Advice for singer/songwriters

DiRaega By DiRaega, 16th Dec 2010 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Music>Recording & Production

A brief guide for singer/songwriters to the music industry.

Advice for singer/songwriters

In this guide I hope to be able to shed some light on the music industry to prospective singer-songwriters out there. I will attempt to provide answers to the following four questions which will always crop up early on in a musical career:

1. What is the significance of not signing with an artist manager?

2. If you were to go it alone, what industry agreements could you be expected to be involved in as a singer / songwriter?

3. What would the main negotiable clauses be in those agreements?

4. Typically, what terms should you be seeking in those negotiable clauses?

The Significance of not signing with an artist manager

Firstly I will weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of signing to an artist manager.


A good manager will have been around for a while. They will have acquired contacts all across the industry from A&R men and Producers, to Record company Executives and Radio Stations.

Through the course of their career they will have gotten used to agreements and contracts which look complex and confusing to you, but they can decode and translate any of the legal jargon.

The Manager can converse with lawyers, accountants and so on on your behalf leaving you free to work on your music.

The manager Ian Faith in the film Spinal Tap preferred to use a cricket bat rather than diplomacy. As far-fetched as that notion seemed, Faith’s no-nonsense approach to managing was very similar to that of Led Zeppelin’s manager Peter Grant. So a manager with the determination and tenacity to get you the best deals can be a real advantage.

A manager has a fiduciary duty to you, to act in good faith and to put your interests first.

It is always worthwhile to try to contact or research any artists previously represented by a manager.

A manager will generally be the person who appoints personnel to a tour, be it a sound engineer, promoter, production manager or even a lighting crew. This also means that contracts stating agreed terms and fees must be drawn up and signed by the relevant parties.


As stated above, the manager has a fiduciary duty to you, however, it is important for you to seek out independent legal advice as well as some managers have been known to act in their own interests.
For example the 1985 case of Gilbert O’Sullivan Vs Management Agency and Music Limited (MAM). O’Sullivan Trusted his manager Gordon Mills and signed a number of agreements at his suggestion without independent advice being offered or even mentioned to him. A number of these agreements were with companies related to Mills own, MAM. When O’sullivan’s relationship with his manager went sour, he sued, claiming that the contracts should be void. The court found that the terms of the agreements had restricted his ability to earn a living through his own music and that there had been Undue Influence.

Usually a manager will take a 20% commission of gross income, this can start to be really noticeable when the expenses become bigger and bigger. For example you are taking £10,000 gross profit on a tour and the expenses are £8,000. When the manager takes his 20% of gross profit (in this case £2,000) then you are left with nothing while he takes £2,000 away.

When it comes to management, it takes someone with great organizational skills to be able to juggle the many parts behind the scenes, more so if this person is also the artist.

If going it alone it will be crucial for you to maintain a network of relationships with people such as producers, sound engineers and production managers.

I think that you will find it extremely beneficial to allocate some staff to aid in the day-to-day running of your career. These should include a lawyer and accountant to advise you on (and to take care of) matters in the realms of finance and contracts. As your work load starts to build up you may want to think about an assistant or secretary to correspond with clients, and to arrange or schedule appointments for you.

If you were to go it alone, what industry agreements could you be expected to be involved in as a singer/songwriter.

In this section I will attempt to cover what I think are the most important contracts and agreements for you to look into. I shall highlight the main negotiable clauses and the terms that you should be seeking in each of those clauses.

The first and most important thing that you should do in order to earn a living through your music is to register with the various collecting societies. By doing this you are ensuring that you will collect the royalties for your work. The most important of these bodies in the UK is PRS-for-Music, who were previously named the MCPS-PRS-Alliance, a joint effort between PRS (Performing Right Society) and MCPS (Mechanical Copyright Protection Society). These deal with collecting royalties for any instance of your work being broadcast (on radio, television or other through other media), performed live, covered, used as part of a compilation or synchronized with other media (such as films, adverts or video games). It would also be prudent to register with the PPL (Phonographic Performance Limited).

