Behind the Music: The Anatomy of the Record Deal

Music executives and insiders tell you who you need to have on your team to secure the best deal


Massenburg with singer India.Arie

“Having a lawyer who knows how to read record company contracts and negotiate music-specific issues like royalties is essential,” he advises. “He or she must be able to read and understand the type of boilerplate contracts you will offered and understand what the standard amounts are for a new artist to make. Just any old attorney won’t do.”

Plus, adds, Boddie, you’ll need your attorney to negotiate contracts between you and the other key folks on your team–your business manager and accountant.

“A deal is generally broken down into three components,” Boddie explains. “The first is for the [music deal] itself, which covers album creation. The second is for touring and the third is for publishing. Whether you’re with a major or an indie label, they’ll want a piece of all of the action and so you’ll want to position yourself to be able to keep as much of the pie as you can.

You can do this, says Massenburg, by doing as much of the heavy lifting on your career before you get to the signing table.

“If you’re self-contained–meaning you can do things like produce your own songs, you’ve got own studio, have developed a fan base, are on the radio and/or have already recorded a quality, marketable album–you can leverage your position,” he says. “It’s possible for you to negotiate a 50/50 profit from your label, as well as retain ownership of your masters and other advantages. Ideally, a [major] label will just buy the album from you and then just kick in marketing and publicity, which gives you the benefit of having a huge machine behind you,” says Massenburg. “I’d sign with an indie as a last resort,” he adds.

But don’t rely on your own ears to tell you whether you’ve got a hit album on your hands,” he warns. Instead, he says, surround yourself with people who aren’t afraid of hurting your feelings because they’ll save you the embarrassment of attempting play hardball with a label for a deal when you only have a commercially sub-par product.

“As an artist, you’re not going to be objective,” he says. “Have a team around you that doesn’t fear you and isn’t scared of pissing you off because they’re on your payroll. Have a team that understands from a business, marketing and promotion perspective what will work. At the end of the day, no one cares about the message. Executives only care about your ability to sell.”

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