Studio Spotlight: Sine Studios’ Matt Teacher On Recording & Running a Philanthropy-Driven Label

In continuing with our ‘Studio Spotlight’ series that aims to highlight cool recording studios all over, this month we chatted with Matt Teacher, co-founder of Philadelphia’s Sine Studios. Matt started Sine Studios over ten years ago in the Rittenhouse Historic District with business partner Mike Lawson shortly after graduating from Berklee College of Music.

As the duo built up a reputation around town among clients across genres, they went on to launch The Giving Groove – an “artist-friendly, socially conscious” record label in an effort to help musicians they were passion about realize their musical vision while simultaneously giving back to the community. With half of all album proceeds being divvied up between the artists and a music-related non-profit of the artist’s choice, The Giving Groove is showing how members of the music community can make a difference across the board.

Read our interview with Matt below to learn more about his experience, Sine Studios, and The Giving Groove. Be sure to check out all Sine Studios has to offer in the way of mixing and recording, too!

You’ve been running Sine for 10 years now. Tell us a little bit about how you jumped into engineering and what led up to you opening your own studio.

Matt Teacher: My business parter, Mike Lawson, and I have been playing music together since 7th grade. From the first time we began making music together we were interested in learning how to record it. This started with a 4-track cassette recorder in Mike’s parents basement, then moved to a digital 8-track, then the Digi001.

By the time we were graduating high school we both knew we wanted to open a recording studio so we both went to school for it—Mike studying audio technology at American University and I went to Berklee in Boston. We both graduated in 2003 and returned to Philly and began working on finding our space, securing a loan, and finding someone to help us build our space. Mike and I both worked doing sound for film companies as we built Sine and in 2006 we opened our doors.

In terms of overall design, how is Sine unique? What can artists look forward to getting out of the space as a result of the way it was built?

The most important ethos of our studio is that we wanted it to feel like home, but allow our artists to be very productive at the same time. We were incredibly lucky to find Obie O’Brien to design our space and Bruce Slater to do the construction, both of whom had previously worked together building Bon Jovi’s studio, Sanctuary II. Our studio is in a turn-of-the-century brownstone in Philly’s Rittenhouse Historic District.

We gutted the 2nd floor, which was 2 apartments, and built our control room and live room. We used layers of leaded drywall, closed-cell foam, icynene, and sound-stop board to make the floor and walls very dense so that when we record the room holds the low frequencies and allows the microphones to pick them up in an even, well-rounded manner. There are no parallel surfaces in our live room and all the walls are curved or slanted so that it produces very even (but live) frequency response.

We didn’t want our room to be dead so we used very minimal treatment—mostly on the ceiling above where the drum kit is usually set up. Being musicians ourselves we have collected a lot of different instruments, amps, and toys that our clients are free to be inspired by and use during their sessions.

Philadelphia has become an even more prominent music city in recent years, whether it’s hip hop, garage rock, or anything in between. What excites you most about about the scene in 2017?

Having grown up in Philly and then returning here in 2003 I’ve seen the music scene dwindle and surge. When we first moved back a lot of venues were closing, studio options weren’t what they were in Philadelphia’s heyday, and it kind of felt like the scene was falling apart. Luckily, that didn’t last too long though. Over the proceeding years a lot of artists started making a name for themselves, whether it was Dr Dog and War on Drugs or Meek Mill, a lot Philly artists started making a name for themselves.

Today I am most excited about Philadelphia not only being a home to great artists, but also its return to a thriving industry town. I want Philadelphia to be a destination, not just for bands and artists, but for record labels and studios as well, and it’s incredibly exciting to see it happening.

Building on that, what kind of a role do you see Sine playing in the independent music scene around Philadelphia?

I love that many Philadelphia artists call Sine Studios home. We are here to provide a comfortable, creative space for one and all. We also provide a network of musicians and industry professionals and love to make introductions and connections for our artists.

A couple of years ago you started The Giving Groove record label. What inspired this move after so many years of running the studio?

After running Sine Studios for 10 years we wanted to expand into something that could help the artists we were working with. So many times we’d watch as an artist would finish their project and then struggle to get it out into the world in a meaningful way. Making and recording music comes naturally to most artists, but the business side of it is often not something they’re well-versed in.

