by MATT BACON >
One of the things that bands seem to screw up the most and give me the most headaches with is contracts.
Now this isn’t really a complaint – it’s the fact that I can read contracts and understand them that makes me able to have a job after all. I think the issue is moreover that a lot of bands sign contracts that are borderline incomplete or that go out of their way to fuck over the artist. A lot of musicians are rightfully scared of contracts but a lot of the time it feels like a lot of their fears merely come from the fact that they are unwilling to spend the time in order to make sure that things are at least remotely above board. Maybe it’s a difference in thinking or maybe I’m missing something but I feel like there are a few things that we need to sit down and discuss in order to help get unsigned artists a little more comfortable with the realities that define the industry and which these contracts are going to inevitably bring to their careers.
Now I’ve written in the past about how a lot of the biggest relationships in the music industry don’t have contracts and are mere handshake deals.
Now that’s all well and good. It’s how a lot of people operate and it makes their lives a lot easier. However there is a sort of unwritten risk there in terms of reputations and relationships. While I’m certainly comfortable with handshake deals and have made a lot of money off of them I also think that artists need to be a little bit leery eyed especially if the people in question are going to be owing them lots of money. It’s good to have a relationship where you know that there is a term to the agreement, that you will get accounting sheets and all of that other good stuff. If you’re not getting any sort of feedback from whoever you shook hands with six months after a deal and they allegedly owe you thousands well you’re kind of boned right? That’s where we run into perhaps the key roadblock bands suffer from.
Artists need to realize that contracts are oftentimes for their benefit and a vague contract does not mean that they will be able to take advantage of the other party but rather the opposite. Look at it this way – labels are putting out, in many cases, dozens of records in a year, you put out maybe one every two years. Who do you think is going to be more adept at reading contracts and figuring out how to take advantage of the other party? Here’s a hint – it’s the side who have invested in a legal team and who do this a whole lot. The industry is not an easy space to navigate and if you get locked up in a vague and immoral gridlock then it’s only your fault when things start to fall apart at the seams and you start to sense that your band is not on as stable footing as you might have liked. It’s not that labels and the like are trying to screw over artists but rather that they aren’t always trying to foist money upon you. Rather they are trying to make a profit for both parties, you just need to be there to claim it.
There’s also a few red flags that you need to check up on even if you don’t know a lot about contracts.
First and foremost if the person in question isn’t willing to offer up a contract but only wants to do a handshake deal then they are clearly screwed. Which sucks and is only going to hurt them down the line. Furthermore – if you are handed a contract and the clauses numbers jump it probably means that some key language which the band probably could have used to their advantage, has been probably removed. Just because something looks like boilerplate doesn’t mean that it’s boilerplate and if people insist that it’s boilerplate then it really isn’t boilerplate and you need to spend even more time. It’s probably good to try and read a few sample contracts that you can find online to try and identify key elements for whatever type of contract you are going to sign in order to make sure that they key elements are there.
I think it’s also important to come to terms with one of the most unfortunate parts of the music industry, that simply put, a lot of contracts serve to only screw artists and no matter how hard you try you are going to find unending struggles and no matter what happens to you in this industry you are going to continually wind up fucked, even by labels that you thought you could trust. That’s just the way the news foes and if you constantly are pushing for unrealistic targets then you are just going ot be a laughingstock and people are going to start to realize that this isn’t an industry where we can easily find a way forward but rather one that we have to sometimes compromise our values in the name of sharing our art with the world at large. I know that’s an unfortunate thing to take in but it’s also how things always pan out.
Long story short – contracts are not a bad thing and they can protect you but also be aware that the industry is heartless and you need to just suck it up and move on if you want to have access to some of the coolest opportunities out there. Sure it’s not always easy and sure it’s not always going to be the sort of thing that you want to get involved in to but when it comes down to it you need to make choices that make the most sense for your band in the long term. I know that it’s not easy and that you actually have to *Gasp* spend money and stretch your brain for serious forward motion but that’s just the way the gods built it. I know these articles generally get bitter so please be the change you want to see in the world and work on your contract game guys!