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Click to email ChrisPlanning You Music Career,
Part Three
by Christopher Knab - Fourfront Media & Music - January 2008

Back to Music Business 101

Click Here for Part 1, Part 2

This is the 3rd of 3 columns devoted to what is called a ‘Career Plan’ for a new band or musician intent on establishing their career in a professional manner. Since most newcomers to the business of music have very little experience dealing with the business side of their music, a Career Plan is a useful tool and discipline for serious musicians to consider. It lays out tasks and strategies for putting a band together by prioritizing those things that are most important in the early stages of a career.

In each installment of this column you will find several issues discussed. It is important to note that this plan is a prototype based on a hypothetical situation surrounding a typical band that had undergone an extensive interview and ‘inventory’ of their accomplishments and goals. I hope you are inspired by these ideas, and realize that to adapt them to your needs, you would also have to take time to answer questions about your music, your goals, your dreams, your finances, and your commitment to your music as a business.

There were originally 10 goals that I set out to write about, but I have thrown a BONUS 11th goal. Since many musicians think they want a record deal, I layout some useful information about such deals for you…consider it my Christmas present!

That being said, I hope you find this information beneficial in building your career as a professional musician.

Christopher Knab

* * *

Organizing Your Band
A Prototype Of A Career Plan, Part 3 

By Christopher Knab (with the cooperation of Dianne Caron)
(copyright 2008 Christopher Knab)

Click Here for
Part 1, Part 2


A band bank account is definitely something you want to have once you generate some income, I don't think it really matters too much which bank you open up an account with, other than going to a bank that you feel comfortable with, and perhaps have your personal checking and savings account with.

There are two items you'll need in order to open up a band bank account:

1. a business license and

2. a federal EIN.

Always think about keeping good track of your income and expenses. This will make it so much easier to file taxes.



Attorneys in the music business do more than just look over contracts and advise clients about the law. They are very much involved in structuring deals and shaping artists' business lives.

One of the major things to look for in a lawyer is his or her relationships in the industry. Lawyers have evolved into one of the most powerful groups in the music industry. Attorneys end up seeing more deals than anyone else and, thus, have more knowledge of what's "going down" around town. Record companies, for instance, can't ignore phone calls from important lawyers, nor can they afford to treat them shabbily in any particular transaction since they're going to be dealing with these lawyers over and over, and they don't want to make enemies out of them So a lawyer with good relationships will get your deals done quicker, and, if they know what they're doing, will get you the maximum that can legitimately be had.

Here are some other aspects for you to consider when "shopping" for a lawyer:

Does he or she have expertise in the music business? Make sure that the lawyer you are hiring is an entertainment lawyer with at least some experience in the industry.

There are basically three ways attorneys in the music business charge their clients:

1) Hourly Fee

Some lawyers charge on an hourly basis. The rates range from $150 per hour for new lawyers to up to $450 or more for more established, reputable lawyers.

2) Percentage

Others charge a percentage usually between 5 % and 1 0%. If the lawyer does a percentage, make sure he or she fully explains how he or she computes it; each firm is different!

3) "Value Billing"

Some lawyers do something known as "value billing," often with an hourly rate or retainer against it.

A "retainer" is a set monthly fee that is either credited against the ultimate fee or it's a flat fee covering all services.

"Value billing" means that, when the deal is finished, the lawyer asks for a fee based on the size of the deal and his or her contribution to it. For instance, if the lawyer had very little to do with shaping the deal, but rather just did the contract, the band should expect a fee that is close to an hourly rate. On the other hand, if the lawyer came up with a clever concept or strategy that made the band substantial sums of money, or the lawyer shaped or created the deal from scratch, he or she will ask for a much larger fee. If your lawyer "value bills," you should get some idea up front what it's going to be, so that there aren't any rude surprises.

Also, ask your attorney if - in addition to fees - he or she charges for any other costs such as long-distance phone calls, messengers, photocopies, faxes, etc.?

Ask the lawyer for references of artists at your level, and check them out. Does he return phone calls? Do they get deals done in a reasonable period of time? ("Reasonable" in the music business is not going to be anywhere near the speed you would like. It's not uncommon for a record deal to take four or five months to negotiate, especially if you're a new artist and can't force the record company to turn out a draft quickly. Four to five months is a realistic time frame, but if it goes beyond that, someone isn't doing their job.)

Well, there you have it…10 Goals for you to consider when building your career, but…

Hey, what the heck….we’re on a roll….how about a BONUS GOAL?!

If you do all the things mentioned so far, it might be time to acknowledge the real goal most musicians THINK they want….


IF you INSIST on shopping for a recording contrac, which if you have read my book Music Is You Business, you know I am against in most cases, then you should know a bit about what you are getting into.

Once you have an attorney and have opened up your own publishing company, and built your career on your own for a good while, a label deal may come your way. These days labels are attracted to acts that have built a strong following and proved to the industry that they are a solid investment. If a label deal is a dream of yours, then consider this information before you rush into anything.


Indie Label

When you think about pursuing an independent record label deal please think about the following issues:

Make sure the label has some sort of a working distribution system (if not on an international then at least on a national level).

Make sure the roster is not too big or else you won't be awarded the attention you deserve. Also, make sure the bands on the roster match the type of music you play.

If the label wants part of your publishing, do not be surprised, but be sure your attorney protects as much of your publishing as possible.

