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What Is A Good First Record Deal?

Figuring out a good record deal can be a challenge for most new artists that have not had a deal before. Label deals can be confusing  this is why most people choose to hire lawyers to negotiate on their behalf and basically explain record label terms to them…in plain English.

Most of the bad record deals people find themselves in are a result of bad decision making that usually stems from limited knowledge or misinformation.

Not carefully going over the finer details of any agreement can result in the artist ending up in bad positions that will most likely result in either leaving a label, losing master rights or both.

A good first record deal is one that offers you what you want and doesn’t take advantage of you as the artist. Therefore, your judgement should guide you in going for a deal that doesn’t swoop in on all your income, can provide good support for your artistry, has long term flexibility, can give you a reasonable advance, plus ensures that you keep and retain a reasonable profit and copyright ownership on all your records.

Characteristics of a Good first record deal

Income Protection

One if the first things I’d look for in record deal agreement is how much income protection I have. The best question to ask yourself is how many of your revenue streams will the label have a profit in? …. and does that make you comfortable?

Personally I’d rather have the record label have share in streaming and album sales without them having a piece of tour money, merch money and other sources of revenue.

You can negotiate this….. that’s the good part, so take your time and go over your record deal offers and look for the profit sharing bits and see if you’re comfortable with them.

Good Support for Your Brand and Freedom

One of the things that artists that sign bad record deals will have to give up is their creative freedom. Most record labels will have strict policies that will only have you do what they want you do, this includes, the kind of music you make, releases etc.

As a creative person this can be very limiting on your craft because making music with the direction of the label will most likely affect how much you enjoy doing your job.

Therefore ensure that you go for a record deal that gives you creative freedom and provides the necessary support to push your brand forward.


The flexibility of your overall record deal is also something that has to be highly considered before you even think of signing anything.

This has more to do with the overall terms, contract duration and contract termination conditions.

The last thing you need as an artist is inconsistency from your label, you need support that will translate over a long period of time.

This is where the long term flexibility of your contract will come to play. Ensure that you’re comfortable with the contract duration in order to afford yourself the opportunity to leave an uncomfortable deal without losing too much.

NON Suspicious Advances

Advances are part of the record label playbook. An advance is more like a loan that the record label gives you which has to be recouped from the sale of your records and other revenue sources of your music that the record label has a share in.

Ensure that you get a fair advance that you can easily pay back. You’ll be in the best position to know whether your music can recoup what the label offers you. Be careful not to be tempted into going for a large advance that your music will clearly not be able to recoup, at-least in a reasonable amount of time.

In such a situation, it will be difficult for you to exit such a deal without at-least finding another way to pay the record label back what you owe them for the advance they gave you.

Type of Record deals

Production Deal

Production deals are not the common record deal that you’re accustomed to.

In a production deal you basically sign to a record company in order for them to produce a body or bodies of work for you.

This deal is common for people that cannot afford to have their own music produced because they lack the resources.

Word of advice is to understand the terms of these types of contracts with regards to what happens after the music is made.

EP Deal

EP deals are a good way to start off with the label and actually Gauge how good a full deal would be for both parties.

In an EP deal an artist produces an EP with the record label and puts it out without announcing they’re working with the label.

The label then offers direction to the artist and provides some support for marketing and other areas where the label can help.

If the project does well, the label can then swoop in and announce that they are signing the artist.

Licence Deal

Artists with massive catalogs usually go for such deals because they are Convenient for their situation.

In a license deal, the artist can license their music to the record label which basically lets the artist keep the rights to their music while enjoying the overall benefits of working with a label.

Artist Deal

This is an artist to artist deal and not artist to label deal.

New artists usually go on to sign with other successful artists as a way to take advantage of the successful artist’s fame and success.

In such situations, if the successful artist has a deal with a label in place, the artist that’s signed to the artist will be considered as signed to the label as well.

50/50 Deal

The simplest explanation for a 50/50 deal is that it is a partnership or joint venture between the artist and a label. To work together as equal profit partners.

Single Deal Recording Contract

These types of deals basically mean the artist signing to a label to release a series of singles. The label may not want to fully invest in a full album.

Therefore, single deal contracts are used as a way to test the market and see if it can be profitable to fully go into a deal where the label would produce an album and provide marketing dollars as well as other kinds of support that can help in the success of the artist.

360 Deal

A 360 deal is a deal in which the label takes a profit share of all incomes of the artist related to the brand.

This may include having a share in merchandise, music, tours, endorsements, sponsorships etc.

Learn more about 360 deals here.

Major Label Deal

This is the deal that most musicians are after. In a major label deal, the label pays for everything and they also provide the artist with usually a large advance to help them tailor their lifestyle to their brand.

A major label deal can be tricky therefore, it is wise to work with a lawyer in ensuring that it is the right move for you.

Standard Record Deal

In the standard record deal, the label is more focused on albums and options. Marketing and other financial support is usually off the table because the label strives to have you record a lot of albums so they pick which one has the most likelihood of success…. in order for them to invest in it and further promote it.

Distribution Deal

A distribution deal is solely focused on getting your music out there and helping you promote it. Distributions deals are good for artists that have an established fanbase or a marketing strategy in place.

These kinds of deals are not good for artists without a fanbase or a good promotion and marketing strategy.

3 things to consider when choosing the right record deal

Establish what you want and need

What you need and want for your career should be your guiding tool in figuring out what kind of record deal you go for.

Sometimes you want to build a fanbase, sometimes you just want distribution…. the fact is people want different things and you do too.

Figure that out and you’re one step closer to figuring out what kind of record is best for you.

Vision and Foresight

Having a record deal can take your music career to different heights in your career and it’s always good to understand where it is you wish to take your music career.

For example ; A standard deal can offer you a good way to live like most successful artists but you’ll have to usually pay back your advance which may not at all be easy. Not everyone can live with this.

They may want something that can give them a good edge in terms of paying back the advance.


When you get a lot of record deal offers, that is a  good indication that you have what most record labels want.

This can put you in a good position and give you the leverage to negotiate a better deal for yourself.

Therefore your value will most likely determine what you can go for deal wise, its smart to go for something fair.

What Is A Good First Record Deal?

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