The 11 Contracts Every Artist, Songwriter and Producer Should Know

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The following comes from music industry attorney Steve Gordon (more on him below).

Although there is no truly “standard” agreement, many music business contracts begin as “form” agreements before the terms are negotiated.

Often, there are two versions of a form agreement: one that represents the best interests of creators, including artists, songwriters, and producers, and one that represents the best interests of the companies that do business with them, such as record labels, publishers, and managers.

These parties typically have adverse interests.  For instance, while a record label will often attempt to secure rights in an artist’s sources of income beyond mere record sales, such as touring, merchandising and publishing, it is usually in the artist’s best interest to retain as much income from these secondary sources as possible.  Other agreements, such as contracts between co-songwriters or band members, seek to delineate the rights and duties of similarly situated parties in order to avoid disputes that might otherwise arise.

In this upcoming series, I will review the form contracts you are most likely to encounter in your music career and provide commentary on each provision so that you can understand exactly what it is you are agreeing to.

My focus will be on the types of agreements typically offered to indie artists, songwriters and producers taking the step to the next level.  By the time you are offered a deal with a major record label or publisher, you will be represented by a lawyer or manager who can help you navigate them.

In the first installment, I will guide you through a standard agreement between an artist and a manager, first from the point of view of the manager, then from the point of view of the artist.  Future installments will tackle agreements such as:

2. Indie record deals

3. Synch licenses for original music

4. Co-writer agreements

5. Producer agreements for the licensing and sale of beats

6. Band agreements

7. Investment agreements

8. Agreement for production of music for TV ad campaign

9. Synch rep deals for artists, producers, and songwriters

10. Merchandising agreements; and

11. Performance agreements with clubs and promoters.

It is my hope that you will use this series as one tool to educate and prepare yourself for the negotiations that will help define your career.


Steve Gordon is an entertainment attorney with over 20 years of experience in the entertainment industry, including 10 years as Director of Business Affairs for Sony Music, attorney at a law firm representing Atlantic and Elektra Records, and in-house music counsel for a Hollywood studio. He is the author of The Future of the Music Business (4th ed. 2015 Hal Leonard). 

Steve Gordon gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Ryanne Perio and Anjana Puri in the preparation of this material.

 Ryanne Perio is a graduate of Columbia Law School and a former legal intern at Atlantic Records and SAG-AFTRA.  She is currently an associate at Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering, Hale & Dorr, where she focuses on intellectual property litigation.

Anjana Puri is a lawyer pending admission to the New York bar. She currently works as an associate of Mr. Gordon. She received her JD from Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law (2014) and received her B.A. in International Development Studies from UCLA.

Image by Steve Snodgrass, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

26 Responses

    • Steve Gordon

      Hi John,
      As I wrote in my intro, often there are two versions of a form agreement, one that represents the best interests of creators, and one that represents the best interests of the companies that do business with them such as record labels, publishers, and managers. What my series is designed to do, in these cases, is to present contracts favoring the “company” and show the artist, songwriter or producer how they should change the agreement to make it fairer. I will also provide “pro-creator” agreements. Each installment will be preceded by a detailed introduction summarizing the most important issues in the negotiation of each agreement.

      • Bandit

        Actually Steve the real difference is that you explain what the essential terms of a contract are for free whereas the other guys want to sell it for $.

        C’mon Steve are you trying to improve the image of attorneys all by yourself. Don’t you know that there are attorneys, agents and managers out there that rely on musicians being completely unaware and ignorant of how a contract should be constructed

        • Christopher Hugan

          It is common practice in Nashville that major publishers and record labels advance attorney’s fees to the writers/artists that they sign. And, the contract usually has bold print stating that the writer/artist either reviewed it with a lawyer or had the opportunity to do so.

          Don’t sign if you do not understand–unless ambiguous, the law will presume you understood the document you signed.

      • Jamie M.

        Hello Steve,

        We, younger less experienced fellow attorneys, appreciate you sharing your years of expertise. We cannot thank you enough for helping to enable us to provide better help to our clients. You are making us proud. Also if you decide to do a producer contract article to help producers, soon, we’d greatly appreciate that also. We have gotten a number of requests to review those agreements lately, of course, well after they have been signed. Thank you!
        Jamie M.

      • Darrell

        Hi Steve Gordon. I’m an upcoming artist in a situation where a manager is offering me a contract just like your pro manager contract to get me to sign with him. Can you advise me on how to get out of a contract like this if the manager don’t do his job and what investors (who’s also business consultants and advisors that helps build businesses) should do when getting involved with us? Thank you very much.

    • Fast Annie

      Note: Symphonics contract documents are for sale, and they ain’t cheap!

      • Aaron Birnbaum

        IANAL, But if you think that $75 is “not cheap ‘, you are seriously in some financial trouble. That’s equal to about 15 minutes with a ‘competent’ attorney.

        If you got one cut on a minor artist’s album, you would be paid back many times on this investment. Or save $50, wing it and good luck.

        • Bandit

          Symphonic is offering legal counsel in addition to the blank form contracts (that can be obtained on the Internet for free)?

          If Symphonic is also offering legal advice at that price then it is a deal

          • John Symphonic

            As far as our contracts, yes we think $75 for 40 contracts is quite a deal considering there are versions for the US, UK, and some other territories..

            In terms of our legal advice, we have lawyers in the US and UK of which can give advice, but we don’t list the amount on the website because there are potential cases that could result in much more than a one time call and/or advice being given via email communication. We believe in that personalized approach!

        • rosie. moore

          Yes. My. Name. Is. Rosie. Moore. And. I. Am. Song. Writer. Looking. For. Someone. To. Record. My. Songs. With. Out. Causing. Me. Nothing. Help. Me. To. Get. Notice. .and. My. Foot. In. The. Door. A. Sign. Me. On. Contract. Already

    • Herman Andrews

      Hey i,m R&B song writer.And also a pop song writer and also gospel writer.


    Steve Gordon always brings great work to any table. Looking forward to this.

    • Herman Andrews

      I could bring my ideals to the label.And help everyone beside myself.I,m team player

  2. Milica C

    Steve Gordon is one of the most knowledgeable people in the industry! You should have heard him speak at the Business of Music Seminar at the Guitar Center! great article!

  3. M Adams

    Hi, Steve,

    Marlin from NYCLA, a long time ago!
    Nice job of laying out your topics. Anybody working in the business as an entrepreneur, will recognize your list as a real working list of the types of opportunities that are out there if you hussle. I would probably add to the list, Foreign Licensing contracts, another nice source of revenue if you do the work. Thanks. MA

  4. martin russell

    sorry to be dim, steve, but where are the contracts for download?

  5. Leo

    I am a songwriter and music producer, what kind of agreement should I do when a recording artists want to use one of my songs in there album?.

    I appreciate your feedback

  6. Janet

    I have the same situation as Leo. I am a songwriter and my own publisher. What sort of a contract do I need with an artist (independent – not under contract with anyone) who records one or more of my songs?

  7. Jacob

    Please can you explain how albums from new artistes under a record label is released. Does the record label buy the album from the artiste to resell? Or the artiste releases the album under the record label and receives percentage from sales?

  8. Philippos

    Is it me or there are no links to move to the juice, the first and rest of the 11 articles regarding our topic? :/