Do I need a lawyer to review my record contract?
August 6, 2013
Dear Music Lawyer,
I have been offered a recording contract and have been advised by the label to seek advise from a music lawyer when reading the contract. I don't have a lot of money to hire a lawyer. Is it completely necessary to hire a lawyer? I have minimal knowledge of the industry side.
In my opinion, yes. The first draft of a contract is almost always very favorable to the party who drafted it, and they will expect you to come back with change requests to make the deal more standard. Further, recording contracts typically bind an artist for many years and thus, in a business that tends to focus on the young, they have the potential to significantly affect a musician's entire music career.
Since you said that you have minimal knowledge of the industry side, I think it would be particularly important for you to hire a lawyer who understands the music business to explain the implications of signing the contract. For example, can you still continue to record/perform with side projects? Will you still own your songs? What can you expect to get paid and when? How do you get out of the deal if you're unhappy?
You will more than likely find that that many of the terms can be negotiated to lessen the likelihood that you will be forever bound to a bad deal and to improve your payment terms, especially if you are a successful recording artist for the label.
Unfortunately, I've met with dozens of musicians over the years who signed a contract without full knowledge of what they were signing, either due to lack of funds to hire a lawyer, trust in the person who handed them the contract (who may or may not always be with the company), or a misguided belief that negotiating would turn off the other side.
TIP: Reputable music businesses expect you to have a lawyer on your side who will represent your interests, and they will appreciate your professionalism.
Those musicians then had to spend thousands of dollars in legal fees trying to get out of a bad deal.
In general, it's far cheaper to hire a lawyer on the front end to either help you make a good deal from the start, or to help you realize when the deal is simply not worth pursuing.
Amy E. Mitchell