It can be very difficult, especially when competing for tours and radio play with major labels who are throwing serious money behind their acts. That is why we started the Giving Groove: to have the ability to help artists get their art out into the world and enable them to give back to the music community that fostered them.

With 50% of the profits going to artists and 50% going to a music-based non-profit, what sparked the idea for this business model?

I was inspired by my dad and step-mother who had recently launched a cookbook publishing company, Burgess Lea Press. Their model was this: 50% of all after-tax profits would go to the author; the remaining 50% would be donated to a food-related charity. It needed to be adapted for the music industry, but this model is what would become the core of the Giving Groove ethos.

This model feels like something that really appeals to artists of this generation. What has the reaction been like from the arts community overall?

To date artist reactions have been overwhelmingly positive.  They feel as though they are getting their fair share, something that the mainstream music industry has always struggled with, and they appreciate that the label enables them to give back to the music community in a meaningful way. In the year and a half from when we came up with the model to when we launched we vetted our concept by everyone we had developed relationships with through the studio.

Everyone from Harry Weinger (Universal/Motown) to Aaron Weiss (mewithoutYou) to Jon Bon Jovi have been incredibly supportive and are routing for us to make the Giving Groove a success.

What kind of future plans do you have for The Giving Groove?

We plan to keep expanding our roster with a diverse range of artists and allowing them to support a growing network of music-related charities. For us it’s not about putting out a certain genre of music; it’s about the label’s mission and I believe this mission should be inclusive of all styles of music. As our branding grows we hope to continue to sign both well-stablished acts and up-and-comers.

Back to the studio a bit: What inside advice would you give to independent artists who are getting ready to step into a professional recording studio for the first time?

When I speak to an artist getting ready to head into the studio I always stress the importance of pre-production. Whether they’re working with a producer or not there are certain steps that need to happen before they set foot in the studio to record. For a band they need be well-rehearsed, but not to the point where the songs aren’t exciting to them anymore.

The songs have to be second nature to all the musicians so they don’t find themselves working out fundamental parts in the studio—everyone should just be focused on capturing the best performance and not just getting a passable take. They need to be able to play the material to a click even if they make the conscious decision not to track to it.

If they are going for mainstream pop success they need to take a hard look at the songs’ narratives and make sure their story (or if the lyric is more eccentric: “vibe”) comes through to the listener—artists always know what they mean when they write something, but making sure that comes through to the listener is key.

The Artist & Record Label Relationship – A Look At the Standard “Record Deal” [Part 2]

[Editors NoteThis 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.

The Artist & Record Label Relationship – A Look At the Standard “Record Deal” [Part 1]

[Editors NoteThis is a guest blog written by Justin M. Jacobson, Esq. 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.]


UPDATE: Read Part 2 of this series here!

In our prior installment, we examined the artist and manager relationship and explored a variety of standard clauses as well as negotiations tactics. We now start our initial examination of a few selected clauses from a standard recording industry agreement, better known as a “record deal.”

Once a musician has finished its product (music), the music is then distributed to the public for sale, either physically (CDs, vinyl), digitally (MP3 downloads, internet streams) or in both formats. Distribution is generally handled by a third-party on behalf of the artist unless the artist independently distributes their own music themselves. If an artist utilizes a third-party distributor, one of the industry’s most dominant distributors of recorded music is the recording or “record” label. These companies dispense the musician’s recorded music through a variety of channels, including to “Big Box” Retailers such as Best Buy and Target. Record labels are also involved in digital distribution by providing the work as digital downloads (MP3 format) in digital stores such as iTunes Store and on digital music streaming platforms, such as Spotify and Pandora.

Today’s recording industry landscape has significantly changed from its earlier roots, with many of the older, independent labels being sold and merged into each other. For instance, there are still a variety of major recording labels, such as Capitol Records, Columbia Records, Interscope Records and Atlantic Records; however, most of these are owned by other larger entertainment entities such as Warner Music Group, Universal Music Group or Sony Music Entertainment. In addition, many major labels have also established “vanity” labels. These act as smaller distribution companies where a producer or an artist signs additional artists or producers to this imprint and the “vanity” label then is dispensed to the public by a larger entertainment entity. For example, “Cash Money Records” is a “vanity” label distributed by Republic Records, which is under the Universal Music Group umbrella. There are also a variety of independently owned record labels such Sub Pop Records, Epitaph Records and Norton Records, who operate and distribute works on their own. In addition, there has been a recent rise in “digital only” record labels that function like traditional record labels; but, solely distribute music digitally.

