Crash Course: Contracts

Conference Panel

Chris Castle
Chris Castle (Photo By Gary Miller)

Crash Course: Contracts

Austin Convention Center, Wednesday 13 It wasn't a surprise that half the crowd from the preceding "Crash Course" on management fled the room before the session on contracts began. That's because recording contracts are boring and tedious and full of Byzantine legal terminology that kids who just wanna rock can't be bothered with. In other words, there's a good reason nobody's ever uttered the phrase, "Sex, Drugs & Producer-Protected All-In Royalty Rates." A self-described "recovering Texan," lawyer and former Vulcan Gas Company employee Chris Castle was phenomenally succinct in explaining the four major points of recording contracts -- advances, royalty rates, creative control, and mechanicals. The problem was that he jumped right in, and unless you were already familiar with concepts like cross-collateralization and free goods deductions, most of what he said probably stayed Byzantine legalese. Not that there weren't a couple of salient points he made by way of real-world stories. First, creative control doesn't just mean you get final say on what gets put on the album. Castle cited an example of how while at EMI, the folks who worked in the special markets division of the company wanted to include a copy of Bryan Adams' "(Everything I Do) I Do It for You" as part of a tampon premium giveaway. Clearly some people in this world actually have no shame. The other sobering story Castle related was how hip-hop group Black Sheep ended up with negative mechanicals. Mechanicals are royalties for songwriting (as opposed to album royalties for sales), and it's usually the only place that artists make money on their contracts. Well, Black Sheep had so many samples on their debut that by the time they got through paying the sampled artists their rights, they were running a negative on their own mechanicals and had to make up the difference out of their album royalties. The lesson: If you can't be bothered, get a good lawyer who can. Or maybe just never write a power ballad suitable for feminine hygiene product giveaways.

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