So lately you’ve developed quite a buzz in the DJ community and many people dig your style. You’ve got something fresh most people haven’t heard before and when you execute it so flawlessly…the crowd listens in awe. Sometimes you spin a set with bass so heavy the ground shakes and groans. Other times you blend old school jazz with easy electronic synths and appeal to the inner hipster in us all. So it should come to no surprise to you that labels are now very interested in signing you. What do you do?
Before signing anything, make sure you do a very thorough background check of the label in question. You want to make sure these people are who they say they are. You also want to know how they conduct business, what their monthly profits look like, their criminal history, and other important details. Never be so excited to be noticed that you throw out all business common sense. That could prove to be a career ender later down the road.
I know many people can’t stand lawyers but anytime you deal with a contract from a company, make sure you have one on hand. It’s his or her job to look the contract over and make sure you aren’t getting the shaft. Many times labels will use a straight forward agreement but throw in these tiny “demands” that most people don’t notice because it catches them off guard. The most notorious demand within many of these contracts is “name owning” which basically means the label in question owns the name you perform under…for life. That’s right folks, all the hard work that is associated with the performance name you chose so many moons ago will no longer be your intellectual property. As soon as you sign on that dotted line anything you’ve created under your stage name, rather it be your legal name or fictional alter-ego, belongs to the label. That means if they decide to let you go at one point in time you instantly lose all connections to your former self and must start over from scratch. You can’t associate yourself with any material published under your former name unless you want the wraith of a lawsuit over your head for breaching the contract terms and conditions.
I know that’s a hard pill to swallow so please stay vigilant when dealing with contracts from greater entities and people in general. If you don’t understand a term and your lawyer has questions, make sure you get a representative on the phone. Never try to guess what the agreement pertains to because the moment you sign that contract it’s written in stone. If you have a problem with “name owning” bring that issue to the label ASAP. A great music entity who respects the music business and its artists will surely work with you to find suitable terms for the agreement. If the label in question refuses to budge and insists upon owning your name…give yourself a few weeks before making a final decision. You could have some spectacular tracks floating around the internet using your present name and maybe one day it could become an instant hit or used in a popular commercial. Do you really want some giant company taking all the fame for your hard work? Do you really want to sell yourself out and deal with shady people?
So what happens if you found a great label but they haven’t performed to your expectations? This has happened to me before and I wish I knew what I know now because I would have saved myself a lot of trouble. If you see a label is going out of its way to avoid you when you have questions or concerns…it’s time to begin a termination letter. If you’re not seeing any hard evidence that your tracks are selling on Beatport or being played in clubs, you have the right to issue up a letter between yourself and your label. And by hard evidence I mean sales invoices, logs, excel data sheets, etc. Once the label receives the letter they can choose to negotiate out with you or fight the agreement in court.
A small indie label will usually have no problem in dropping a DJ or Producer if they aren’t meeting sales quotas. On the other hand, bigger labels will almost always fight you for it. As far as winning that court case goes…you have to prove that you would do better elsewhere. Meaning could you produce or put together an amazing set of mixes or tracks that would bring a large crowd to a club? Would you be able to put together albums that would appeal to the modern listener? However, if that sounds like too much work or hassle…just produce/remix and push really crappy music with the label you hate. They will either drop you themselves or expose you less to the public.
Overall signing a contract can be a really big deal for most people, but in general I find being on a label to be a pleasant experience. The label I work with now, Factory 918 Recordings located in Las Vegas, is a small independent label that caters to Uplifting, Vocal, and Ambient Trance. It’s the first label I’ve ever worked with where I personally knew everyone on the roster. You get a different feeling when you’re working with people who constantly provide feedback and positivity to everything you do. So if you’re going to sign on with someone remember these tips.
- Do complete background checks of the company
- Which outlets do they use to push music?
- What does the monthly revenue look like?
- What are other DJs and Producers experience with this label?
- Do they have an ethical contract that makes you comfortable?
- Will you get along with everyone?
- How long is the contract and is it exclusive/non exclusive rights?