Once an artist selects the appropriate distribution entity, it is standard practice for the parties to enter into an agreement outlining the deal points. To better comprehend this contractual relationship, let us now review a series of common clauses included in many standard record label agreements.

Similar to management agreements, the “term” or length of the agreement is of paramount importance.

TERM – (a) The Term will consist of an initial contract period (“First Contract Period”) and each of the renewal contract periods (“Contract Periods”) for which we will have exercised the options set forth in the next sentence. LABEL will have three (3) separate and successive irrevocable options, each to extend the Term for a further Contract Period. Each option to extend the Term for an additional Contract Period will be exercised automatically. The second Contract Period will be called the “Second Contract Period,” the third Contract Period will be called the “Third Contract Period” and the fourth Contract Period will be called the “Fourth Contract Period”.

(b) The First Contract Period will commence upon the date of Execution and will continue through the later of:
(i) The date twelve (12) months from the date hereof; or
(ii) The date six (6) months after the last day of the month in which Record Label
commercially releases the Album made in fulfillment of the Recording Commitment for the first Contract Period in the United States.

(c) Each subsequent Contract Period will run consecutively, commencing upon the expiration of the immediately preceding Contract Period, and will continue through the later of:
(i) The date twelve (12) months from the commencement of the particular Contract Period; or
(ii) The date six (6) months after the last day of the month in which Company commercially releases the Album made in fulfillment of the Recording Commitment for the first Contract Period in the United States.

This language states that the record label shall have one “firm” or “committed” album release with the “option” for up to three additional albums, totaling a potential four album deal. As it is written, these options are in the label’s sole discretion. In addition, this provision means that the agreement shall commence upon signing and shall end at either the expiration of one year from the signing of the agreement or six months after the last commercially released album. It also states that any subsequent option shall run for a similar period of time.

Since most record distribution deals contain similar language, an artist can attempt to negotiate specific parameters that are required in order for the record label to exercise one of its options. For instance, an artist could provide language that affords the label with the right to exercise an option for an additional album if the prior album reaches a specified sales figure (i.e., selling 20,000 copies of an album) or if the release recoups a certain specified percentage of an advance provided to the artist by the label (i.e., 75% of the preceding advance was recouped).

Once the “term” of an agreement is established, another important clause to decipher is the definition of what constitutes “delivery” of an “album” to satisfy an artist’s “recording commitment.”

Delivery Requirement – During each Contract Period, Label will cause the Artist to record and Artist will Deliver to Label Masters sufficient to constitute one (1) Album (the “Recording Commitment”). An “album” shall consist of approximately twelve (12) tracks with a total duration of approximately seventy five (75) minutes (the “Album”). In order for an Album to be “Delivered” under this Agreement, it must be contained in such format of which the Label advises the Artist, in the proper form for the production of the parts necessary for the manufacture of commercial Records, which shall be delivered to Label together with all materials, clearances, consents, approvals, licenses and permissions necessary to commercially release the applicable album. Each Album shall be subject to the Label’s approval as being technically and commercially satisfactory.

Further, unless Label otherwise expressly consents in writing, Artist will ensure that the Artist does not record Performances in fulfillment of the Recording Commitment that are: (1) not recorded in a recording studio (i.e., “In Concert” or “Live” performances); (2) instrumental Performances; (3) solely speech or spoken word; (4) not in the English language; (5) remixed or re-edited or mixes (e.g., extended mixes of an Album Master) or otherwise altered versions of Performances previously recorded; (6) based on an overall theme (e.g., a Christmas Album); or, (7) Performances of more than one Composition (e.g., a medley).

