[Editors Note: This is a guest blog written by Justin M. Jacobson, Esq. It’s the second in a two-part series on the Artist/Record Label Relationship – read Part 1 here. Justin is an entertainment and media attorney for The Jacobson Firm, P.C. in New York City. He also runs Label 55 and teaches music business at the Institute of Audio Research.]
We will continue from our prior installment on “The Artist & Record Label Relationship.” We will now explore some additional contract clauses included in most recording agreements as well as a few negotiation tactics for these clauses.
Once the artist and distributor agree on the advances and what constitutes “delivery” to satisfy an artist’s commitment, the negotiation of the actual royalty rate earned for each sale is next.
ROYALTIES – (1.) Artist shall accrue to your royalty account, in accordance with the provisions of this Agreement, as described below; provided, however, no royalties shall be due and payable to you until such time as all Advances have been recouped by or repaid to Label. Royalties shall be computed by applying the applicable royalty percentage rate specified below to the applicable “Royalty Base Price” in respect of the “Net Sales of Records” described in this paragraph. Label shall pay to Artist all-in royalties (i.e., inclusive of producer and artist royalties). The term “Net Sales of Record” shall mean all gross income actually paid to Label in connection with its exploitation of such Album less all expenses (excluding overhead only) paid or incurred by Label in connection with the exploitation, manufacture, sale, advertising, promotion and marketing of such Album.
(2.) (a) The royalty rate (the “Basic U.S. Rate”) in respect of Net Sales of Records of the Album made hereunder made during the respective Contract Periods specified above and sold by Label through Normal Retail Channels in the United States (“USNRC Net Sales”) shall be as follows:
(b) The royalty rate (the “Escalated U.S. Rate”) in respect of USNRC Net Sales of each Album recorded pursuant to your Recording Commitment in excess of the following number of units, shall be the applicable rate set forth below rather than the otherwise applicable Basic U.S. Rate:
As the above clause mentions, the royalty that an artist earns for the sale of their music is calculated as a percentage of either the “Published Price to Dealer (PPD)” or the “Suggested Retail List Price (SRLP).” The “SRLP” is the approximate price charged by the retailer, such as Wal-Mart; while, the “PPD” is the approximate price that distributors charge to the retailers (wholesale unit price). It is prudent for an artist to attempt to negotiate for the highest possible royalty rate they could receive, as the higher the rate, the sooner they recoup the amounts advanced and the sooner the artist will begin receiving funds again.
In addition to agreeing upon the royalty rate and what the rate is based on (“PPD” or “SRLP”), similar to the clauses above, an artist can create royalty rate “escalators” based on album sales. As described above, when an artist sells 500,000 units (R.I.A.A. certified gold) or 1,000,000 units (R.I.A.A. certified platinum), the royalty rate escalates or “rises.” This increases the royalty rate that the artist is entitled to. An artist should also be cognizant of whether the royalty rate escalators are “prospective” or “retroactive.” A “prospective” escalator is one that only applies to sales going forward after a specified sales level is reached. This means that the artist’s royalty rate only is increased for any albums sold after they reach the listed sales level, for example, unit 500,001 is paid at the higher royalty rate. Conversely, and what is the ideal scenario for the artist, is “retroactive” escalation.
This means that once the artist reaches a specified sales level (i.e. 500,000 copy sold), the royalty rate is increased to the higher rate for all the albums sold prior (1-499,999 copies sold) as well as those going forward (500,001+ copies sold). An artist should also be aware that any “free goods” or albums given away for “promotional use” do not count as royalty bearing sales as no royalty or money is earned in these instances.
As in the example listed above, most royalties are considered “all-in.” This means that the artist is responsible for paying the producer of the track from the amounts they receive from the label. For example, if the artist is entitled to a 15% royalty rate from the label and the artist entered into a production arrangement with the producer providing him with a 3% royalty rate, the artist must provide the producer with the 3% royalty from the royalty the artist is entitled to. Thus, the 15% royalty rate paid to the artist by the label is split with the artist receiving 12% after the artist pays the producer their 3% royalty from these funds.
Once the royalty rate is set, the examination of the “reserve against returns” clause is necessary.
Reserve Against Returns – Label shall have the right to establish, during each semi-annual accounting period, a royalty reserve against anticipated returns and credits, of up to twenty- five (25%) percent of the royalty earnings associated with the units of each Record reported as distributed to its customers in that period. Each royalty reserve shall be liquidated equally and in full over the four (4) semi-annual accounting periods following the accounting period during which the applicable reserve is originally established.
While the above clause has begun to become obsolete in most instances, it is still important to examine and understand. The “reserve against returns” specifically applies to any physical record music as there is currently no way to “return” a digital downloaded MP3. This means that the label shall “reserve” or set aside a specified portion of the royalties the musician would otherwise be entitled to in case of any “returns” or “credits.”
For instance, in the example above, the label shall reserve twenty- five percent of the royalties the artist is entitled to in case any retailers must provide any refunds to its customer, which the label must in turn refund to the retailer. After a specified period of time, the “reserve” funds are “liquidated,” thereby, releasing the royalties to the artist. The frequency of “liquidation” is determined in the contract. As the above clause states, the reserves will be liquidated in “four” accountings, meaning every semi-annual accounting period. An artist should try to negotiate for a lower reserve percentage as well as a more frequent liquidation to earn as much of their royalties as quickly as they can.
Finally, one more clause that is included in many recording agreements is one that addresses the artist’s non-musical obligations, such as publicity and marketing for the released album.
Publicity – As Label reasonably requests, Artist shall appear for photography, poster, cover art, and the like, under the direction of Label or Label’s designees and to appear for interviews with representatives of the media and Label’s publicity personnel, at Label’s expense. As Label reasonably requests, Artist shall perform for the recording of brief audio, visual, and/or audiovisual spoken-word recorded messages and fan greetings suitable for use on and in connection with digital products and services and/or digital media platforms (e.g., Internet and wireless). In addition, as Label reasonably requests, Artist shall perform audiovisual works (e.g., so-called “B-roll” and “behind-the-scenes” footage) suitable for use on and in connection with Records embodying the Artist’s performances.
As the clause above outlines, the artist has to make themselves available for any public appearance, audio or audio-visual fan greeting or other audio-visual work as requested by the label. This is fairly common and in most instances, the artist will not receive any additional compensation for these services. However, an artist should try to negotiate for some of their expenses to be covered, such as transportation and/or meals, especially if the artist is required to travel further than a specified distance from the musician’s home.
Overall, the artist and label relationship is one of the most important ones and the next step in an artist’s quest for stardom. Since these agreements typically span many years and many albums, it is prudent that an artist fully understand the contract they are signing and ensuring they enter into an arrangement that works for them as this could be the document that makes or breaks an artist’s entire musical career.
This article is not intended as legal advice, as an attorney specializing in the field should be consulted. Some of the clauses have been condensed and/or edited for content purposes, so none of these clauses should be used verbatim nor do they act as any form of legal advice or counseling. We are also aware of the importance of streaming recordings; but, we will need to leave that for another day.