"I wrote & recorded these songs, so I own them, right?“ …that may not be true.

Welcome to our inaugural blog. In addition to doing weekly free educational tips on instagram.com/musictiptuesday we will bring you more comprehensive resources and updates via our blog, right here! Today's post addresses the need for side musician, background singer and producer agreements.

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First off // what is a master recording [the masters]?


Master recordings are typically regarded as the complete multi-tracks and final mixes of your songs. [Note that released recordings purchased on a CD or digital download are not considered masters – these goods are only copies of the original masters.]

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Who owns the masters?


Common sense causes many independent artists to assume they own their masters because they're the ones who contributed the performance and are often paying for the recordings. However, oftentimes, other owners can be involved because master ownership varies based on law as well as contracts. People other than the artist who were involved in the recording of the masters can make the argument that their contribution to the recording counts as a copyrightable contribution, and thus makes them joint owners.

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Why do I need sideman [work-for-hire] agreements with all of my side musicians & guest performers?

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Performing musicians & producers could potentially claim ownership of your masters. The contribution here is usually singing or playing instruments, but in either case, it's considered a performance, and performers have rights in and to their performances. In some cases, the vocalist / musician may be singing or playing exactly as instructed, and in other cases may be contributing other original elements adding to the overall work.


In either instance, simply paying the vocalist or musician for services rendered may not prevent them from coming back to claim rights in their performances later. Paying for something doesn’t always mean ownership of it, especially under copyright law. Section 202 of US Copyright Law says, “Ownership of a copyright, or of any of the exclusive rights under a copyright, is distinct from ownership of any material object in which the work is embodied.” So while you may have the hard drive in hand, that won’t stop someone from claiming an ownership stake of the copyright.


You MUST have all side musicians / singers sign sideman agreements which clarifies their payment as a work-for-hire and additionally confirms they have no ownership over the copyright. And your record label will require these sideman agreements if you eventually partner with them.


You can download our standard agreement that has been used on various major and indie label projects. Download your Sideman Agreement here.



Music Producers often influence the sound through a variety of musical contributions to the Master recordings. They might just be advising on the sound and encouraging the best performances from the artist, or they might be playing instruments on the recordings or co-writing the songs. Producers may be able to argue partial master ownership based on their contributions, so it is important to outline all rights in the Producer Agreement. Also, some independent producers are also using contracts to ensure they own all or part of the masters in an attempt to build an income-producing catalog (in addition to their producer fee and royalty). However, be sure that giving up this ownership is actually worth the success this producer will add.


These agreements do involve many components and complex language, so ideally they should be drafted by an experience music attorney. If you are unable to hire an attorney, our templates have been used/accepted by US major labels. Download your Producer Agreement here.




Recording studios could potentially say that they own the masters, and that they'll release the ownership to the artist once the bill has been paid. They'll argue this because the masters were recorded on studio property with studio equipment and studio employees. Success of these arguments from a music industry standpoint would depend on the actual circumstances of the situation. While the studio does have an argument based on this contribution, these tactics serve mostly as a way for the studio to make sure it gets paid.



We hope this helps along your journey. Be sure to follow us on instagram.com/unboundbysound and instagram.com/musictiptuesday and join our mailing list


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