Off to the studio to put down those great original songs of yours? You might be thankful you read the following.
Problems arise with things that fall into grey areas or through the cracks or with relationships that are created without clear understandings, and they most commonly only rear their ugly heads after a project or relationship is well under way, often once serious money is beginning to be made. Take the recording project, for example.
If you consider yourself (or your band, if you’re in one) to be the legitimate “maker” (i.e., owner) of the project and you also want the ownership/writing credits to any of your original material to remain with you, then you should get ALL hired hands, including non-band musicians and singers, the producer, arranger and even the engineer, to sign a proper release form waiving any claim to writing credits AND ownership/controlling rights to the master(s). The master issue is especially important if they provide any part of their service for free or at a reduced rate (I would even get one from the studio in that case too). How the courts would view any competing claims can vary from country to country, but you can never be too careful in this age of rampant litigiousness. And never forget that anyone’s mindset can change down the road. That unspoken understanding you thought you had with that person you thought you could trust can all too easily disappear when their life situation changes or they want a piece of your newfound success.
Take that outside musician who provided his talent for free on a song track that ended up breaking big time. Might he come back to knock on your door with his hand out for a royalty share claiming that he performed for no charge on the sound recording with the understanding that it was never intended for commercial release but only as a demo project? Possibly. And what about that producer, arranger or musician whose role in working with you on a song crossed over into the realm of co-writing, at least in their mind. If they brought the issue up during the project you’d be faced with a dilemma: do you give them shared writing credits or do you not use their changes to the song or, worse case scenario, do you feel compelled to scrap the song entirely. If they bring it up after the project’s done and released, that could prove even more problematic.
Circumstances like these do happen. Things are not always so cut and dried as you might think. And when an artist is caught up in the machinations of planning and executing something as challenging and involved as a recording project it is very easy for them to get overwhelmed and lose sight of these sorts of things.
A properly constructed contract with the producer and properly executed release forms for everybody involved will go a long way toward protecting your interests. That means getting help from someone with expertise when it comes to legal documents. The good news is you don’t always need an entertainment lawyer to deal with constructing contracts. Consider finding a template for the kind you need and then seek out someone you know who’s familiar with that type of arrangement and get their advice on your particular situation. Or find an industry pro who does consulting on the side–they will charge a lot less than a lawyer. Then have a lawyer review the final draft before signing.
And, while it’s true that a musicians release agreement is not needed for fellow band members, if you are part of a band you MUST have a well thought-out-band partnership agreement. In fact, that should be in place early in the band’s history regardless of any plans to head into a studio. I’ll have more to say about band survival and protecting your own interests as a band member in future blogs.