Under a recording agreement, the “delivery” of an album is an important point of contention between the label and artist. For instance, traditional language, such as in the clause above, requires that any album submitted to the record label must be both “technically” and “commercially” satisfactory to constitute a “delivered” album under an artist’s “album commitment.” An album is “technically” satisfactory when the master is technically well-made and able to be utilized to manufacture CDs, records, etc. This is fairly easy to satisfy, as any track that was recorded, mixed and mastered at a reputable recording studio or by a reputable professional, should suffice. Conversely, an album is only “commercially” satisfactory, if and only if, the label believes the album will sell. This means that the album is “satisfactory for commercial exploitation,” which is highly subjective. In negotiating this clause, an artist could try to limit the satisfaction of the “delivery” with an album that is “technically” satisfactory as opposed to one that is both “technically” and “commercially” satisfactory. This is especially important in emerging musical genres, such as electronic-dance music, where there are often quick and unpredictable listenership shifts whereby an artist or a type of musical genre which was once highly marketable is now no longer. If the label rejects an artist’s delivery of an album, it prevents any additional progress within the contract, such as the issuance of additional monetary advances. This situation may also arise where an artist is signed to a record label and then takes several months to finalize their album. If during this time period, the entire musical landscape shifts, the artist’s music may become outdated and not commercially satisfactory to the label, who feels they can now no longer sell this material.

In addition, the above clause defines one “album” as approximately twelve songs totaling seventy-five minutes; however, there are a variety of recordings that do not constitute a “track” sufficient to count toward an artist’s “album commitment” to the record label. For example, the language above states a “live” recorded performance does not constitute an acceptable track unless the record label permits it. Furthermore, a track that is solely instrumental or solely acapella will not count unless the label says so. Additionally, any foreign language tracks, remixes of original tracks or “theme” tracks, such as a Christmas or holiday album, will not count without approval from the label. An artist can always attempt to negotiate that a particular “live” version of a track counts toward the “album;” but, ultimately, the label may not agree or may only agree to allow this one particular track as opposed to removing the restriction entirely.

Another essential clause in a standard recording contract is the “advance” or “advance of recording funds” section. The negotiation of this paragraph has the potential to severely impact an artist’s career as this is the “money” the artist gets for signing the deal and are the funds the musician has available to actually record and finalize their album.

Advances/Recording Funds: Label will provide to Artist the following Recording Funds (inclusive of all producer advances and recording costs), which shall be recoupable from any and all royalties and any other agreements between the parties hereto. “Any other agreement,” in this paragraph, means any other agreement with Label relating to Artist’s Recordings or relating to Artist as a recording artist or as a producer of Recordings of Artist’s own performances.

(a) “Recording fund” advances for the Albums shall be subject to the following “minimums” and “maximums”:

(b) No respective recording fund shall exceed the “maximum funds” set forth in Paragraph(a). If the Artist fails to earn an amount which is the equivalent of one hundred (100%) percent of the proceeding “Recording Fund” advance as earned artist royalties in respect bearing units through normal retail channels in the United States of the Album, then the “Minimum” amount listed in Paragraph(a) shall be provided to Artist by Label. If the Artist earns an amount which is the equivalent of at least one hundred the proceeding “Recording Fund” advance as earned artist royalties in respect bearing units through normal retail channels in the United States of the Album, then the “Maximum” amount listed in Paragraph(a) shall be provided to Artist by Label.

(c) Label shall pay Artist one-half (1/2) of each Recording Fund advance listed in Paragraph(a) hereunder upon commencement of recording for each respective Album. The balance of each respective recording fund advance will be payable to Artist within thirty (30) days of the technically and commercially satisfactory delivery of each completed Album to Label.

As it is stated above, each album released by the label coincides with an additional “advance” of recording costs so that the artist may complete its album obligation to the label. Typically, most labels want approval over the recording budget; and, if any money remains from the recording funds after paying all the associated recording, mixing, editing and mastering costs, the artist gets it. If the musician requires additional funds to record and finalize the album, the artist must usually go into their own pocket to pay the difference. However, in select situations, the label may choose to pay the difference; and, in those instances, the label treats the additional payment as an additional recoupable advance. This situation could arise when there is no other way for the artist to obtain the funds to finish the album; and, the label would rather accept a finished album that costs a bit more than originally budgeted for than an unmarketable, unfinished album. The “minimum” amount listed above is known as the “floor.” As the above clause states, if an artist fails to fully recoup their entire prior advance from the label, they will only receive the “minimum” amount listed for their next album. Conversely, the “maximum” listed above is known as the “ceiling.” This is the highest amount that the label will provide to the artist for their next album no matter how good the prior albums sales were. As the proceeding clause states, if an artist does fully recoup their prior advance, they will receive the “maximum” amount listed for their next album.

