98/Me/Xp. Freeware or visit the authors site Osiris Games for the latest (freeware) full version packed with new features!

Related Articles & Sites

The following are just a few selections from our Marketing & Media Articles.

Courtney Love's Manifesto
The Making of a Martyr. Courtney provides an insight into how little artists really make from a record deal, information on copyright and more with this series of insider articles. (Parents Please Note: Some of the language in these articles may not be suitable for young children).

Read more articles, tips and advice from A & R people Record Company Articles at the Electric Blues Club.

Essential Books

A small selection from a wider range available in the Marketing Books

Bands Guide to a Record Deal The Band's Guide to Getting a Record Deal by Will Ashurst
Paperback - 176 pages (1 September, 1998)
Sanctuary Publishing
An excellent book covering everything a band needs to know if they want to get on in the music business.

Solid, no nonsense information and advice on management, record companies, music solicitors, publishing companies, gigging, agents, promoters, self marketing, demos etc., is accompanied by useful addresses and example contracts.

Interspersed with real life anecdotes, this book outlines the pitfalls, explains the music industry and guides the reader through the intricate maze from demo to deal.

Will Ashurst has provided an essential aid to beginners and experienced musicians alike who are serious about the music business.

Stuff the Music Business Stuff the Music Business by Will Ashurst
Paperback - 183 pages (21 March, 2000)
Sanctuary Publishing
An entertaining book covering all the areas a band might want to consider when trying to make it on your own without the help of more traditional companies such as record, publishing, marketing and distribution companies.   Packed full of hints, tips, ideas and recommendations from an author who is also an experienced artist manager it constructively explains what difficulties bands face in the world at large, what constitutes a good deal, what kinds of deal there are, how distribution and licensing work and how it all fits together overall.  The comprehensive appendices of useful companies cross all categories and useful example contracts including a 'pro-forma' distribution licence are a real boon!

How to Make it in the Music Business How to Make It in the Music Business by Sian Pattenden
Paperback - 202 pages Revised Ed (10 February, 2000)
Virgin Books
Invaluable information on the Music Industry.  Your career in the City starts here! A City career can mean a life in the fast lane, a monstrous salary and bonus package with an expense account to match. Or it could mean working in a grey suit in a grey organisation with a gold watch as the only bright spot on the horizon. If you want to succeed and have fun you need to know where to start, who's who in the profession of your choice and how to network. Good qualifications are a must in certain fields but in the City drive, enthusiasm and charisma are what really count. If it's a City career you're after, this guide will keep you two steps ahead of the competition. Don't tell your friends.

Music the Business Music: the Business by Ann Harrison
Our Price: £16.00
Paperback - 303 pages (6 July, 2000)
Virgin Books
Essential to everyone who wants to be in the music business, and to everyone already in the music business who wants to broaden their knowledge and put themselves on the fast track to the top, MUSIC - THE BUSINESS tells it like it is. From bedroom demo to arena tour, highlighting the impact and the potential pitfalls of new media and the Internet, MUSIC - THE BUSINESS tells you everything you need to know about how to protect your rights and maximise your earnings. Never before has there been such a comprehensive and easy-to-read guide to the UK music business, written by an insider, a lawyer who has worked full-time in the industry for fifteen years.

Answering all the questions, demystifying all the jargon, revealing the facts behind the headlines and the real figures underlying those multimillion pound deals, MUSIC - THE BUSINESS is the definitive guide to the UK's most happening industry.

In the only major book of it's kind that comprehensively covers music law in the UK, there are fascinating studies of cases involving some of the greatest British stars, including Elton John, Robbie Williams and George Michael. This is the only non-legal textbook that looks at all the leading cases on the music business: how they changed the deals, the contracts and, in some cases, the whole way the music business operates.

MUSIC -THE BUSINESS describes the precedents that have helped shape the body of UK music law as it stands today, but, even more importantly in an age of exponentially rapid technological change, it shows the options for the future.

Written by leading lawyer, Ann Harrison, who heads up the Music Group at one of the biggest and most highly respected entertainment law firms in Britain, MUSIC - THE BUSINESS is the ultimate guide to all the issues facing this exciting industry both now and in the future. Start and Run your own record label

Start and Run Your Own Record Label by Daylle Deanna Schwartz
Provides the basics behind the business for those interested in running a record label including different types of deals, promoting new ideas and suggestions on running a business.
Read More at Amazon USA
Read more at Amazon UK


Bandit newsletter
Informative newsletter letting you know what the record companies want and connecting you with A & R in the UK, Ireland and Worldwide.

TAXI: The Independent A&R Vehicle connecting unsigned artists, bands and songwriters with major record labels, publishers, and film & TV music supervisors.  Sign up for their free newsletter with labels & producers requirements.

Musicians Job Listing Sites for the latest listings.
An excellent resource packed full of A&R articles, tips and advice plus a worldwide searchable database of A&R, Publishing & Labels which includes contact details!
ISA - The International Songwriters Association. A great resource for all songwriters with members receiving a magazine which includes record labels currently seeking acts and their requirements plus a copyright recording facility. Also arranges Showcases for new talent.

Record Companies
browse more links to record companies, labels and online promotional sources.