Many deals have been made over the years that have seen my 20+ year career in music change from being a band member to being a songwriter/producer to being the managing director of a music company.
It’s often surprising how fixated people are on having a written legal agreement in place, almost as if they feel that the agreement itself guarantees that things will happen and prevents them from being lead up the garden path.
You can’t write into a deal the motivation, energy and enthusiasm with which people enter a working relationship. You can’t measure commitment to a cause. You simply don’t know how quickly things develop. Neither can you quantify or qualify perseverance, which for a lifelong musical traveller is never ending. “As long as it takes” is to be taken literally.
Nothing in a written agreement will make anyone’s job any easier, more secure or likely to lead to success.
Far too many artists still believe that there is a walled garden named music business with a secret door to which a manager/label/lawyer/agent has a magic key. They’re willing to listen to any kind of horse manure and believe the unlikeliest fairytales as soon as someone who appears to know what they’re talking about shows them a deal, which they sign once they’ve seen a lawyer. A whopping 6 months go by and “nothing happens”. Artist gets frustrated and starts calling other managers, in the knowledge that his lawyer, wisely, negotiated a 6 month break clause into the deal. Another manager expresses interest. Artist fires the original guy and does a new deal. Back to square one.
Having Said That…
Of course, none of the above is meant to say that written legal documents are unnecessary. On the contrary, safe house keeping is a good idea. Lawyers are there to make sure that the wording of the deal you agreed reflects what was agreed.
Make no mistake: it’s up to you do the agreeing. Don’t leave the details to others, thinking it’s ‘rock’n’roll’ and cute to be uninformed about your business.
In the old days getting a record deal enabled you to make the transition from being a hobbyist to being a professional musician in an instant, because of the advances involved. It’s clear that deals had to be in place to protect the commercial interests of those involved. Granted, most of those deals didn’t work out, but the artists did get a brief moment during which they could pretend they’d made it. And the managers made their commission. Wages and bills got paid.
In the age of DIY, many artists opt for a more incremental evolution from being a hobbyist to a pro. I, for one, think that an incremental process is much better for the artist and the art. The DIY culture allows you, as I view it, to get your feet wet and helps you discover who you are and so on, WITHOUT the need to have commercial success right off the bat.
In recognition of this, the deals that you do with the immediate members of your team – like producers, managers, PR people and so on – will have to reflect this incremental nature of progress. When you discuss deals and dealings you need to think about more than just your own well being. Think of how the deal works for all concerned. Put yourself in the other guy’s shoes. It helps to look at it that way. Ask yourself: “Would I do what I’m asking him to do if our roles were reversed?”
It’s naive to expect people to work for the sheer promise of future earnings. It’s irresponsible to place impossible expectations on the shoulders of artists who are still finding out who they are.
Consider the timing of your activities. If there are no real commercial interests to protect, do you really need to be so official about it? How about building trust and belief first?
Weigh up your available resources. If you’re in a day job, how will you be able to commit your time to a professional situation? If it’s still a hobby, do you really need more than a handshake?
Sure, this flies against all convention and everything they teach you in Music Biz 101 at music college, where they say that it’s the music business and that in business greed rules and you’ve got to look after No 1.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
I sincerely hope that deals and dealings between all the stakeholders in music will become fairer and more transparent. It’s not a secret that musicians have been shafted since time immemorial. It’s also no secret that musicians are wonderfully selective about what they remember. Loyalty is a scarce commodity.
My sincere hopes notwithstanding, the story of capitalism so far is that the rich have kept on getting richer while the rest of us keep trudging on. All we can do, on an individual level, is do deals that protect and promote the well being of everyone. For who should benefit if not everyone?
Guest blog by Ville Leppanen
Director and Founder of The Animal Farm
Record Producers | Artist Management | Music Publishing