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Sound Advice – How not to be a Slave

Sound Advice – How not to be a Slave

Published on September 3, 2015 by Martin Slattery

Considering signing a record contract? Here’s some advice from Prince – don’t do it. NPR reports that in a recent meeting with journalists Prince said “record contracts are just like – I’m gonna say the word – slavery”.

It seems that Prince doesn’t understand the concept of slavery, because last time I checked it didn’t involve getting paid millions. In any case, Prince has had a number of very public disputes with record companies, so it’s not surprising that he feels this way. Then again, it’s easy for Prince and other high profile artists to tell people not to enter into a record contract. After all, he’s one of the top selling artists of all time so he’s hardly trying to get his name out there.

So what can record companies offer artists?  Record companies develop, record, promote and distribute music recordings. This was particularly useful in pre-internet, pre-digital times. These days, however, there are plenty of alternatives for producing and releasing music without a record company. It used to be pricey producing music with analogue technology, but in the last couple of decades cheap recording tools have come about thanks to improvements in digital technology.  

Not only that, the historic functions of record companies can be easily performed independently via the internet – think of sites like bandcamp, facebook and streaming aggregators. However, keep in mind these internet services have their own contracts and other legal considerations.  Historically, artists have relied on major record companies to generate the exposure needed to succeed in the music business. These days the internet makes it easier to spread the word about your great (or terrible/average) music.

While it’s not necessary for artists these days to sign to a record label, there are still benefits for artists such as expertise in music promotion and established distribution networks.  At the end of the day, as an artist it comes down to what you want to achieve and how you want to get there. It certainly doesn’t hurt to have more options now.

With all this in mind, let’s consider the consequence of getting into a record contract. To put it simply, a contract is an agreement. If properly formed, a contract is legally enforceable, which means if a party to the contract does not do what they agreed to in the contract, the other party can enforce the agreement by suing. A record contract provides the security and framework that is required in a relationship between an artist and record company in order to create and market recordings. At law, generally once you sign a contract – even if you don’t understand what you are signing or didn’t even read it – you are bound by it. If you are considering a potential record contract and you go cross eyed when you try to understand it, but still sign, you’re most likely to be locked in even if it is a bad deal for you and your music. This is why it is important to have a lawyer to help interpret the contract before you sign it. A lawyer can explain the reason behind and effect of each term in a contract, and help you negotiate terms. At the end of the day, the best way to prevent so called “slavery” is to understand the terms of the contract – if entering into a record deal is the path you decide to take.

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