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The anatomy of music industry contracts in 2023

The music industry is constantly evolving and, as a result, the contracts that allow artists to monetize their work must also constantly adapt. This blog post offers a comprehensive breakdown of the anatomy of music contracts in 2023 - what they are, the different types that exist, what consequences they can carry and why AI tools such as AnyLawyer are essential for artists looking to negotiate and protect themselves. From free templates to advice on key clauses that need special attention, this post covers it all.

What is a music industry contract?

Anyone currently working or aspiring to work in the music industry, contracts are an exciting but daunting part of the process. All music business contracts are legally binding documents that dictate how an artist’s work will be used and compensated. A music contract is a general term for a group of contract types, such as a recording contract, a record deal, or a distribution contract.

A music industry contract is an agreement between a party who wishes to use music (the Licensee) and the party who owns it (the Licensor). The contract outlines how the Licensee may use the music and puts in place certain obligations, rights and warranties. It usually covers topics such as ownership of intellectual property, payment structure, usage restrictions, term limits, and more.

What happens when a music contract is disputed?

Contract disputes can arise when the Licensor and Licensee have different understandings of what was agreed upon in the contract. If a dispute arises, it is important to get legal help as soon as possible. Depending on the issue at hand, either party may pursue mediation or arbitration to resolve the dispute. In some cases, a lawsuit may be necessary.

A famous example of such a dispute was Taylor Swift's legal battle with Scooter Braun in 2020. Swift had signed a contract with Big Machine Records that granted her ownership of her music masters, but when Braun bought the label, he gained control of the masters and would not release them back to her. After months of negotiations, it was eventually settled out of court.

It is also important to note a contract can be terminated for reasons, such as breach of or failure to meet certain conditions milestones agreed upon in the. In these cases, it is best to seek the advice of an experienced entertainment attorney to ensure that all parties are properly compensated for any losses incurred.


Why is it important to pay attention to standard clauses?

Standard clauses form an essential part of any music industry contract. They will typically cover topics such as payments, royalties, fees and costs, copyright ownership, distribution rights, promotion/marketing obligations, and more. It is important to pay attention to these clauses so that the parties ensure their interests are protected.

Types of music contracts

Music industry contracts come in various shapes and sizes, each with its own set of rules and regulations. Each type of contract can have a different set of consequences for the artist, depending on their individual needs and objectives. It is important that artists familiarize themselves with common contracts and seek legal advice as necessary to ensure they are getting the best deal for themselves. Contract law is complex and ever-changing, so it is important to stay informed.

Performance agreements

Performance agreements are contracts between the artist and venue that outline the terms of a performance. They may include payment, technical requirements for the show, rights to record or broadcast it, and any other relevant information.

Recording/production agreements

These contracts are between artists and production companies. It outlines royalties, ownership of intellectual property rights (IPR), distribution rights, and any other relevant information. For example, a classic record deal, also known as a “360 deal”, is an agreement between the artist and label that covers all aspects of the artist’s career. This type of agreement typically involves sharing profits from merchandise sales, touring, sponsorships, publishing rights, and more with the record label.

Distribution agreements

These agreements are between an artist and a distribution company that will distribute their music. They may include terms such as royalty payments, IPR ownership, marketing and promotion requirements, who owns the masters of the recording, and more. A music publisher signing such a contract will typically receive a share of the royalties alongside the artist.

Licensing agreements

Licensing contracts are agreements between a music creator and a third party that grants them the right to use their music. It may outline payment, term limits, usage restrictions, and any other relevant information.

Band contracts

A band contract is an agreement between the members of a band that outlines their collective rights and obligations. It may include topics such as profit sharing, ownership of IPR, decision making process, division of recording costs, dissolution clause, and more. All band members should agree on and sign the contract before starting work commercially.

Management contracts

These contracts are between artists and a management company that will handle the artist's music career. It specifies the roles of each party, payment structure, ownership of IPR, promotion/marketing commitments, and any other relevant information.

Standard clauses in music contracts

Depending on the situation, a contract can contain various clauses such as exclusivity agreements, performance milestones or recording options. When negotiating a contract, there are certain standard clauses that need special attention. Each of these clauses can have a significant impact on the artist’s commercial success and, as such, they need to be thoroughly discussed and understood before signing an agreement.


