Nobody likes to read long and tedious contracts, especially when it is the only thing separating you from the commencement of an exciting new project. However, there are some things you need to keep an eye out for when negotiating your artistic product and services, to ensure you are being justly protected and compensated.
When Should I Review my Contract?
Be it as an actor/actress, filmmaker, writer, singer, dancer or other, artists and entertainers are in the business of selling their creativity and works of authorship. They work long hours in obscurity, independently, until they are able to come across individuals and organizations that are willing to either purchase their product or invest in the further creation of it. When an artist is faced with a potential opportunity to be managed, or developed, he/she usually has two choices: take it or leave it. It’s not like there are other similar opportunities lining up – you either take the chance, or continue flying solo until another break comes along. For that reason, it’s common for artists to feel like they don’t have much of a choice but to take what they’re being offered. It’s often tempting to take the leap of faith in hopes of acquiring fame, exposure and some long-awaited compensation for your work. Hence, the choice is apparently straightforward, sign on the dotted line and take the plunge, otherwise risk the guilt of a lifetime’s worth of “what ifs”. Nevertheless, you should take a good look at what you’re signing prior to any serious commitment.
What Are Some Potential Drawbacks of Artist Agreements?
For most artists and entertainers, it’s only after they sign on the dotted line that their agreements seem to be way too one-sided in favor of the other parties, only taking into account the company, or powerful individual’s, interests, rather than the artist’s. One example is royalty payments for music artists, that are formulated by record companies and tend to reduce royalty percentages and/or delay payment until the company has recouped 100% of its expenses related to that recording. In some cases, contracts will lay out “advances,” which are payments made to the artist before the company makes any sort of profit from selling the artists’ products and services. While these advances are normally nonrefundable, royalties are almost always retained by the company until it generates income sufficient to satisfy any advances made to the artist.
As such, studying and revising these provisions before you enter into them will prevent individuals and entities from taking advantage of your much-valued work. It is important to understand from the onset what exactly you are bound to, and what you are holding others accountable for.
For example, in an artist management agreement, the contract will outline who has authority over the artistic direction of your career, and who is able to make representations and agreements on your behalf – most times exclusively. These contracts go as deep as to setting forth how you are to behave on social media and other forums. They are often accompanied by separate covenants that set forth more specific aspects of your career, like for example recording, digital distribution, publishing and asset management.
In addition, something else to look out for is the extent of your ability to provide personal services to other entities. Some management agreements, for example, bind artists for certain periods of time, and sometimes give the company or manager the right to have the artists perform exclusively under that agreement for a given period of time. Knowing and defining the length of time you are bound to the contract is thus crucial.
Should I Enter Into Oral Agreements?
Sadly, yet oftentimes, entertainment agreements are made orally or on unofficial mediums, like text messages, for instance. While these contracts may be enforceable, ambiguous agreements lead to difficulties in rights determinations. One of the biggest red flags are “deal memos”: In the interest of time and expedience, “deal memos” are oftentimes used in the high-paced entertainment industry, in the place of a formal contract. Unfortunately, the language in deal memos is usually ambiguous as to whether it legally binds the parties. Without a proper long-form contract to follow the deal memo, artists are often left without a formal delineation of their rights.
Ultimately, it is important for you to have any and all provisions written in the contract, and discussed at lengths beforehand. The time to negotiate the fairness of the agreement is before, not after it is signed. All the terms of the agreement, such as pay and time period, must be laid out, or else you will risk both financial and reputational consequences.