Verbal agreements don’t work in the music business
Music is an exciting art form. We’re surrounded by it day in and day out at the gas station, grocery store, in our cars, and doctors’ offices. Whether we like the song/sound or not, it’s there. It’s always going to be there because it’s a business. There is always going to be a creative individual that is creating the next groundbreaking new standard for mixing or mastering, or even the next pop chord progression and structure. That’s inevitable. However, sometimes these artists rush into things and forget a few very (boring) yet absolutely necessary steps in their creative process: A contract.
We’ve seen in the past how verbal agreements can damage friendships and even harm a business. If you’re an artist, band, producer, DJ, creative, it’s important that you follow the business’s rules and understand their contract. Entering into a contract with a business is common practice, and it is imperative for a business in order to protect itself should something ever happen.
The business’s contract will answer a lot of your questions, including what happens when the musician doesn’t cooperate (is the track deleted or removed from the system?), who gets paid (and which method – check? PayPal? Money order?), and when royalties are paid out. Not only does this protect the business, but it also ensure that they hold up their end of the bargain.
We shook hands and agreed upon it, and John would never screw me over.
Great friends are hard to come by, but it’s often what’s in the fine print that makes or breaks that friendship, especially in music. People change when their music starts to garner traction, gain streams, and rake in money. How’re you going to divide the royalties? John only wrote the kick drum rhythm, so he should only get 25%. Technically, he can claim 50% because you don’t have anything anywhere where you and John agreed upon those numbers. In addition, who controls where the song can be used? Can John decide if he wants it in his friend’s short film? You can release the song for $.99, but John can release it for free.
All of the aforementioned information is highlighted in a contract. A verbal agreement can’t be enforced in court. If you’re taking your music and business seriously, it’s best to consult with a lawyer to get a contract.
How do I get a contract?
The best way is to contact a lawyer. They’re expensive, yes, but a contract is an investment in yourself and your business. Do not find a template online, as you never know when that was typed up (laws change quickly) or where it was typed. That could’ve been typed up in Europe, and their laws are completely different than the United States’ laws. Your business and needs are going to be much different than your friends, and your lawyer will be able to help you differentiate that and pick apart what works and what doesn’t.
If done correctly through a lawyer, contracts are a good thing. They answer a lot of questions you may have and ensure all parties involved are participating correctly, timely, and professionally. Should an issue arise, a contract will save you time and energy so you can focus on the creative aspect, not the legal, boring stuff.