In most instances, any advance provided by the label to an artist is fully recoupable from the royalties earned on the material. This means that after the label advances a specified amount to the artist, the label keeps any and all royalties earned by the artist for the recordings until the original amount is paid back. This is further exemplified as most clauses state that the amounts subject to recoupment by the label include “all amounts paid to you or on your behalf, or otherwise paid in connection with this agreement.” Thus, all the expenses the label pays including, to name a few, any
recording costs, music video production costs, studio session players and marketing and promotions for the album. They are generally all recouped prior to the artist receiving any additional monies. This is why the actual “minimums” and “maximum” are subject to extensive negotiations, since the amount the artist initially takes subsequently impacts what they will receive in the future, if anything.

The royalties earned by an artist under this agreement and in most standard ones are typically subject to cross-collateralization. This means that any monies advanced by the label “under this or any other agreement between the parties” shall be recouped from any and all streams of income that the label is entitled to. For instance, if the label has a publishing deal with the artist, the recording company could recoup the funds it advanced to create an album from the artist’s publishing monies. Similarly, if an ancillary income arrangement exists with the artist, the label could potentially recoup the funds it advanced to create the recorded music from the artist’s touring monies or from the artist’s merchandise sales, or any other income that is included in the agreement with the artist. Conversely, an agreement that is not cross-collateralized permits the label to only recoup the funds it advanced for the creation of recorded music from the funds earned from the sale of the music instead of the label recouping the funds of any potential stream of income the label is entitled to. Ideally, an artist should attempt to negotiate that the agreement not be cross-collateralized; but, this may be a hard bargaining point, as the label may insist on cross-collateralizing any income earned to reimburse itself for the costs it has already advanced to the talent.

In addition, it is a common industry practice that in most every recording deal that an advance is non-returnable. Therefore, there is no need for the artist to re-pay the money provided to the artist by the record label. This is true even if the artist ends up “flopping” and never recouping the original advance amount from the royalties it earns from the sale of its music.

These are just a few of the main points that need to be agreed upon between the parties. We will explore some additional clauses typically included in many standard recording agreements in our next installment.

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.

Interview: Luke Rathborne Discusses Running His Label, New Single, & More

Rathborne (aka Luke Rathborne) has been writing and recording music since he was 17. He packed up his things, migrated from Northern Maine to New York City, and wound up working under a famed Tin Pan Alley producer for a short period of time.

With an affinity for hip hop,  R&B as well as pioneers like the Velvet Underground (and everything between), Rathborne’s indie rock is tinged with influences of all sorts. He’s received critical praise from the likes of Rolling Stone, SPIN, Q Magazine, BBC 6 Music, The Guardian, and VICE, who explained Rathborne’s sound as “laid-back, confident new wave-meets-classic rock cut containing just the right amount of Nick Lowe and early R.E.M.

We’re proud to say that Rathborne has been using TuneCore for over five years to distribute his music. He’s got a true DIY mind state, which likely contributed to the start of his own label, True Believer. We talked to Luke about his influences, the state of the music industry, and his upcoming single, “Losing It“, which drops tomorrow on iTunes! He’s got plenty to say, and can serve as an educational figure of sorts for indie artists on the start of their own musical journeys:

Your music moves in and out of sounds, from proto-punk to indie pop. Who were some of your earliest influences? Who have you been digging more recently?

Luke RathborneI think in the beginning influences were coming from all over, which is pretty much how I embarked on my first record. I was 17 and played the majority of things myself, with help from a few friends. I can’t explain why but I’ve always had a bit of a restless feeling if I stay in one place too long.

Lately all I’ve listened to is R&B from early Prince, Sly & the Family Stone, to some of the newer trap pop coming out. I stumbled upon There’s A Riot Going On recently and have that and some other things on repeat.

Songs like, “Pale Blue Eyes” and, “Candy Says” were documents to me as a teenager that could tell you how to live your life and be more open.

