As our series on how to get a record deal continues on the Sage Audio mastering blog, we want to take a look at the kinds of record contracts available to artists today. This will be a general overview of the different types of contracts artists sign, as specifics will change from artist to artist and company to company.
Additionally, as the record industry becomes more and more complex while it attempts to navigate the new waters presented by digital music, many contracts are combining aspects of all the types listed below. If you’ve been presented with a contract, it is almost always a great idea to spend the money to have a lawyer review the language before any ink is put to paper. This can save you tons of headaches (and money) in the future.
The Exclusive Record Contract
We’ll start with the big one. Also known as a major label deal, the phrase “holy grail of contracts” gets thrown around this one, though not as much as it used to as the role of major labels continues to shift in the industry.
Essentially, most of these contracts put artists under the management of a label, which advances the artist money to make an album, as well as paying for marketing the album and all other expenses involved in the process.
In return, of course, the artist must pay back all the expenses the record company advances through record sales and other income. If the sales aren’t there, then the artist may be in a very bad position with the label, not to mention a lot of debt.
Additionally, record companies own all of the artists work under most exclusive record contracts. However, labels are not typically involved in other aspects of the bands career such as touring, though they can be to certain extents.
The Independent Label Contract
In theory, the independent contract is also an exclusive record contract. However, since there are so many independent labels representing so many different types of artists, there is much more variety in the actual contracts that are signed.
At times these may let the artists retain control of the rights to their music, it may only cover recording and not promotion (or vice versa), or any number of setups that are worked out among the label and artist. Again, it should be stressed that any contract should be looked over by a lawyer, because even contracts that seem to completely favor the artist can have clauses that could be very dangerous for the artist in certain situations. It’s always best to err on the side of caution.
The 360 Record Contract
This is a relatively new type of contract that has emerged over the past few years. Essentially, this puts labels in more control of all aspects of an artists career, including publishing, touring and merchandise, in addition to record sales.
In exchange for theoretically providing the artist more support and money, all revenue is also split with the label. Since this is a fairly new kind of deal, the overall advantages and disadvantages for both artists and labels are still being determined.
But since many are curious about these contracts, we’ll devote a later article in this series entirely to 360 deals and go deeper into what they can do for (and against) artists.
There are plenty of other record contracts and related contracts. These include production deals, distribution deals, development deals and more. We’ll go deeper into these types of contracts in a future article, as well.