Recording Deals
When signing with a record company there are many things that they will do for you that would be painstakingly time-consuming to do by yourself.
They can help with:
Arranging tours
Use of recording studios
Video shoots
Session musicians

Main Clauses and the Terms you should be seeking
This means that you will record exclusively the one record company throughout the duration of the contract. However, this doesn’t mean that you cannot work with someone on another label. It means that you (Joni Jonetti) cannot release any of your work (as Joni Jonetti) on another label. However, if you were asked by Bob Dylan to sing on a song on his latest Album (E.G. Bob Dylan featuring Joni Jonetti) then you are not releasing it under your name and it counts as a side-project, and not included in the recording contract.

Most commonly Record Labels will ask for the territory to encompass the world, although it may be desirable for you to want a separate deal for places like America and Japan, in which case, you would try to negotiate for these not to be included in the contract.

Usually term of a contract is subdivided into several periods, which at the end of each the publisher will have an “Option” (leading to their other name of “Option Periods”). An Option means that they can choose whether or not to continue with the contract through into the next period. Usually an “Option Period” will last about 12 months, however this will depend upon fulfillment of the minimum commitments (See below)
The term of a record contract is always negotiable, and is usually 5-6 albums worth of material, now the actual length of this depends on how quickly you write an albums worth of songs, most commonly though, it lasts for about 5 years.

Minimum Commitment
The minimum commitment is the amount of music (either songs or compositions) that you must deliver in each period of the contract. For example It could be for one album or a similar quantity of singles (ten perhaps).

Advances are extremely useful as they provide you with the funding and time necessary to complete an album. However, your advance will usually have to cover:
Legal and accountancy fees
New equipment

Not to mention that you must pay income tax on it.

When it comes to recording costs, there are two types of advance that take this into account

Recording costs inclusive
Any costs incurred in the recording must be paid for from the advance, meaning if you overspend on recording you have less money to live on.

Recording costs exclusive
You will get an advance and the record company will separately administer the recording budget and pay the recording costs.

Recording Summary
In summary, the main clauses and terms are:
Territory - Covering the world (and universe) unless you negotiate for specific regions to be included/excluded
Term - 5-6 contract periods or albums
Minimum commitment - one album per period or equivalent amount of tracks
Advance - I would recommend trying to secure a Recording Costs Exclusive advance
Royalties: If taken from Net Profit it should be a straight 50/50 split once all costs have been recouped,
If taken from Published Price to Dealer (PPD - the price at which a shop buys it from the label or distributor) then you will typically get 15-19% of PPD

Publishing Deals
A Music Publisher ensures that a songwriter receives payment for their songs whenever they are used.

The songwriter customarily assigns the rights to their songs to the publisher for a fixed period.

The publisher and the songwriter will agree a split of the royalties for different instances and then the publisher will do all they can to exploit the work. Since they have a share in the royalties it is in their interest to get the songs or compositions in as much use as possible, be it radio airplay, TV or film synchronisation or to be covered by other artists.

A publishing deal is usually split into a number of contract periods. When a contract period expires the publishing company usually has an option to renew the contract for the next period.

Whether they do or don’t can depend on a number of factors, such as how active you have been or how profitable you have been to them.

As the songwriter you are usually obliged to fulfill a quota of songs or compositions for each contract period.

Music Publishers will usually offer you an advance at the start of a contract.

Main Clauses and the Terms you should be seeking

When you sign to a publisher, unless you have their express permission you cannot write songs for anyone else. Their are a few circumstances in which this could be a major problem. For example, if you are approached and commissioned to write a TV theme or a Movie score then the company who first approached you may want to keep all of the rights to the work that you have created for them.

The territory for a publishing deal is dealt with in exactly the same way as in a recording deal.

As I have previously mentioned contracts are subject to numerous Option Periods, and Publishing deals are no exception.

In a Singer-Songwriter Deal, the term is usually 4-6 albums (Each period usually requires one album to be completed), whilst in a Writer Deal it will usually be 4-6 contract periods in which you must release between 4 and 8 compositions.

It is important to know that should the publisher choose to not continue with one of their “options” and to end your contract then they will still hold onto the rights for any songs released in the duration of the term.

