As music creators, navigating the business of music can be tricky, especially when dealing with the worlds of rights management and contractual agreements. That’s why we’ve collaborated with Karl Fowlkes, Entertainment Lawyer and Music Business Professor, to discuss his “LOMO” strategy that consists of four things every artist, entertainer, and content creator needs to focus on before signing any contract.
Please note: The information presented here is specifically focused on music publishing deals (I mean, it is what we do!), but even if the details are different for things like recording contracts, the LOMO mantra still stands. The below are simply guidelines about what to look at when considering an agreement. We always recommend you consult with a legal professional before signing any contract.
First and foremost, understanding the length (or term) of the agreement is very important. You may find that deal length offers will vary greatly, and a shorter deal is generally associated with a lower advance. Many agreements will include a post-term collection period in addition to the deal term, and some may include partial ownership of your song copyrights for a set period of time - or for life. You should always consider the following:
- How long is the deal term?
- If the agreement includes an advance, does your deal term extend until recoupment?
- Is early termination possible, and what penalties do you incur if you terminate early?
- Does the agreement include post-term collections, and how long is that period?
- Are there any options to extend the agreement, and who determines if the option will get picked up?
Your career goals will inform your choices. For some songwriters, a short-term deal is important so they have additional flexibility to change course as their career evolves, while others prefer a longer-term with a higher advance or additional services provided by the publisher.
Depending on the type of publishing deal, your agreement may include specific obligations for delivery during your deal term. In some traditional publishing agreements, you are required to produce a minimum number of commercially viable songs during the term. With a publishing administrator like Songtrust, there are no such obligations. Make sure you know the answers to the below questions:
- Am I required to produce any amount of work during my term? If so, how much?
- What happens if I’m unable to provide the agreed-upon amount of work?
- Who owns the copyright to any work I create while under this agreement?
- Does this obligation require me to deliver all of the works I create during the term, or can I pick and choose as long as I meet the minimum?
- Am I allowed to disapprove synch requests that don’t align with my vision?
Naturally, a lot of decisions will come down to money. This will include advances and how they are recouped, royalty rate (often rate will vary for different types of usage), what recoupable costs they can incur on your behalf (usually around promotion), and more. Because the answers to these questions will have an impact on your revenue streams and finances, you’ll want to be clear on:
- How will I recoup, is it a net profit deal or am I recouping at the royalty rate?
- What percentage of your royalties does the publisher take, and does this vary based on income type and territory?
- Will costs like copyright registration, sync samplers, promotional events etc. be recoupable, and do you have advance approval over these expenditures?
- What additional fees out of your royalty share, if any, go to third-party service providers like sub-publishers or local agents?
Last, but certainly not least, is ownership. This refers to how much ownership you retain of your songs, and it varies quite a bit among publishing deal types. In an administration agreement, you generally keep 100% of your copyright, whereas, in a traditional co-publishing deal, you generally give 50% to your publisher, often in perpetuity. Before you give up your song rights, know the answers to these questions:
- What percentage of your copyright will the publisher retain?
- Does the publisher retain this share in perpetuity, and if not, for how long?
- Either way, are there avenues by which you could regain ownership?
Be Your Own Advocate
When considering a publishing agreement - or any type of contract around your music - you need to advocate for yourself with your career goals and aspirations in mind.
And we’ll repeat ourselves: we always recommend that before you sign any contract, you consult with a lawyer whose expertise will enable them to interpret the “legalese” and prevent you from committing to something you don’t want.
Check out our Publishing Deal Checklist for other considerations you’ll want to keep in mind before you sign a publishing agreement. And don't forget to download Karl's method in our latest The Lomo Method checklist to take all this information with you on-the-go.