Early influences were of course the Beatles and the 60’s stuff, always had a hankering for Van Morrison, and the kinda things you hear on the radio as a kid. The Velvet Underground set me in a different direction. Things will jump around from O.D.B. to the Cramps to Bruce Springsteen. It’s all music.

Young Thug, Rich Homie Quan, Future – that stuff pretty much knocks me out. There’s a vitality there in the trap stuff that’s gone from alternative music.

Tell us about the journey from Northern Maine to New York City. How did it live up to expectations?

Northern Maine, (near Jackman, ME) was somewhere I only lived in the summer and (occasionally) winter time. Where I’m from in Maine is more of a proper town than those areas. To be honest, it was so long ago that I moved to the city that I can barely remember the years of moving here as a teenager.

I think New York City let down my expectations in its propensity towards finance and fashion triumphing over art. Walking through a city block, it’s much more a triumph of money and capitalism than any kind of meaningful human triumph.

In terms of what I’ve found in relation to the industry here, many times a brand decides to devalue music and musicians, by exchanging cash behind closed doors on the backs of artists. We’re almost in a position to Re-value musicians and their time, like we’re transgressive and going back in time to a period of the business that is buried in history.

It’s something you’d expect to change, but there’s this attitude of, ‘If you don’t do it someone else will‘ directed at the musicians that can be difficult to walk away from, especially for people trying to create future opportunities.

I’m not any kind of authority on anything I can just tell you my own experience.

What kind of tips would offer to a young indie artist making a similar move early in their career?

You don’t really need to move anywhere these days. Focus on your art and what makes you happy, and find something that can pay the bills! I was just reading a theory that the Swedes became such powerful songwriters, (a large percentage of the Top 40 hits each year are written by Swedish folks), because they are so isolated from live performance and must focus completely on song.

Never underestimate where your journey might lead.

rathborne2 copy

You’ve worked with a Tin Pan Alley behind-the-scenes legend Joey Levine. How did that come about and what was the experience like?

Joey Levine is a cool guy. He produced my song, ‘Dog Years‘, years ago. Doing the track(s) together was pretty similar to working with other producers, though in retrospect I think Joey thinks in a big picture and is more old school; he’s looking to get the engineer to embolster the overall feel.

I was an assistant at his studio years ago and someone who worked there gave him my first record, After Dark. I never would have given it to him myself, not in my nature. I also recall it being written in the job application not to do that.

What inspired your decision to start your own label, True Believer? What was your experience in the world of indie labels prior to its launch?

I decided to start my own label because I realized I had a very unique way of doing things. It can be a lot of work but I enjoy engaging on that level and I find it can be interesting to be your own proprietor. Music is such a personal thing, I don’t know how many people out there know me better than myself.

How has running your own label impacted the way you view the music industry of today? How have services like TuneCore assisted in the development of True Believer?

Straight and simple TuneCore – and I apologize to those not in the ‘industry’ who read this – does NOT take a percentage of what you make. It’s a one-time payment and you own your masters. ALL of it.

In the past, ‘larger entities’ and distributors have made me offers sometimes eclipsing up to 20% of what you make, (and occasionally more if there’s a label involved), in exchange for providing their ‘services’.  As an individual representing myself, it’s easy to get lost in the fold and not be able to challenge these folks for not making good on their initial promises.

Often times, what you’re left with is that their services can boil down to something completely identical to what TuneCore offers, except then they have a piece of what you make.

There’s a huge attitude coarsing through the veins of the entertainment complex to make artists that you think, ‘might do something‘ offers with incentives towards signing their distro/record/agency deal. Those can be different things, sometimes cash, or some other kind of exposure.

It is the unfortunate truth that in so many cases, these incentives are not met and it’s a kind of ‘camping’ by the organization on an artist’s rights in the hopes that they could ride a train of the artist’s personal work and profits – in the unlikelihood that they are able to catapult themselves on their own accord. 

In a sense, it boils down to a white lie. Set a large enough trap as a distributor/agent/label/publisher and you’re bound to get someone that sticks.

Keep in mind: this isn’t malicious. It would be pointless to be. It’s just the way it goes.

In so many ways, I wanted to philosophically get away from those principles. In the music business many times someone shows you one hand they’ll play but they don’t have the intention of actually playing it. TuneCore, in this case, lets you bypass even being at the poker table, cause it’s a long wait at that poker table, and nobody ever makes a bet.