This clause outlines the period of time in which the agreement will be valid. Common terms for music contracts range from 1-15 years, depending on the type of contract. Recording agreements are binding until a specified number of albums is released. It is important to ensure that these terms are clearly understood by all parties so as to avoid any confusion or disputes. Additionally, if there is an initial period during which the artist can terminate the agreement, that should be taken into account.


This clause outlines the geographical area in which the agreement applies. It is important to be aware of any restrictions that may limit a contract’s scope and effect. For example, if the other party to the contract operates out of a different state, it is good to check under what jurisdiction the contract will be enforced.

Payments and royalties

The payment and royalty provisions of a contract should outline how much each party will receive for their work. It is important that this information is clear and understandable, as it will form the basis of the financial relationship between the artist and label.

Royalties are payments made to an artist for each sale or stream of their music. These may include mechanical royalties (paid when a song is reproduced in physical formats such as CDs), performance royalties (paid when a song is publicly performed on radio, television or streaming services) and synchronization (paid when a song is used in movies, television shows or video games).

Ownership of intellectual property rights

This clause outlines who owns the masters of a recording and which party has the right to release, distribute or license the music. In most cases, the artist or production company will own the master recordings, while record labels may be granted certain rights in exchange for investing money in the project.

Contracts can include assigning or licensing an artist's work to the other party. Assignment means the artist is transferring ownership of the intellectual property, while licensing means they are granting a license to use it. The distinction is important: assignment lasts forever, unless a reversion of rights occurs at a later date. A license allows the other party to use the material for a specific time period and can be terminated when the agreement expires. Ownership of the work remains with the artist. Additionally, sub-license rights may be granted, allowing the artist to license their works to third parties in exchange for royalties.

Generally, licensing is the preferable option for artists, but in some cases, assignment is necessary. For example, if the record label contributes significantly to the artist's career, an assignment may be required in exchange for their investment. In such cases, it is good practice to ensure that the rights will revert back to the artist at some point.

Restrictions on usage

This clause outlines any restrictions on how the music can be used by third parties. For example, record labels may not allow any songs written under the contract to be used in certain genre-specific advertisements or television shows.


Exclusivity clauses are often included in music contracts. An exclusivity clause states that the artist agrees not to sign any other agreements with competing record labels or producers during the term of the contract. It is important to be aware of these restrictions and ensure they do not limit valuable career options. On the other hand, exclusive rights usually come with benefits such as higher royalty rates.

Distribution of income

The distribution of income clause outlines how the money generated from royalties and other sources will be split between the artist and record label. It also determines who will collect royalties, how often it will be distributed, and how it will be reported. It is important to understand the exact terms of this clause as it can have a significant impact on an artist’s earnings.

The other party's obligations

This clause outlines the duties that the other party is obligated to fulfill. This may include supplying services such as marketing and promotion, providing a specific budget for recording or touring, or any other necessary tasks. It is important that these obligations are clearly spelled out in the contract so there is no confusion about who is responsible for what.

Dispute resolution process

This clause outlines the process for resolving disputes should they arise during the term of the agreement. This can include mediation, arbitration or legal proceedings. It is important to ensure that this clause outlines all parties’ rights and responsibilities in case of a dispute.

Breach and termination rights

This clause outlines the rights and remedies of each party in case one side breaches the agreement. It should also explain how a contract can be legally terminated, as well as any financial penalties that may result from such a termination. Additionally, a termination for breach of right should be included, allowing the artist to terminate a contract in case of non-performance by the other party.

AI tools like AnyLawyer can help protect artists in contract negotiations

AnyLawyer is an AI based platform that helps artists protect themselves in contract negotiations by providing clause templates and personalized advice. It also helps them understand contract terms through its easy to use explain feature, and provides up-to-date information about music industry regulations. With its intuitive design and comprehensive features, AnyLawyer makes navigating the complexities of music contracts much less challenging.

Making the most out of music contracts in 2023

Understanding and negotiating music contracts is a complex process. It is important to be aware of the various types of agreements common in the industry, what consequences each can carry, and which standard clauses need special attention. As with all business affairs, it is advised to stay on top of tax and legal matters, and never enter into a binding agreement blindly.

AI tools like AnyLawyer can help artists protect themselves while negotiating contracts by providing templates and personalized advice. With the right knowledge and tools, artists can ensure they are making informed decisions regarding their agreements and secure the best deals possible.