In today’s world, contracts are everything. In the music business contracts are designed to protect record labels and the artists but a bad contract will only cater to one faction.
Many contracts will offer financial support, music recording and distribution, as well as brand management packages but, will often bind the artists in a situation that can last several years and put in a hard to get out of termination clause. Since this is a legally binding document, some get stuck in less than ideal situations or go ahead to battle it out in court.
With that said, here are artists locally and internationally who have signed bad contracts or later suffered the consequences of agreeing to be part of terrible contracts.
Peter Blessings Vs Bahati/ EMB Records
Kenyan gospel singer Bahati and his record label signee Peter Blessing are currently embroiled in a fierce legal battle.
The bone of contention being the music contract between the rising artist and the record label EMB records which is owned by the ‘Mama’ hitmaker Bahati. According to a recent video, Bahati explained that Blessing had continuously gone against the terms of his contract and this further led the record label to pursue legal action.
The contract on the label’s side provided Blessing with all that he needed to grow his music career by offering studio time, shooting his music videos, branding and music distribution. On the other hand, the contract tied up Blessing for 20 years, owned his music, name and brand.
Harmonize Vs Diamond Platnumz/ WCB
In 2019, as reported by The Sauce, Tanzanian singer Harmonize fought hard with to get out of had to Diamond Platnumz’ s record label Wasafi.
As reported by The Sauce, Harmonize alias ‘Konde Boy’ revealed during an interview with Tanzania’s Clouds FM XXL show the whooping amount he had to pay prior to leaving Diamond Platnumz’s record label Wasafi. The ‘Never Give Up’ singer said he had to pay the label Tshs 500 million (Kshs 22M) as stipulated in his contract in order to get rights to his masters and the Harmonize name.
He said that he had to sell some of his assets including three of his houses to pay up and now he is free as a bird to use any of his music produced under the WCB label.
Taylor Swift Vs Big Machine
Grammy-winning artist Taylor Swift and her first record label, Big Machine Records were at each other’s throats last year.
On June 30, 2019, entertainment industry professional Scooter Braun, through his company, Ithaca Holdings, purchased an ownership interest in Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Label Group. As part of this purchase, exclusive rights to all of the material on Swift’s first six albums were acquired by Ithaca Holdings. In response to this acquisition, Taylor Swift publicly stated that “[t]his is my worst-case scenario”.
Taylor Swift came out to allege that Big Machine Label Group was now preventing her from performing her old music catalogue (songs owned by Big Machine Label Group) live during the American Music Awards as well as refusing to permit the incorporation of her old material into a Netflix documentary about her career. However, both Braun and Borchetta responded and publicly denied refusing to issue appropriate licenses to permit Swift to perform her old works at the American Music Awards as well as to incorporate the songs into a Netflix documentary.
Kelis Vs Pharell/ The Neptunes
New York City native Kelis recently spoke candidly in regards to her career.
One quote that stood out among the rest was Kelis’ claim that The Neptunes the production duo of Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo kept all the profits from her first two albums.
The Neptunes fully produced both of her first two albums: 1999’s Kaleidoscope and 2001’s Wanderland. What seemed to be a safe creative space turned out to be the opposite, as she was “lied to and tricked,” she claims. “I was told we were going to split the whole thing 33/33/33, which we didn’t do,” Kelis claimed, holding Pharrell and Hugo’s management team and attorneys liable in the mess as well.
Kelis went on to say that she didn’t even notice the publishing money missing from all the sales for her first two projects for a few years because she was living off of her touring money. “Their argument is: ‘Well, you signed it.’ I’m like: ‘Yeah, I signed what I was told, and I was too young and too stupid to double-check it,'” she said.
Jackson 5 Vs Motown records
The Jackson 5 were the last superstars of Berry Gordy’s Motown. However, by 1973 the band’s popularity started going downhill. Gordy refused to give them creative control, permission to update their image or a stake in the publishing rights to their catalogue. The Jackson 5 were only receiving a 2.8% royalty rate, which naturally increased the tension. When their father/manager, Joseph Jackson, was persuaded to take the group to CBS for a much more lucrative deal, Motown sued for breach of contract. Since then the brothers forever lost the rights to the name “Jackson 5” and the famous “J5” trademark.
Chuck Berry Vs Chess Records
The famous Chess Records almost never handed out royalty statements. The few that were issued came with complications. For Chuck Berry’s single “Maybellene,” “ the Chess brothers made him share songwriting credit—right on the label—with a prominent disc jockey, as well as with the company’s landlord.”
Berry wrote in his 1987 memoir, Chuck Berry: The Autobiography:
I didn’t understand most of the terms of arrangements of publishing. I didn’t know that a person got compensation for writing as well as recording a song.
TLC and Toni Braxton Vs Arista LaFace Records
90s girl band TLC and RnB singer Toni Braxton fell prey to the same label at roughly the same moment in time: both TLC and Braxton signed notoriously bad contracts with Arista’s LaFace Records, both were delayed royalty payments, and both filed for Bankruptcy, despite having grossed millions.
Kenyan rapper Xtatic is also infamously known for her five year Sony music deal that ended on a sour note. What signs do you think artists should look out for before signing these contracts?