Breaking into the music industry is a tough challenge. For musicians, producers, songwriters and independent artists, understanding the various music agreements can be a daunting task. Our experienced music attorneys can guide you through the complex process.
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A songwriter or composer will write a song, but most don’t have the means to market their music for licensing. This is where music publishers come in. For a fee, which is usually half of the royalties, music publishers will add your music to their catalogue of writers and work with Performance Rights Organizations (PROs) to market their writers’ compositions and collect royalties on their behalf. Depending on the type of publishing company you approach and the kind of services you’re receiving, you may be giving up half of the copyright to the song (during the term) as well. Be aware of what you’re signing.
A manager can help an artist shape the trajectory of their career. Unlike an agent, though, a manager without the proper licensing cannot obtain work for their client, so they serve more as an advisory role. Common terms to be included are: how the manager will get compensated (usually a percentage of a defined set of earnings made during the term of the contract), a sunset provision that allows the manager to continue collecting their commission on earnings that were initiated during the term but were received after the term of the contract, and an exclusivity (or lack thereof) provision.
A common misconception is that the record company hires a producer to produce a track for an artist, but it is actually the artist who employs the producer (though the label usually gets approval rights). This means that any royalty or other payment that is given to the producer will come directly out of the artist’s pocket (or, more likely, the artist’s recoupable advance). As a safeguard, especially in today’s electronic music scene where sampling is commonplace, the producer will usually certify that all of the music that is incorporated is either original or properly licensed.
Copyright is often referred to as a “bundle of rights” because it reserves many different privileges to its holder. The synchronization right says that if anyone wants to use a piece of music in synch with an audio/visual work (in a music video, in the background of a TV scene, etc.), the copyright holder of the music needs to be asked for permission. This permission usually comes in the form of a Synch License that lays out, among other things: how much of the music can be used and in what context the music can be presented. Just remember, a synch license will be required for both the composition and the master recording if the user doesn’t intend to record their own version of the song.
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