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Beginner’s Guide: Signing a label contract

Copyright, indefinite ownership, artistic rights — signing a label deal without first conducting due diligence can result in lengthy, problematic problems for artists or music producers at any level of their careers.

Author: Sam Skilz


If you're at the point where you're expecting to get your music released on a label, it's important to make sure you make a proper agreement. I am not a lawyer, However, I have over 20 years of siging experience as an artist, and I have been runing my own label GaGa Records since 2006.

Here are some points to keep in mind while negotiating with a label: when you create something (assuming it's all you and you don't have any samples to clear), you instantly own your work. There are two types of copyrights: the copyright for the composition — the notes, chords, and lyrics — and the copyright for the'recording' or'master,' which is the audio itself. The composition copyright should always be yours. In a publishing arrangement, this is what you would license to a publisher — but that's another story. If the label has a publishing arm, make sure to inquire about it and what precisely their links are.

In most cases, the label will pay for the 'master' (recording). They may contribute to production costs as an advance and wish to enter into an arrangement with you to license the master for a term of X years. Never sign anything over to someone indefinitely. Always remember to draw up a contract for x years (for example, from 5 to 10 years max).

Progressive labels understand that in order to remain, they must evolve and adapt. Many of our favorite artists self-release, but there are compelling reasons to do so, such as marketing and public relations. If you engage into an arrangement with a label in which they license the master for a period of time, the question is: what are they doing in exchange? What advantages does their platform provide you (and your community)? What expenses do they wish to recuperate before giving you royalties? What is their strategy for promoting your work?

Let’s dive right into the ways that record labels promote their artists:

  • Promoting on social media,

  • Sending out VIP Promos to their mailing list "tastemakers" ,

  • Having connections to relevant music blogs,

  • Bigger labels can get access to radio play

  • In some cases, Labels can help book shows

Do your research on labels and try to reach their artists to ask for there experiences. No Artist should hand their work over to labels with a handshake. Make sure to have a written and formal agreement to avoid any troubles in the future. You may start small, but who knows where you'll be in 5 years.


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