Never Work Without A Contract!

Hello beautiful people!

I hope you are all doing well!

Some people said I need to start my own blog. I actually started…however it’s taking a lot of time to make good, valuable and reliable content – which for me is really important. Everything takes time, we all have some sort of work during the week, but somehow we need to progress…

Now I want to share a small little story that I will later present in one of my blog-posts more in-depth.

I really want to remind you, no matter what your job is, composing, producing, sound designing, and even mixing (what I do professionally as well), it’s super important to have a full contract with the people you work – even if it’s your best friend!

Why is that?

Imagine you met a guy, know a friend, whoever this person might be. You had some cool conversations, found out that he is doing music as well…whatever. At some point, this guy says: “Hey, dude, let’s make a record together! I write the lyrics and the melody and you do everything else. What do you think?” You are like…hmm…that’s cool…yeah let’s do it! Sounds cool to me…

Now working for days, weeks, months…whatever the time period might be in your case, at some point you will finish the record. Of course, the record should be published somehow, so you think about CDBaby, Spotify, Youtube, AppleMusic, BandCamp whatever. (These are just examples…)

Now comes the “shock-moment” for you. The guy says, who wrote the lyrics and melody, because of “that”, he holds the copyright of the song. In the very first moment, you might think…well…hmm…makes sense…he wrote the “song”. But after a while, you start to “re-think” that statement, as this song is going to be sold and played somewhere and “who, actually will be paid then???”

Let’s think over again: This guy said, “I own the copyright of that song”. But what happens, if that song will be played somewhere only as an instrumental track, without vocals, even with? He didn’t write a note, besides the melody! Everything else, literally 95% of the production, the arrangement, the sounds, the mixing, etc. So it that case, your name would be nowhere, nor registered by the PRO, if that guy owns 100% copyright.

Now we imagine this track blows up, your friend is earning serious money, but you are still sitting somewhere in your closet and biting your nails.

Please don’t do it! Even if you are not earning money (yet) from music, NEVER EVER do this what I wrote above!

The good news are that I know my copyright, so you need to know it too! That’s the most important thing in art actually, besides the art itself. It’s never about the “best composition”, the best “production”, the “best…”. Music is just the same business, as everything else. Even if you are not doing it “professionally”, you still need to know and protect your copyright professionally! You never know what could happen tomorrow. And there are so many examples of producers, composers, etc. who had their finger in the pie.

You always have some sort of copyright when you do something “creative”. You are protected by that copyright-law in the same moment, you write something down. Be aware of it, even if you do something with the very best friends! I almost lost two good friends because of this. It sounds really stupid, however, I have learned my lesson! They’ve learned it too!

Before you start doing ANYTHING with someone, always prepare a contract where you write down the most important things, the share-rate, etc. should be signed of course.

Have a great week everyone!
Don’t do mistakes others did already 100 times! :slight_smile:

Kind regards and take care,
Alexey :slight_smile:

PS: Link to my blog. I’ve just started, however, I think there will be something for everyone in the future! :wink:
https://mailchi.mp/0d4f7c4f0f9e/audioandmusicproductionblog

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Yes, love this advice Alexey! :smiley:
We should treat our music composition and production process as a business, even if you haven’t started an actual business yet.

PS. I hope your blog and website will be successful for you.

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Thank you @Mikael!

I believe it’s always a “gift” if you can share things. It can be a story, a PDF, an advice, or whatever. As long as people find it useful and valuable you did a great job.

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Hello Alexey,

thank you for this post, I was actually just recently thinking about this issue. I was making some song arrangement for a friend, she wrote the lyrics and came up with some sample melody, then I took it to my hands and made a song from it, full length. And then I was thinking about those what IFs and well… I just couldn’t imagine telling my friend “hey we are doing contract”. First of, because I don’t really know what the deal should sound like, if it’s really hard to identify who composed “more”? And second, I have literally no idea how a contract like this should look like. Any advice from that point? :slight_smile: In this case, I am not planning to get this published, the song was only a birthday present but I am just curious.

And if I may add another question about my current collaboration. I composed a piece and had a violinist record the solo using my sheet music. Now I am doing just some final edits and then I plan to publish it (featuring the soloist ofc). I am the obvious owner of the song, but reading this article makes me think that maybe I should make some contract with this guy too, even if he was “just” an instrument I used? Should I offer him some percentage from the possible outcome or what is the best way I should proceed?

I do not compose professionally, hence, I am really clueless about all this. Sorry if I’m asking for too much info.

Thanks! And good luck with your blog! :slight_smile:

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Dear @Mia_Jezkova,

Thank you for your reply!

Well, to be honest I need some time to figure out how this contract should translated into English. I have somewhere a German one, however never was really into it, as to this date I made everything on my own.

Usually you pay a musician for a gig and that’s it. Later, they need to make sure they write to the PRO and say which song they have played. That’s how the German GEMA works. I am with BMI and there is no Info about musicians, besides the writers and publishers. As I said, if the musician played what you have composed, they just get money for that gig. If they have improvised themselves, I personally would give them a writers share, depending on how much they did and how really important an instrument or that performance was. If you take a singer like Rihanna, she get max. 1% of Performance royalties as she only record and sold her voice. 99% are all other people involved.

Maybe there are some kind of contracts only for our scenario in English. Need to find out. But for the beginning it’s more important to split the copyright in %, what is fair to both of you and how much „recognizable a melody really is“. Let’s say the singer made only the melody but an amazing one, it would make sense to split 50/50 as you will get much more recognition of that song. If you think the melody isn’t that great of a help for you to split 50/50, you decide. Beatles and most others band just splited 25% each, without thinking who did what when where, etc. Queen the same.

