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Saturday, 23 May 2015

What is a record deal? What does it means to be signed?



Getting signed is what most artists aim for. It doesn’t matter whether it rap, rock, RnB, Kwaito, House etc. Underground artists work their whole lives towards the goal of being signed. It has come to my attention that most artists especially underground artists do not have a clue on what being signed to a record label means. This creates issues because young artists have misguided expectations about record deals and sometimes end up signing deals which do not benefit them and they end up being what we call record label slaves. This article will explain what it means being signed in a general sense.

There are a number of deals/contracts that’s artist sign in the music industry, for example, record deals, management deals, agent deals, publishing deal, endorsement deals and distribution deal, but the most basic one is the record deal. But you can’t hope to understand, what is a record deal without knowing what is a record company/label

What is a record company/label?
A record company/label is a firm/business/enterprise that aims to make profits from selling music and other music related products. Record companies usually have the word ‘Records’ after their name for Example, Bad Boy Records, Cash Money Records, but this is not compulsory as we have seen record companies with alternative naming such as GOOD Music, Young Money Entertainment and OVO Sound.

There are major labels such as Sony Music, Columbia Records and Interscope Records to name a few. These are the biggest record labels and they operate worldwide. Other record companies operate under these record labels, For example, Aftermath Records (by Dr Dre) and BadBoy Records (by Diddy) operates under Interscope. The reason why smaller record companies work with major record companies is because major record companies are international and have licences to distribute music world wide. Such partnerships make it easy for smaller record to focus on other important things and leave the heavy lifting (paper work) to major companies.

Independent record labels also exist. These labels usually do everything themselves or collaborate with small time distributors or management companies on a short term basis for a specific project.  For example Top Dawg Entertainment, Funk Volume, Family Tree and Kalawa Jazz.

What is a record deal?
A record deal is a contract/agreement between a record company and an artist/composer which gives the record company rights over the music made by an artist. In simple terms, a record deal is a partnership between a record company and an artist. The artist makes the music, and the record label sells it to the people. The record label owns the music. Contracts are not the same, they are negotiated. Usually an artist would have a 4 album deal with a record company. This means the artist must make 4 albums for the record company.

What does it mean to be signed?
Now that you know what a record company is and what is a record deal, It will be easy to understand what being signed means. Being signed basically means you as an artist are a partner with the record label. It means you work for the label and the label works for you. It means the labels own your music/compositions. No contract is the same, different artists have different contracts, depending on the negotiations. What normally happens is, a record company will gives you a sum of money likeu 400 000. You will have to use that money for everything related to the production of the album, like buying beats, booking studios, paying for features, transport cost and sample clearances. Furthermore you might be required to record more than 50 tracks(Slave) and the label will choose the ones that will make a profitable album.  This is where beef between labels and artists usually begins. It caused by the fact that an artist might want a certain track to be on an album but the label might not allow it. Depending on the contract, but in most cases the label has the final say. When the album is out, the labels takes their money back, so the money they gave you is like a loan or capital. All the album sales will cover the cost of production then if the sales are greater than the cost of production then there will be profits which the label and artist will share depending on the agreed upon percentage. For example, the artist and label might split 50/50 or 60/40. However there are other parties involved like booking agents, managers which also get a share of the profits, so the artist might end up getting 20 or 30 percent. Listen to ‘Macklemore and Ryan Lewis- Jimmy Lovine’

Hope this opens your eyes a little bit about record labels and getting signed. This is just a general idea about record companies, there is more to it than this and more politics, I just want to open your eyes a little so you know what you getting into.



Look out for an article about the advantages and disadvantages of getting signed coming soon. Otherwise download the new single by Genius Muzik Gang- Ngeke Ulunge Lana (DOWNLOAD)


Article by:
Mthobisi Cebolenkosi Mahendula, 2015

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