What to Look for in Music Library Contracts
I can’t stress this enough: always read every contract you receive in this business! Hire a lawyer if you need to. There are plenty of horror stories out there from musicians who signed away their rights without knowing. If you see something in a contract that sounds questionable, ask the library contact for more information about it.
Here are some of the major details you should know about a contract. Libraries will likely tell you these details before sending the document.
Writer/Publisher Split for Sync fees
Writer/Publisher Splits for backend royalties
Upfront fee amounts (if applicable)
Payment schedule (quarterly, bi-annual)
Below are contract details that you might come across. In my opinion, these are acceptable terms that you should feel comfortable with.
Make sure you maintain 100% of your writer’s share through your PRO (or make sure that the sum of all co-writers equals 100%).
Make sure that you receive at least 50% of all sync fees (unless you get some kind of upfront money for the tracks. In this case, use your best judgement).
For music libraries, they will most likely keep 100% of the publishing share, which is a standard practice. There is nothing to be afraid of here, the publishing share gives the library some skin in the game.
Make sure you receive at least 50% of any revenue generated from blanket licenses.
Make sure you receive at least 50% of any revenue generated from direct licensing (very important). If the library doesn’t deal with direct licensing, then you have nothing to worry about.
It is beneficial to be able to place your tracks on your own for personal projects. This is called semi-exclusivity. It is not required, but it can certainly help.
Here are some contract details that you should NOT ACCEPT!
When any amount of the writer’s share is given to someone who didn’t compose the music, that is a red flag. Don’t work with such a library.
When direct licensing occurs and the writer does not receive any money, that is a red flag. Try emailing the library contact to get more information, or to possibly alter the contract.
Don’t sign a contract with a library or company that doesn’t want you to be with a PRO! This kind of deal is nothing but predatory, as they will likely register your tracks by themselves so that they get the royalties instead of you. You have every right to collect the royalties from the music that you created.
Most contracts are different, and it is very important to read every detail. Respectable libraries will always give their composers a fair share of the revenue. Questionable libraries will often try to hide stuff in the contract. When in doubt, ask questions or hire a lawyer!
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