"Before You Sign With Anyone..."

(or release any music to the public)

[Everything You Need To Do
To Be Prepared For
Anything You Want To Do
In the Music Business

By: Professor Pooch

© 2008 - 2016 David J. Spangenberg

It is quite well known that the entire Music Industry is in flux and quite a lot of time and energy is spent by everyone trying to figure out and cope with all the changes that are occurring.

For example, let's look at the option [yes, nowadays it's an option] of dealing with the well-known "Record Companies", for example…

Note:   I put Record Companies in "quotes", because, nowadays the term "Record Company" may also include any Entertainment Oriented Company with power and/or money and/or knowledge, and/or a great work ethic, such as what "Live Nation" is doing with U2, Jay-Z, Madonna, etc., for example.

Some of the newer, preferred types of deals by the Major Labels, their subsidiaries, and large Indies are:

A.   "360 Deals", where ALL avenues of income are included - including Performing, Publishing, Merchandising, etc. There are also "270 Deals" where, perhaps, a part is left out, such as Publishing. "180 Deals, etc…

B.   "Joint Ventures", where everything is split rather equally with another Company. But there's a good chance you're paying for everything...

C.   "Up-streaming", where if you sell a certain amount of downloads or sales by yourself or with an Indie, and a larger Company takes over many of the responsibilities at that point. Sales numbers, where you are "up-streamed" to a bigger Company, usually average around 25,000 - 50,000 downloads or CD sales.

… plus other variations that are coming into existence seemingly everyday in The Digital Era.

Simply put, without going into a ton of detail, if an Artist wants to sign with a Major or one of their "Subsidiaries", taking into account the direction the larger Companies are taking nowadays, you must understand that these Companies will be more likely to sign Artists that look like they know what they are doing; that is, those Artists who have their biz together, including drawing a large amount of fans to their concerts, creating a large buzz at least regionally, and hopefully selling 25-50,000 downloads and/or CDs on their own.

Then again, maybe you just want to DIY [do it yourself], and keep a good amount of control of your project. You can DIY with a good deal of persistence, work, and at least a good, basic knowledge of the Music Biz and the Internet. And actually, you may eventually profit money-wise and otherwise way more than if you were with a Major!

Or maybe you want to aim somewhere in-between, say going with an already established Indie Label.

But, before you even decide to move ahead with any route through the Music Business, you need to take care of your Own Artist/Band/Group/Songwriting/Publishing/ Production/Management and/or Label Business. This includes those of you interested in dealing with the Major Labels, doing it yourself, or anywhere in-between. That is, if you wish to succeed - AND make money - AND be protected!

First, there are things that you should at least know about, or better yet, do, before you even think of signing with a Manager, Production or Record Company as an Artist; or setting yourself up as a Management, Publishing, Production Company or Indie Label so that you can retain at least some of the Creative, Financial & Legal Control - plus know, or at least look like you know what you are doing! This way you also have a much better chance of attracting legitimate, professional People and Companies, instead of wasting time and energy attracting those who have no idea about how the Music Biz operates - or people trying to just take advantage of you and/or your project. In other words, you should prevent yourself from wasting time, money, as well as your sanity - and being ripped off.

Above, I discussed the insanity that’s called the Music Industry, and why, whether you want to go with a Major for some reason, or Do It Yourself, or anywhere in between, it pays to be prepared for anything, so that no matter which direction you choose to go, you will retain more creative, legal and financial control of your career.

There are 12 important items you should seriously think about doing to set yourself up for a smoother and safer journey - before you sign Anything with Anyone for any Reason!

1.   Sorry, but I've got to start out with, "You Only Get One Chance To Make A 1st Impression"! You need to be GREAT - not just "Good". There are tons of "Good Artists" and "Good Songwriters" and "Good Managers" and "Good Producers", etc. You want [need!] to stand out from the crowd! You and/or your Product or Project need to be GREAT!

2.   If you're a Singer or Musician in, or a Manager of a Group or a Band, there are 2 things that must be 1st agreed to before going any further:

A.   Artist/Musician Status:

Is any musician[s] "more important" than any other[s]? That is, for example, are all singers/musicians considered equal, or are some "paid employees"? Another example might be if 3 in the band were together for 5 years and one just joined, maybe they'd get lesser percentage.

B.   Songwriter/Publisher Status:

Note:   The Songwriter is the Creative entity who creates the Songs, and Publisher is the Business entity who owns the Songs and handles the business for the Songwriter. [There should be a 50-50 split of all income between the two!]

