When a record label or music publisher contacts you regarding one of your musical works, you have all reason to be enthusiastic about it. You should, however, always remain cautious. Below, I outline some points of attention when negotiating a contract with a record label or music publisher.


“Own your masters!”

Generally, we advise artists to retain ownership of the rights to their musical works. Terms such as “transfer” in a contract proposal should sound an alarm. A better alternative is to license the rights to your music for a specific period, i.e., to grant the contracting party a temporary right to use your musical work.


What efforts will the record label or music publisher make on my behalf?

We sometimes see in contract proposals from record labels or music publishers that the obligations of the artist are described very precisely, whereas the obligations of the label or publisher are very vaguely formulated. Ask yourself the question: what concrete efforts do I expect from my contracting party? After all, record labels and music publishers can perform many different tasks. Don’t be afraid to ask them to put these tasks on paper. Obligations that are too general and too broadly formulated should be avoided.


Do I own the rights to the song?

When you receive a contract proposal from a record label or a music publisher regarding your musical works, they usually assume that you are also the owner of the rights to these works. So, check whether this is the case, and get advice if you are not sure. Third parties may also have rights to your work. For example, you may have written the song together with someone else, someone else may be regarded as the producer of your work, you may have engaged musicians who have played something on your song, you may have used samples, etc. Be transparent with everyone who contributed to the musical work.



Transferring or licensing your rights to a musical work must be accompanied by proper remuneration. However, this is not always easy: contract clauses on remuneration can be very extensive and detailed, and largely depend on the type of contract being signed. Seek advice from a professional to ensure that you will be compensated correctly.



Often, a contract proposal from a record label or a music publisher stipulates that the rights to your musical work will be transferred or licensed for a very long time (e.g., lifetime). We recommend to limit this to a concrete and reasonable duration. This gives you the opportunity to evaluate within a reasonable period whether the cooperation with your contracting party is a success and, if necessary, to renegotiate the terms of your license.


Author: Pepijn Van Lith