If the label wants a percentage, they will probably get it.

Find out how many options the label wants. Since "options = number of records and years," you don't want to agree on too many options.

Warning: More and more labels want to 'OWN' your website....Try not to let that happen.

Indie Promoters and/or In-House Staff
Find out if the label works together with independent promoters. It is a good sign when they do since this raises the chances that your record will be seriously and effectively promoted. Also, find out if there is any in-house personnel or if the label is a "one-person-enterprise."

Find out if the band has an advertising budget for releases.both online and through traditional media.

Tour Support
Find out if and how they support you on your tour (financially, morally, etc.and how much of the money they 'give' you is recoupable.).

Find out how much you get paid for each record sold.

Major Label

When pursuing a major label deal be absolutely sure that this is what you really want. Here are some points that might help you determine whether this is the right thing for you to do:

A major label oftentimes signs artists for 5 - 6 records (not years).

Research the A&R person! Know who they've signed, who they've worked with, who they've worked for, etc.

Number of Releases
Find out how many records the label releases per year. You don't want to sign with a label that releases too many products. Remember, they only have so much time and enthusiasm to put into the promotion of a record.

Set up meetings with A&R people and presidents if possible (i.e.: at conferences, special showcases, etc.); note that if they are sincerely interested, they win fly you to the meetings.

Here are some clauses that you will encounter (and sometimes have to watch out for) in a contract with a record label:

Every record contract includes a provision stating the deal is "exclusive." In other words, during the term of the agreement, you can't make records for anybody else. Therefore, an exclusivity clause in a contract refers to the fact that you may only contract with this record company (you are "unilaterally married" to that company). I strongly recommend that your attorney define the extent of exclusivity.

The duration of the contract. (Ex: Years + Product / Years + Option)

Who will control the amount of product and the quality of product. You always want as much creative freedom as possible; the record company oftentimes maintains a veto power when letting a band choose the producer, engineer, studio, etc.

Recording costs
How much (recoupable) recording costs will you get. Don't overdue it! Remember, you will have to pay it back.

How much (living) money will you get that is recoupable (goes usually to lawyer and manager). Also, remember, you will have to pay back the amount to the label.

The money paid for your service as recording artists in the U.S.but also outside the states.(Canada: 75 - 90 % / UK, Japan, Australia: 60 - 70 % / Rest of the world: 50 % - of U.S. rate).

Who controls the music video and how the costs are apportioned. Try and have only 50% of the cost recoupable.

Rights to name, likeness and voice are issues related to this.

How will your record company control your publicity.

Your promise to join a union (AFTRA, AFM).

Your right to audit the books. Make sure this clause is included in the contract.

The label's responsibility is to report financially to you (reports to artists usually occur every six months; i.e., if one accounting period lasts from January till June the label will report to the artists approximately in September).

The record company's right to sell the contract (see "Label Deals").

Controlled composition
How much will the label pay on mechanical royalties.

This clause specifies the songs you may not be allowed to record for a set time after the ending of the contract. Be careful, if you are dropped, and wthin a short time a 'indie' label comes along and wants to sign you...it may just be what is called and 'incubator' label....a subsidiary of a major that wants to be perceived as an indie label.

Sideman's clause
You might want to consider including a sideman's clause. A sideman's clause allows an artist to do studio work. The artist still needs permission; the record company, however, can't say no unless they have a very good reason. Sideman performances are freely permitted, on the following instances:

I. The performance must be truly a background performance, without any solos, duets, or "stepping out."

2. The artist's exclusive label must get a "courtesy credit" in the form of (artist) appears courtesy of..... Records."

3. The artist can't violate his/her re-recording restriction for any selection, even as a background performer.

4. If the artist is a band, no more than two of the band can perform together on any particular session. This is because the record company doesn't want the band's distinctive sound showing up on another label.

Under normal circumstances - without such a sideman's clause - you would be prohibited to perform for any other band/label under the terms of an exclusive contract. If you have a sideman's clause in your contract, make sure all of you sign the legal document.

Key man clause
If a significant label executive resigns, or leaves the company, you may terminate the deal. The label may also put such a clause in concerning a band member.



Label Deals:

There are four basic label deals:

First Option
The major (larger) label helps finance an independent (smaller) label and in turn has first option on any of the artists' contracts, Or in other words: If you sign with a smaller label that has a first option deal with a bigger label, you might end up on the bigger label.

The major (larger) label offers to fund the next release of an artist of an independent (smaller) label and in turn gets to take over the band. This would only affect you if you were already signed to an independent label.

A label negotiates their right to a recording to another label (usually overseas)

One label buys out another label.

So, there you go. This ends my 3 part series on issues related to putting together a plan for you career. These goals should keep you busy for a good while. I have thrown a lot at you, but if you can commit to these goals you will benefit from organizing your band as a business, and all the hard work you have put into making you music will have a better chance at success if you approach starting your music career on the right foot.

There are many other goals you will have to address as your career grows along, like developing your own website and learning how to use all the cool new internet marketing tools that are now available…but all that will come in good time.

Good Luck!!

Christopher Knab

Click Here for
Part 1, Part 2


Christopher Knab is an independent music business consultant based in Seattle, Washington. He is available for private consultations on promoting and marketing independent music, and can be reached by email at: chris@chrisknab.net

Visit the
FourFront Media and Music website for more information on the business of music from Christopher Knab.

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