Hope that helps somehow :slight_smile:

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Alexey, thank you a lot for explaining this, it helps a lot! :slight_smile:

I looked up some contract templates online, so next time I ll need this, I will know what to do. Thanks again!

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Alexey,

Excellent post. Absolutely a necessity to have at least the basic details ironed out going into a project or gig. I’ve made the mistake enough times in my career (with friends too) that my initial talking point with people at the beginning of a project is :

“Hey, this sounds cool. I’m in, but let’s put some things down so we know how it’s all going to work out if it takes off.”

If they balk at it or try to put it off, I walk away - with friends too. I’ve learned that if they’re truly friends, you can have a conversation about it - even if that conversation results in: “Hey maybe, we shouldn’t do this so it doesn’t screw up our friendship.” If not, you probably don’t want to be entering into any kind of business (or even project) arrangement with them. If they’re flaky about one detail, they’re likely to be flaky about others.

The last time I didn’t take my own advice, I got burned…and hard. I’m still paying the price for it in lost revenue and trashed relationships.

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Exactly @Will!

The main problem is not to make a contract, but people who either are totally beginners or people who „just do it as a hobby“, don’t see it too serious. Sometimes people even don’t educate themselves enough, especially the most important things are not cared about. (We all have so much stuff to do, and a lot of times we lose track, which is normal and that’s fine. We all do mistakes, however we need to learn from them).

I have now the case, that a friend of mine is sending me messages that I need to „figure things out“ and speaking to lawyers…which is totally off point. I have studied and learned the basics of copyright and know what rules to play, at least for me.
Years ago a had a couple of questions. I went to a lawyer, I paid 250$ and went back home without learning nothing. Sometimes it’s really hard to explain that to „not professional“ people/artists, that a book or even the internet has almost all the information you need and that’s for free, in most cases.

So the only way I see now, is by making my own contract, writing things down and as you said: „either they are happy or if not then there will be no project“. That’s that simple sometimes.

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I have a simple agreement I use (or would if I didnt do everything myself) that is basically stating who does what and how its to be distributed. Its a really simple document I got at legal.com, i think. I havnt had to actually push it, so far the few times I have collaborated either they had their own forms, or I did, there was no hard feelings, quite the opposite in fact. We all actually worked better having an agreement to keep things ‘in line’. The way it is worded, it does not steal or give anyone anything they can steal either. It is a compromise for both parties, but at the level I am at that is not an issue, no big names or egos to have to deal with. And so far, lol, there was no money ever made on those projects…

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Hi @Duthsa,

still that’s the way it should be. Believe it or not, I have met this „ego“ people, which to some extend it’s fine to have, however, especially the guys, who have almost no experience really tend to be the ones with the biggest egos. So better to stay away from this kind of people and invest your time and energy in something else important.

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That could be a whole new topic on who to work with and who to shy away from and who to just RUN! lol. I have had this set back a few to many times: working with people who think they are much better than they are, and/or who gets angry at any sort of critism no matter how careful one treads, they are so fragile they cannot take any thing related even to critique… (IMO a person who is any good at anything does not need to brag, the work should be enough to speak for them) the pro types I work with do not waste any time in that none-sense. I have had folks whine about how much the wish they could play but have no instrument, so hey, c’mon over and use my (bass, resonator guitar, guitars, sound banks on the keys, or the elec drumset) and have found that every time the reason they have no instrument is not from hard knocks, (to that I can relate, and have pity) its because music was not a real focus and thus was not as important as say, drugs or sexuality or whatever. Those are what I call wanna bees. They wanna, but will not wanna enough to take the time to master these skills. So, the simple form I think is a great idea, it makes things more professional, for one thing, and also creates a document for later referal such as: here is my list of colaborators, verifiable. I played on such and such a track and here is the proof. Also works as a memory of sorts, as in, who played that…lets see, oh, hey it was so and so from east tn, lets give that person a ring for this next project…that sort of thing is another reason to have a papertrail. Hope any of that made sense…

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Oh yeah!

Well, as you said, a professional work always speaks for itself. You can always find any sort of „things“ to make different, not always better, however, people who in our case make music maybe 2 hours a week if any, tell you what „you“ need to change, whatever. He can always find good ideas from anyone, but it doesn’t mean, it will make anything move forward 100 miles. I mean, you can learn from anyone, but you still need to trust your own gut. / feeling. To treat anyone with respect is important, but being on the at least same level of gameplay is crucial as well to make yourself and vice versa improve and feel secure and „in a good place“ overall.

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Yep, so the reason I use to bring up; "hey, I got this contract…"is so that we are on the same page. TBH most of the time I am surrounded by folks who have way more exp. than I. So I have learned how to get on their good side, and get more or less free life lessons {everything has a price of some kind} (which BTW is a key to success, being able to be taught and hungering to be taught) anyhow side thoughts side, is that being humble and be happy to have ‘better thans’ and not threatened by the fact others know more than I, instead, i cannot understand why folks do not embrace gaining knowledge from others. Take the whole “better than” out of the equation by assigning from the get go who is doing what. Once one is at a contract phase, its a different game now. In other walks of life I have learned it is important to ‘cover oneself’, and a contract with names agreeing to how it is to be organized forces that very exact thing that creative endeavers desperately need but don’t want: disciplined organization. If a persons role is likely to expand then compensate for that by having the contract state that it can be revised with all parties present or whatever…etc etc ad nauseum! :slightly_smiling_face: :

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I had a similar experience 8-9 years ago, albeit the album didn’t blow up. I learned my lesson and I only wish we had this forum active back in the day to get some best practices, dos and don’ts out in the open :slight_smile:

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