The Legal Beat: The Sound Engineer Contract

This article will discuss a contract between a recording artist and a sound engineer for the recording or mixing of masters.

Many unsigned artists will at some point want to hire a sound engineer. Before you consider entering into a contract with a sound engineer, you should research the experience and reputation of the engineer. Does the engineer have recent experience in your music genre? Who else has the engineer worked with? Also, does the engineer appear to be someone who will be easy to communicate and work with? If all that checks out, you can consider entering into a simple written contract.

The contract should include the following provisions:

1. All parties should be clearly identified with their addresses and contact information.

2. The agreement should be a “Work for Hire” Agreement. This means the artist will own the work product of the engineer to utilize as he or she pleases.

3. I would suggest a provision that states the engineer will use a full-service professional recording studio using modern equipment and procedures.

4. You must identify the master recordings the sound engineer will be working on.

5. Compensation: Usually this will be a flat fee as full and final payment. You should specify when the engineer will be paid.

6. You should specify when the work will be done and what studio will be used.

7. Assignment: The engineer should assign all rights (including copyright) to the artist. Any credit for the engineer can be at the discretion of the artist.

8. Boilerplate provisions: These are contractual provisions typical in many contracts. For instance, the state law that will apply, whether there will be binding arbitration of disputes, and that any revisions to the agreement must be in writing and signed by the parties. I like to include the following provisions in many of my contracts:

Final Agreement: This Agreement constitutes the final understanding and agreement between the parties with respect to the subject matter hereof and supersedes all prior negotiations, understandings and agreements between the parties, whether written or oral. This Agreement may be amended, supplemented or changed only by an agreement in writing signed by both of the parties.”

Email Signature, Etc.: This Agreement may be executed in multiple counterparts and delivered via facsimile or email transmission, each of which shall constitute an original and all of which together shall constitute one instrument.”

9. Consider if you want to provide that the prevailing party in any litigation or binding arbitration will be entitled to reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.

10. The Agreement must have signature lines and dates for the parties.

There are many benefits to having a signed written agreement with your engineer. It can be valuable proof in the event of a dispute.  Also, it can prevent honest misunderstandings.

GLENN LITWAK is a veteran entertainment attorney based in Santa Monica, CA. He has represented platinum selling recording artists, Grammy winning music producers, hit songwriters, management and production companies, music publishers and independent record labels.  Glenn is also a frequent speaker at music industry conferences around the country, such as South by Southwest and the Billboard Music in Film and TV Conference.  Email Litwak at [email protected] or visit glennlitwak.com.