|I cannot stress enough how artists need to learn about record contracts if they intend to sign a record deal. Now, I know that most of you think that legalese is a whole other language, a pain in the neck, and often it can be. The main principles of record contracts are not that complicated however and need to be fully understood by those that intend to put their John Hancock on the bottom of them. To illustrate this point I would like to recount a little story of my first record deal signing...
About seven years ago I was offered a deal by a small independent label. I won't mention names, it's probably not fair. I was very excited about this new situation as we had several meetings and the label talked about its company being "artist oriented". (Looking back this brings a big smile to my face). The band was managed by a very capable friend of mine (who later went on to head up a label within BMG). The label's A&R man was very enthusiastic and we were looking forward to recording the album and putting a single to radio. The problem lay, not with the label, but the label's attorney who was not prioritizing this project. I would have a meeting with my manager and attorney and discuss what changes needed to be made in the contract. We handed in those changes and waited two months before we received a fresh draft. Those changes, although agreed upon at previous meetings, were not reflected in the new draft. This happened three times! Ten months went by without a signable contract. I couldn't believe it. After almost a year of waiting for a contract to sign I literally gave up. After the last draft arrived with still no changes, I personally got on the phone to the label's head of A&R and said; "I've had enough! I cannot wait one more month to receive a bogus contract. We are walking, I'm sorry, this situation is simply not good enough, your attorney is clearly incompetent!"
I couldn't believe what I heard next. He said, "Chris - it's just wording!"
"What????!!" I screamed. "You want to tie up the next 6 years of my life and justify it as wording???"
"Well how can we save this, we really want to sign the group" He said.
"Here's what I suggest we do. Talk to my manager, draw up a one album licensing deal with no future options, DO NOT under any circumstances have this dealt with by your attorney - we will not respond to him, but use your in house head of business affairs to draft. I want to sign and seal this deal within seven days or it's over."
Sure enough, we signed a deal within a week. We were free to walk from the record label the minute we handed in a finished master. And after about six months of working the record, having some success at radio, that is exactly what we did.
I personally believe this deal was saved because I understand how contracts are organised. I knew all along what changes needed to be made. Most importantly I was prepared to walk, possibly the best negotiation tactic there is. I know that, left to the attorneys, my bill would have been way more than our advance and I might still be waiting for a deal to sign today!
Of course you have to trust your attorneys, but they do not have the interest in a label deal that you have. They are dispassionate. This may be a good quality to have for negotiation purposes but it is you who has to deal with the record company and build a relationship with them over years. Learn about contracts. Learn about the people you have to deal with. Understand what you are signing. This way you will know how to make the best of your future situation. "All You Need To Know About The Music Business" by Donald Passman is most entertaining and a great way to start.
By Chris Standring (A&R online)
Back to articles index