Some Songwriting/Publishing options are:

i.   The actual Songwriters [lead melody and words; in rap, usually includes the "beat-maker"] receive all the benefits of the Songwriting & Publishing ownership and income.

ii.   The actual Songwriters are listed and receive the benefits of the Songwriting, but Publishing ownership and income are split among the members of the Band/Group.

iii.   All of the members of the Band and Group split the benefits of the Songwriting & Publishing ownership and income equally.

iv.   Different variations of the above three options, such as, different percentages to different members, etc.

I also recommend that the contract state [I'll discuss more on contracts, later] that it only includes songs performed and/or recorded by the Band, and not necessarily for work outside of the Band.

3.   If you are in a Band, or you are a Manager, the Band should have a "Band Agreement", which is basically a Partnership Agreement between the members of the Band. It should cover quite a lot, including: splits of ownership of Publishing, Recordings and the Band Name, etc., splits of moneys on all accounts, what happens if you add or drop a member[s], sharing of responsibilities, what happens if…, etc., etc., etc.

4.   Songwriting & Publishing – Protecting yourself and getting paid for your Songs.

A.   All Songwriters should join one [only one is allowed at a time] Performing Rights Organization. In the United States, your choices are: ASCAP [], BMI [] or SESAC [].

B.   At the same time, I recommend you also join the same one as a Publisher.

When you pick one of the PRO's, download both the Songwriting & the Publishing Applications, and fill them in, print them out, and send them in. AND THEN, remember to register each "Work" [recording of each song] with them, on-line, so they can track them and pay you!!!

C.   Sign a Songwriter's Agreement to Your own Publishing Company! Why? In short:

i. In case you ever sell your Publishing Company you'll still receive your Songwriting Income!  

ii. It is a fact that sooner or later you'll have to split your Publishing with someone else. When you do, who is going to give you a better Songwriter's Agreement: Them or someone representing You!

D.   Register Your Copyrights In Washington!

Note: See, in the "Free Library" section for info on the "How to… why's and wherefores".

5.   I highly recommend you research your name and "Trademark" it [™]. If you don't, there's a reasonable chance someone else might already be using Your name, or Company or Band name.

Note:   I actually did a "name search" for one Band, and found six others that were active Bands with the exact same name! I recommend you go through MySpace and check out your name, as well as other fan and networking sites, or by just putting it in "Google".

I also know of Managers that have owned well-known Group Names, and they'll have 3 to 5 groups of people claiming to be that same Group playing in three different places the same day!

To do a Trademark search, go to:

…and towards the top of the right column click on "Search" and follow the directions.

Simply put, you want to own your name since you are putting time and energy into promoting your name. And, if you don't own the name, and you become successful, some other Person, Company, Band, or even your Record Company or Manager may be tempted to own it themselves!

6.   If you are paying for your Recordings - you own them.

Note:   Did you ever notice the (P) on a CD or wherever. That stands for the Ownership of the Production [Sound Recording] Copyright [SR form], and will normally list the Record Company after it. [The (c) stands for the ownership of the underlying song - Published or Un-Published.]

And, if you own your recordings, why not form your own Record Company? How? ::Poof:: you are a Record Company. Congratulations!

But yes, you should also sign a Production Company/Recording Contract with yourself! That way, if you become even moderately successful on your own, they may have to deal with you as a Production or Record Company - and not just as an Artist. [Remember what I said towards the beginning of this commentary about "up-streaming"?]

Without going into a ton of detail here, you may earn a lot more creative and legal control of your situation when dealing with a larger company - including receiving a bigger piece of the financial pie! And, to take it one step further, you can even sign other Artists/Bands to your label :)

7.   If you are a Record Company and/or a Performer, sign up with "Sound Exchange" []. They will pay you royalties for Internet and other mainly digital Internet and Satellite Performances.

8.   I recommend you Incorporate, to protect your personal assets and for tax reasons, etc. And remember to ask for an EIN# [tax ID number].

9.   Check People and Companies Out Thoroughly - Including Me! Make sure you check out the people you think you may want to learn from or deal with. Nowadays it's very easy:

Put the person's name in "Google", for example.

[I invite you to put "Professor Pooch" or my legal name, "David J. Spangenberg" into the search engines, besides checking out my site that has my resume, along with my teachings -

Also, ask people who know these people and Companies, and are possibly signed with them, etc., their thoughts on that person or company. Keep in mind, that the person can only give you an opinion, and there are 2 sides to every story.

