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The Jazz Butcher Conspiracy : Mailing List : 1999

Re: Record Contracts?

From: Doc <>
Date: Thu 14 Oct 1999 - 12:43:34 PDT

  • Brent Aliverti <> wrote:
    > All this talk has me wondering how recording contracts normally work.
    > I already know that in typical situations, the artist receives an
    > advance from the label to make the album. Once the album is available
    > for sale, the label needs to recoup the cost of the advance and any
    > other associated costs (videos, promos) before the artist start
    > receiving royalties. These contracts are often notoriously slanted in

> favor of the much so that even seemingly successful acts
> like XTC had a hard time making a living while being signed to a
> major (Virgin, in this case).

>From what I understand, there's different kinds of rights. There are
production rights, which means that the label doesn't own the work, but it has an exclusive licence to manufacture the media and distribute the product. They're not involved in the production of the music (i.e., the stuff that ends up on a master tape), but they're involved with the production of the media-- CDs, rekkids, and so forth. Usually you see something in the copyright statement as "produced under licence from bogbrush rekkids" or something like that. (Bigtime Records did this for "Bloody Nonsense".)

You can split that hair even further and simply have marketing rights. That is, someone else produces all of the goods (music and media), but doesn't actually distribute the product for sale. Someone else who has all of the retail connections, etc., does that and takes a cut from each album sale. There are a lot of small bands in Chicago that take this approach and release 7" rekkids every so often.

The problem with both of these approaches is that they don't make as much money as a "soup to nuts" approach. The precentages the record company gets may be smaller, and they still have to do the same amount of promotion, etc., to generate sales. As a result, they're not interested in sharing like this. They either refuse outright to share, or they make their percentages quite high.

The other kind of rights, which are exclusive, are the kind you've described above. These do make the most money for the record company, and they do keep the artist bound to the record company, usually for a specificied number of albums.

Even the labels which are considered to be the most artist-friendly, like Creation, can make it very difficult for an artist. And we all know how that ended for Pat. However, other acts like The Jesus And Mary Chain left Creation under a cloud and came back after several years of shopping themselves to different labels. Each artist's circumstances and luck are different.

> But what happens if the label decides to let the album go
> out-of-print? Or if the label goes bankrupt? I've already
> ascertained that the rights don't necessarily automatically revert
> back to the artist, but what DOES happen with the rights?

Owning rights to a song make the rights an asset, which is recognised legally as commodity, and the a label can trade away or sell. Michael Jackson bought the rights to the Beatles catalog, Paul McCartney bought the rights to Buddy Holly's catalog, etc. They don't physically OWN the songs; they just get a royalty whenever one of those songs is sold.

When Glass Records tanked, the catalog was seized as an asset, and Pat lost his income from the royalties of the album sales. The songs were still his, and he could still perform them, but they were under an exclusive right of the label, so the recordings couldn't be distributed until Glass' bankruptcy was sorted. Pat hadda wait 10 years before someone else bought the rights, and then a whole new agreement had to be worked out between Pat and the label, I'd guess. (Since Glass went bankrupt, the original contract would be void.)

When an record goes out-of-print, it's just that. There aren't any more copies in stock, and record companies have no plans to produce any more records. But the record company owns the rights to the song.

Artists or labels can, at times, negotiate with the owner of the rights to buy the rights and re-distribute the recordings. Ryko and Rhino do this quite a bit-- like with the Bowie, Robyn Hitchcock, and Zappa re-issues that have come out over the last 10 years. Elvis Costello's own Daemon Records did the re-issue of his albums, plus the Stiff records boxed set. I think Ryko re-issued just about every bit of Bowie and Zappa stuff ever released, plus a bunch of bonus tracks. The Robyn Hitchcock stuff, however, wasn't complete because A&M did't relinquish their rights to the Queen Elvis, Perspex Island, and Respect albums (as well as the singles, etc., associated with those releases).

Enough spew. That's about as much as I know.

I want a beer and I want to sit in a club and listen to Pat & Max.


Do You Yahoo!?
Bid and sell for free at Received on Thu Oct 14 14:49:45 1999
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