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Did you read the fine print?

So now, here you are. You got yourself a band, got a few songs together, did a few shows, and got yourself a following. As a brand, your popularity is growing and the hobby is turning into a side hustle, possibly even an actual career. Now what? That's for you to decide as a group. Some bands bring in a manager to handle their business affairs (booking shows, tours, radio/tv opportunities, etc) but the road map has to be yours to control. In a previous blog I wrote about signing a contract with your bandmates (See "The Business In Music" for more details on that) but if you get to the point where you're looking at expanding your presence in the music industry, you'll be presented with Agreements, Contracts, Deals and numerous other terms that require an obligation or restriction on your part.

If you or your group ever get to the point where contracts are involved, you need to be sure you understand the contents of that agreement COMPLETELY. Taylor Swift, Snoop Dogg, Motley Crue, TLC, Johnny Cash, John Fogerty, the list is almost endless of artists that have been screwed by the agreements they signed with record companies. The Britney Spears conservatorship battle was highly publicized as an example of the artist not having control of her own earnings.

When Prince signed a $100m, six-album deal with Warner Bros in 1992, it was biggest contract ever signed by a solo artist. But it came with a heavy price - Warner Bros received ownership of Prince's entire body of work. In February 1996 Prince wrote a letter to his fans, explaining why he changed his name to a symbol: "Prince is the name that my Mother gave me at birth. Warner Bros. took the name, trademarked it, and used it as the main marketing tool to promote all of the music that I wrote. The company owns the name Prince and all related music marketed under Prince. I became merely a pawn used to produce more money for Warner Bros."

Prince did what numerous artists past and present have done, and started his own record label in 1994, titled New Power Generation (NPG) Records. Previously, he owned Paisley Park Records, which was distributed by and funded in part by Warner Bros. Records. It was started in 1985, following the success of the film and album "Purple Rain". In 1994, amid Prince's feud with Warner Bros., WB ended its distribution deal with Paisley Park, effectively closing the label. Although NPG Records never developed into a full label, it exclusively released Prince's albums or side-projects.

Other artists simply took their legal agreements to the letter just to complete their obligations and move on to a different label. In 1966, Van Morrison signed a deal he barely read with Bang Records. Before the year was out, he was already looking for a new label. Unfortunately, his contract dictated her needed to record 31 more songs with Bang records. Those 31 songs were recorded in one day in 1967, with each song barely 90 seconds long on average and purposely done in poor quality. Bang records eventually released the 31 songs... 32 years later.

If you do find yourself in a situation where your contractual obligations aren't in your best interests, don't just ignore it. You signed an agreement with an implied promise to fulfill the obligations as listed, and to prevent blacklisting yourself in the music industry as an artist that's difficult to work with or can't produce as promised, etc... you need to be smart about what to do about it. The first step you can do is discuss with the ones you're contracted to, and look for an amendment to the agreement. Failing to get anywhere with that, you're faced with the fight or flight decision. You can try to dispute it with a mediator, a lawyer, get the Musician's Union opinion on it and act accordingly, or simply accept it and follow through with your obligations. Keep in mind the music industry is a small community all things considered, and your actions will be noted accordingly.

Never sign a contract upon presentation. Take time to review it, and fully understand it. If you can't understand the specifics, or want to be sure you understand it correctly, take the agreement to your lawyer for review and they can work in your best interest. I've had others ask me about interpretation of certain items within an agreement, and I have no problem with explaining it the way I read it, as well as my thoughts and opinions on it, but what you choose to do with that information is at your risk and expense. I won't go into much further details on it, but you can familiarize yourself with what to look for in a contract here:

In the end, I hope you reach your goals as a musician, no matter how high you set them. As the inspirational writer Norman Vincent Peale once said: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars.

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