You’ve racked up over three million streams through True Believer so far. What were your initial feelings toward the shift into music streaming?

That’s true! Can you believe it!? I can’t. Streaming is unavoidable. The royalty rates will change. They’ll have to. I was the kid on Napster, Soulseek, whatever. I would download all the music I could because I loved it.

When you think about it, that’s three times the population of the state I came from, Maine. 

I don’t think it’s possible my grandma listened three million times.

What do you say to artists who might be disenfranchised as a result of this newer method of consuming independent music?

Stay disenfranchised. Always. There is a war going on between the people making the thing, (yourself), and the people selling the thing, (the music business.) 

Don’t let yourself or what you’re doing be undervalued. Be courageous and believe in what you’re doing. 

Don’t put yourself in a perilous position and take care of yourself; watch out for the fakes. Have FUN.

Tell us about your single, ‘Losing It‘. What are you going for instrumentally, and what kind of story are you hoping to tell?

‘Losing It’ was a song inspired by that Paisley Park kind of feeling. I love the way the electronics and other pieces just kind of drift over each other, and especially the bridge with the tiny tinkling keys! I used a tiny Casio to play those.

The story kind of ties in with the upcoming new album as a kind of aimless drifter, losing his cool.

What plans do you have for 2016 in terms of new music and taking your label to the next level?

2016 I hope to get off my ass and kick this thing into high gear! Here we come world! There’s more than a few surprises on the slate for the label, you’ll just have to stay tuned.

Dos and Don’ts of Demo Submission

{Editor’s Note: This blog was written by Thomas Sontag, A&R at Turbo Recordings and MixGenius. It was originally featured on the LANDR Blog. With LANDR’s Instant Mastering tool, you can give your recordings a more polished sound in minutes!]

During my eight-year tenure at Turbo Recordings, I would guess that I’ve received over 50,000 demos, and personally listened to a total of about 200,000 songs, some of them in their entirety. It’s been a rewarding process that has led to some big signings: unsolicited demos are how we discovered great artists like Gesaffelstein, Proxy, Popof, and Clouds, to name a few.

From my experience, I can suggest a few basic dos and don’ts to keep in mind when sending your demo to labels. Let’s start with what NOT to do:


  • Send CDs, WAVs, or even MP3 downloads without first sending a stream. Soundcloud is a perfect way for A&Rs to preview your work without having to download-and-delete endlessly.
  • Talk about how your songs are unfinished. It’s ok if the mix isn’t final, but ultimately, an A&R needs to know that you can finish tracks.
  • Send mass emails to labels or share your Soundcloud with loads of labels at once. Think carefully about who would appreciate your music and hit them one by one. Make them feel special, or at least unique in their burden.
  • Apologize for tracks being unmastered. LANDR is perfect for this application.
  • Presume that your sound is a perfect fit for a label. Chances are that an A&R will see your work as imitative.
  • Talk about your age, unless you’re under 20. If it’s not a wow-factor asset, then it’s not going to help you. No one is looking to corner the market on 38-year-old producers.
  • Send more than three tracks at once unless you feel certain you have an album that you want to pitch as a whole. Ideally, send ONE amazing track and then wait for a follow-up.
  • Say too much. Preserve mystery.


  • Contextualize your work briefly. It helps to know how an artist sees their work fitting in and what their aspirations might be.
  • Keep e-mail file size to a minimum.
  • Show signs of creative life when it comes to the visual representation of your work. A mood-board helps build the narrative and makes the listening experience memorable.
  • Having self-made videos can help make your work seem more ‘finished’ as a product, although the quality may make or break the first impression.
  • Use Soundcloud streams. It’s the easiest way to preview material.
  • If you’re not confident in the balance, loudness, or overall quality of your mix, LANDR is an easy and free way to improve the sound quality.
  • Flattery might help if it’s heartfelt. Showing you really know and love what a label is about can’t hurt your chances.
  • If you have had support from big names, or have played at major events, it helps to mention them… as long as the names are credible.
  • This may be obvious, but great artist and track names matter. They’re an important expression of your persona and can create pre-judgments from listeners that may be hard to overcome. So back to the drawing board, ‘Soulstep X-Pressions’…