Music Lawyer & Music Production Agreements | Romano Law

Music Law

Navigating the issues of modern music law can be as turbulent as jazz improv. Our Romano Law music team will work to protect your rights throughout the twists and turns of the business.


What is Music Law?

Almost every industry that utilizes music in some way must comply with the appropriate music laws. Generally speaking, music law encompasses any law that pertains to creating, distributing, performing and listening to music.  Music law has an impact on not only the artists/creators, but also distributors (who purchase the rights to distribute and perform music); consumers; businesses (like restaurants and fitness studios); and broadcasters (e. TV/Radio).

Breaking into the music industry can be tough.  For musicians, producers, songwriters, distributors, businesses, performers, consumers and independent artists, understanding the various music agreements can be a daunting task.  Our experienced music attorneys can guide you through the complex process.

Publishing Agreements

A songwriter or composer will write a song, but most don’t have the means to market their music for distribution or licensing.  This is where music publishers come in.

For a fee, which is usually half of the composition royalties, music publishers will add your music to their catalogue of material, work with Performance Rights Organizations (PROs) to market your compositions, and collect royalties on your 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.

Management Agreements

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 of an advisory role.

Some 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, an exclusivity (or lack thereof) provision.

Producer Agreements

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 and future royalties).

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.

Synch Licenses

If anyone wants to use a piece of music in sync 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 Sync 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 sync 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.

360 Deals

For developing artists, 360 deals have become the norm in the music industry as record labels try to offset the costs of breaking the artist by sharing in all of his or her revenue streams in the entertainment industry.

Under a 360 deal, record labels collect on an artist’s traditional sound recording rights, as well as on any revenue the artist earns through publishing, touring, songwriting, merchandising, fan clubs, sponsorship money, motion picture acting, modeling and so on.

In negotiating 360 deals, artists should pay specific attention to whether the record label’s interest in publishing and merchandising is passive or active.  A passive interest is more favorable to the artist since the artist has more freedom to make deals without the record companies’ participation – other than receiving a percentage of the artists payments.  Whereas a record companies’ active interest can limit the artists freedom to contract, for instance, by requiring the artist to make certain deals with specific publishers or merchandisers.

Collaboration Contracts

When making a song, two or more songwriters often collaborate to write the musical composition.  This is where a collaboration contract comes into play.

Collaboration contracts cover many aspects of the relationship, like the publishing information regarding the co-writers of a song and designating administration rights.  The contract can also stipulate the compensation for each writer if a collaborator, or his or her publisher, issues a license and collects royalties on a work.  Moreover, the contract may include information regarding the master recording and how the co-writers will be paid out when a work is licensed for a portion of the mechanical statutory rate.

Distribution Agreements

Promoting and selling your own music can be a major obstacle for developing artists.  Distribution agreements remedy this issue by connecting artists with established networks of consumers and negotiating favorable rates with retailers.

Distribution agreements typically define the rules under which an artist can have his or her albums manufactured and/or distributed by a distribution company, or the distribution arm of a large record label.  These agreements also set forth how the manufacturing and distribution will be funded and the manner in which a record label will earn revenue from sales of the album.

Touring Agreements

For artists setting up a concert tour, the first step is signing a contract with a tour promoter.  Tour promoters organize the live music tour and often take control of advertising, marketing and ticket sales.

While payment, allocation of profit, dates and locations are standard touring agreement provisions, artists should also pay special attention to the promoter’s expenses, ticket selling policies, the equipment and crew breakdown and cancellation policies.  Tours play a pivotal role in publicizing an artist’s name and brand, so ensuring that the touring agreement is in line with the artist’s goals should be of utmost importance.

Side Artist Agreements

Side artist agreements, also known as featured artist agreements, are used when a record label, artist or producer hires a musician or singer who is not part of the artist’s group or band to perform on an artist’s recording.

Side artist agreements take multiple forms, but central to the agreement is: (i) whether the side artist will receive royalties from the musical recording; and (ii) whether the side artist will retain the rights to the percentage of his or her contribution for writing lyrics and/or music for the recorded song.

Administration Agreements

Administration agreements allow the artist to focus more on the creative aspects of his or her profession.   This type of agreement takes paperwork related to licensing and monetization of a song off of the artist’s plate.

In administration agreements, the artist does not assign any publishing or ownership rights from their artistic work to a publishing company, rather they retain the rights and contract for a third-party to serve as their administrator for a designated period of time.  Administrators can help register the musical composition with PROs, register the completed song with the U.S. copyright office, issue licenses to other parties and collect royalties on the work.


Navigating the issues of modern music law can be as turbulent as jazz improv.  Our Romano Law music team will work to protect your rights throughout the twists and turns of the business.  Romano Law understands that every artist’s needs are unique.  We customize our legal services to suit your specific needs.

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