Why are bad contracts still a music industry norm?
Behind so many of the world’s most beloved and beloved musicians is often a terrible contract. For decades, the music industry has found ways to get the most out of artists and songwriters, and although awareness of these practices has grown, operating agreements remain practically a norm. Of the industry.
Artists like Kanye West, Young Thug, and Meek Mill have all talked about the constraints and drawbacks of these contracts, but it’s rare for anyone outside of the industry to take a look at the fine print. Recently, however, Rolling stone got a copy of R&B artist Summer Walker’s contract with label / management company Love Renaissance (which is best known as LVRN). Rolling stone asked many attorneys and managers to review the contract, which, among other things, forced Walker to relinquish rights to his master recordings and imposed a low royalty structure on him for what an attorney who reviewed a draft contract described as “a somewhat indeterminate amount of time.”
(Walker, in a recent Instagram post, essentially confirmed these were the terms she agreed to when she signed the contract, but claimed her agreement has since changed.)
Peter Scoolidge, a lawyer who reviewed Walker’s contract, spoke with Rolling stone on the prevalence of these contracts and the power imbalances that allow the big labels to get away with offering such questionable conditions. But Scoolidge also touched on the changing landscape and expressed hope that the tide of bad business might finally turn.
“I think what will make the difference will be the rise and the adoption of new methods of doing it,” he said. “More improved platforms, more intermediaries who can put it all together and provide a good level of services to develop their image the right way, distribute music the right way without taking 85% of their money. I think over the next five years, we’re going to see some transformative solutions that will turn things around a bit more. I am optimistic about it.