Navigating the music business can be tricky for creators, especially when dealing with the minute details of rights management and music contracts. That’s why we asked entertainment lawyer / music business professor Karl Fowlkes to explain his “LOMO” strategy — the four things every artist should consider before signing a music contract.
Please note: This post focuses on publishing deals (it’s what we do!), but the LOMO method can also be applied to recording contracts. Just remember to review these guidelines with a legal professional before signing any dotted lines. To learn more about what you need to know before signing up with Songtrust, check out this article.
Length refers to the period (or term) of the agreement, which varies. A shorter deal is generally associated with a lower advance.
Many agreements will pair a post-term collection period with the deal term. Some may also include partial ownership of your song copyrights for a set period of time, or in perpetuity.
Ask the following questions to keep the process as transparent as possible:
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 choose to do so?
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 should help inform your choices. A short-term deal is important for songwriters looking to evolve alongside their career; others may prefer a longer term with a higher advance or additional services provided by the publisher.
A music signing may include specific delivery obligations. In some traditional publishing agreements, you are required to produce a minimum number of commercially viable songs during the deal’s term. Publishing administrators like Songtrust do not typically insist on, or include, this requirement.
Clarify the kind of music contract you have by asking the following 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 the works I create during the term, or can I pick and choose as long as I meet the minimum?
Am I allowed to reject sync requests that don’t align with my vision?
Financial considerations will include how advances are recouped, the royalty rate (often according to the type of usage), and any recoupable costs that may be incurred on your behalf (usually around promotion).
Asking the following questions will help explain how a deal will impact your revenue streams and finances in the short and long-term:
How will I recoup everything? 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 other fees out of your royalty share, if any, go to third-party service providers like sub-publishers or local agents?
Ownership refers to how much control you retain of your songs, and it varies considerably depending on the type of publishing deal. In an administration agreement, you generally keep 100% of your copyright; in a traditional co-publishing deal, you typically give 50% to your publisher in perpetuity.
Before you relinquish your song rights, be sure to ask the following questions:
What percentage of your copyright will the publisher retain?
Does the publisher retain this share in perpetuity, and if not, for how long?
Are there avenues by which you could regain ownership?
Be Your Own Advocate
Keep your career goals in mind and be your own best advocate whenever you’re considering a publishing agreement. Or any other type of music contract, for that matter.
We recommend consulting with a lawyer before signing any deal. They can help you interpret the “legalese” within every line and prevent you from committing to a contract that isn’t in your best interest.
Review 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 The LOMO Method Checklist to take all this information with you on-the-go.