The “Retention Period” is the length of time after the contract ends that they can retain these rights before they revert back to you. Sometimes you can negotiate for the retention period to be shortened if the advance is paid of quickly, this would have to be stated or negotiated in the original deal.

Minimum Commitment
As mentioned before, the minimum commitment is the least you have to do to honour the terms of the contract for each period.
In reference to a Publishing contract it may stipulate that any album you release must be a certain percentage of your own work (usually between 50 to 100%) this isn’t so much of a problem for original artists however in the case of a group like Westlife where the majority of songs are covers then some fierce negotiations will have taken place.

Other Obligations
When you assign the rights to the publisher there are a few things you should consider stipulating as extras or attempting to negotiate.
At some point you may wish to print lyrics on your album sleeve. You will not have the right to do this without their permission unless you state it as a given in the original deal.
The right to use your music to make a video; you lose this when you sign the synchronisation rights away. You should be able to negotiate this as an exclusion to the synchronisation rights, otherwise if you wanted to make your own music video, not only would you need to get permission from them first but you would also need to pay a fee to license it back from them for this purpose

Publishing Summary
In summary, the main clauses and terms are:
Territory - Covering the world (and universe) unless you negotiate for specific regions to be included/excluded
Term - 4-6 contract periods with a negotiable Retention Period
Minimum commitment - 1 album per period with allowance for covers if necessary (at least 60% originals)
Other obligations - Negotiate right to print lyrics on album sleeve.
Negotiate right to use own songs for music videos.
Royalties - you should settle for no less than:
60% of mechanical royalties
20% of the Publishers share of PRS income (this is on top of your own share paid to you directly by the PRS)
60-65% of all synchronisation fees

Producer agreements
The producer is probably one of the most important people that you will meet in the music industry. The choice of producer can make or break a song and without their knowledge, time, effort and input, many of the greatest songs would simply not exist. A good producer is hard to find, and a good cheap one even harder.

For example, the guitar solo in Michael Jackson’s Beat It is iconic and known to nearly every guitarist the world over, however, it was Quincy Jones who amalgamated various segments played by Eddie Van Halen into the end result.

Usually the producer will receive a one off flat fee of anything from £1,200 upwards, however he will sometimes negotiate with you and your record company for a royalty either as well as, or in exchange for, a smaller one-off payment. This fee will be an expense which you must recoup. A producer can be hired to do anything from a single song to a whole album, with the fee varying accordingly.

The record company will most often have the final word as to who it is that produces the song or album. In most cases, the record company would prefer to deal with one producer for the whole album. This is beneficial as it would keep costs and administration to a minimum meaning only one producer has to be paid and only one has to be contacted regarding progress etc.


To finalise it is worth seriously considering at some point signing to an artist manager as the music industry is very complex and having someone on hand to guide and advise you will be a huge help.

Early on in your career I think you have the flexibility to manage yourself.

“You only need a Manager when you can’t manage.”
(Eric Roche).

However, if you are determined to do it yourself then I would recommend at the very least hiring a lawyer with music industry experience to give you sound unbiased legal advice, and an accountant. The addition of these two members to your team will help to deal with the specialist areas leaving you with a lot more time to talk to publishers and record companies (not to mention to write your music).


“The Music Management Bible” by the MMF (ISBN: 1-84492-025-9) Pages 23-44, 229

“Music: The Business” by Ann Harrison (ISBN: 1-85227-259-7) Pages 22-44, 46-77, 80-103,


Sample Recording Contract
Sample Publishing Contract


Business, Career, Contract, Deal, Guide, How-To, Industry, Music, Music Industry, Publishing, Record, Singer, Singer-Songwriter, Singers, Singersongwriter, Songwriter, Success, Writer

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author avatar DiRaega
I am a professional drum tutor. I like writing random stories and nonsense comes to me quite easily.

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author avatar D in The Darling
16th Dec 2010 (#)

Hey Di,
Thanks a lot. You took me right into a music management course there. That was great. I'm looking forward to another article from you on music! in short, you made my day! I'm more enlightened now!

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author avatar LOVERME
16th Dec 2010 (#)

i thought ou will teach how to write a song for music thans

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author avatar Retired
16th Jan 2011 (#)

Thanks for sharing

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