The people you deal with can either help your career -or hurt your career, even if they don't mean to, by not knowing the music business and how it operates, or actually are in good graces with the people that can further help you. Remember, it's not only important whom you know, but more importantly, who knows You!

10.   Partnership Situations

If you are working with anyone else in some form of a sharing or partnership situation, you should have an agreement spelling out the needs and protections that fit your situation.

As I state on my Site describing Partnership Agreements:

"[This includes Band members and their relationship with each other!] The contract people don't think about until it's often too late - an agreement between the people sharing the money and responsibilities of running one or more company(s) - including offshoots! [E.g.- "Management Company" and/or "Production Company" and/or "Publishing Company", etc.] - whether it's 2 partners to 50! This type of Agreement [should] distributes responsibilities, shares, money, protection to each partner, etc., etc. [The one I write averages around 6 pages long and covers present and future situations]

Too many times I've heard, "I thought I knew this person!" or "They're family!" or "I grew up with them!" And then…

Simply put, people change, or their situations change, including outside influences, including people, in their lives. It's better to have your situation spelled out clearly in entirety before you enter into a situation, so that everyone feels comfortable and knows what they are getting their selves into.

11.   Contracts, Contracts & More Contracts…

Yes, to become successful - including making and keeping your money and sanity - you'll have to deal with Contracts, whether you want to or not…

Let’s first start with the ways NOT to deal with Contracts?

A.   Write one yourself

Unless you know law and contracts, and the Music Biz inside-out, and are totally up-to-date on all the changes going on don’t waste your time

B.   Get a Sample of one off the Internet or from a friend.

Believe me, I've run into way too many people coming to me crying, "Pooch, Get Me Out Of This Damn Contract!!!" What people don't understand is that too often what has been left OUT of a Contract, is just as or more important as what's IN it. And if the person who wrote it doesn't fit it to you and your exact situation, wants and needs, there's no way you'll be safely covered.

I've seen way too many Music People waste too much time, energy and money dealing with poorly written or inaccurate contracts. And it's much easier, time efficient and less expensive to prevent a disaster, than to undo one.

C.   You don't put the deal in writing with all parties signing it.

Simply, I've run into way too many people that didn't put the agreement in writing before they'd started a project, and have been screwed!

How SHOULD you deal with the Contracts listed or inferred to above?

It's simple, either go to an Entertainment Attorney who specializes in the Music Business, or with with someone like me, a Music Business Contract Specialist with 30 years of experience. And yes, I work nationally. Ahhh, the wonders of the Internet and Skype, etc…

Let us know your exact situation and any concerns you may have. Then we’ll be able to protect you by personalizing an agreement that will allow you to safely move ahead!

One last thing: If someone pressures you into signing an agreement without letting you take time to look it over and/or allowing someone who knows the business really well to negotiate the contract for you, escape as fast as you can! Not only is the contract most probably no good or worthless, but the person or company offering you the contract, is too! Keep in mind that, contracts are only as good as the people entering into them.

12.   Learn The Music Business! For what reason, WHY should you be knowledgeable about, and be concerned with, all of the above and below?

To the point, if you have all your bases covered, as I have described in my Blogs and PoochCasts, Then you are business-wise and legally set up to safely and profitably do almost anything, and deal with almost any and everybody in the Music Industry - including just Doing It Yourself, if you wish to…

You should learn at least the Basics of the Music Business and how it operates so you even know how to question interested parties to see if they really know what they're talking about or doing.

Btw, Beware of "Name Droppers!" – it’s not who you know – but who knows You!

A great way to start really learning the Music Business would be going through, which is loaded with my Blogs and other free information.

Also, I recommend you check out my easy-to-read-and-understand, down-to-earth book and courses on my site. There’s a lot of sample pages…


If you have any questions on any of the points I've covered, feel free to contact me at


Author's note:
You are welcome to post this article on any website, e-zine, or in any print magazine, if you include a link directed to

with writer's credit and copyright notice...


"Our aim is to help guide you, protect you,
and to answer any and all of your questions regarding
the Creative, Business and Legal sides of the Music Business,
in plain, easy-to-understand "People-Talk".
No matter what style of Music, no matter what you do,
no matter what stage of your career - we're here for you!
Let us help you save wasted time and money.."

David J. Spangenberg
["Professor Pooch"]

Music Business Consultant,
Educator & Advisor
Contract Specialist


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