These days the music business, particularly in the urban and r&b fields, is producer driven more so than ever before. Producers not only create the sound bed and make the singer or rapper sound great performing over it, but more and more producers are finding and discovering new talent.

As a producer there are two copyrights that come into play in your business under the copyright law: one in the sound recording and one in the underlying musical composition or song. I usually suggest to my producer clients that they file a copyright registration with a Form SR covering both copyrights as soon as they begin to circulate a finished track (whether passing it around or posting it on a website). The filing of a copyright registration form in Washington D.C. gives you additional protection in so far is it establishes a record of the existence of such copyright and gives you the presumption of validity in the event of a lawsuit. Registration also allows for lawsuits to be commenced in Federal court and, under Federal law, allows an award of attorneys fees to the prevailing party. Currently, the filing fee is only $45. Forms are available at "http://www.loc.gov."

Once a producer and an artist work together, the producer who creates the musical bed becomes a collaborator with the artist who writes the lyric and performs the vocals in the recording studio. The producer and artist become joint owners of the copyrights in the sound recording as well as in the underlying musical composition. Copyright vests in the creator as soon as the idea is “fixed in a tangible medium”, so as soon as you write it down or record it a copyright is created. Under the copyright law you can only transfer those rights by signing a written agreement to transfer them, so be careful what you sign.

Although it is generally standard operating procedure when dealing with the major record labels to be asked to transfer your sound recording copyright to them in exchange for an advance and royalties, you must be wary of any agreement you are asked to sign whether by the artist or the record company. In addition, the underlying song copyright and the related “publishing rights” have an important value that the producer should know how to monetize whether through a publishing deal or acting as his own publisher.

Never sign anything (other than an autograph) without having your entertainment lawyer review it first. Do not rely on anyone else (or even their lawyer) to tell you what your contract says. And never let anyone rush you or pressure you into signing any agreement. There is really no such thing as a standard "form" contract. Any such contract was drafted by that party’s attorney to protect that party’s interests. Your lawyer can "translate" the deal and explain its terms to you, and then help negotiate more favorable terms for you.

Keep in mind that it may, in fact, be in your best interest to "get it in writing" if you have an arrangement with someone. This is especially true in collaborative situations. Otherwise, you run the risk of a disagreement later over the actual terms of the oral agreement, and it becomes your word against that of the other party. That is not to say that an oral agreement is not a binding contract, it is just that a contract is easier to prove if the terms of the arrangement are in writing. A simple contract may not necessarily require extensive involvement by lawyers. A contract can be as basic as a letter describing the details of your arrangement which is signed by both parties to the agreement. However, at the end of the day, if you believe in yourself and your talents, give yourself the benefit of the doubt, and invest in good legal representation – all the successful producers do.

Originally posted 2009-07-21 04:32:28.