Useful Creativity Tip: The #1 Pitfall Artists Should Avoid

Rap moguls Dr. Dre and Jay-Z stay on top of the game by making sure they read the fine print on all contracts as artists and producers

On the blog Script the other day, I read a post posted earlier this year about protecting your work if you are a screenwriter for television. The blog post had some wonderful advice and things that I thought were helpful, not just for screenwriters, but for literary artists of all genres as well as performance artists who write songs. The take-away from the post was that you can not copyright or protect– in any way– your ideas. Ideas are not copyright-able.  Only the execution of an idea is copyright-able. And, that’s when it can get messy.

Excuse, me. That’s me singing.

As a freelance music writer who covers up and coming music artists as well as some pretty well-known names, I have an ear to the pulse a lot of time regarding the woes of artists and the reasons why it may take them some time to come out with new work. Last week I was talking to radio host Stevie Robinson,  who also manages singer Gloria Ry’ann, and I got some first-hand testimony on what a copyright mess can look like. Stevie told me that the talented vocalist, who sounds similar to the late Minnie Ripperton with a dose of contemporary panache, was surprised to find that her music and rights to it had been sold without her knowledge.

Stevie candidly shared a current hassle she is dealing with on behalf of Gloria.

“Basically,” Stevie shared, “Gloria’s album producer sold a song Gloria wrote and sung and sold the rights to the song to Tracy Lynn Jewlery.”

Huh? How does that happen?

Well, Stevie explains, there was no written contract prior to Gloria going into the studio and, since the producer had access to her originals and mixes of the song, he had his way with the music he had produced with Gloria Ry’ann. He shopped the song “Sparklin” to the popular jewlery sellers and she found out through Twitter about the transaction, according to Stevie, when a fan tweeted about the song being on the Traci Lynn website. Stevie says that he offered Gloria $2700, a portion of the $6000 he sold the song for– a song that is being sold on iTunes right now by Traci Lynn jewlery. Gloria has no rights to the song anymore and can not, as was intended, include it on her upcoming album.

#1 PITFALL TO AVOID: Failing to Establish a Contractual Agreement

Gloria’s first mistake, Stevie admits, was that she trusted her producer Herb Middleton to do right by her, and, therefore, made assumptions about their working relationship. While this sounds common sense and naive to do otherwise, many artists fall into this category when their producer is also a friend or someone they are used to typically working with in a free-flow, organic atmosphere that isn’t formalized with contracts or rules.

But, if you are on a plan to market your outputs for sale, you have to move away from this mentality.

If you are a singer, a contract is mandatory before crafting tracks in the studio, especially if you are having your original songs produced. As a writer, while an email exchange can develop a paper trail between you and an editor or proofreader, giving proof that you are the original author of a work in question, a contract may be helpful as well in making it clear that the editor does not have the right to use, transmit, sell, etc. your work without your authority and direction.

Music industry expert Heather McDonald for asserts that a few misplaced or missing words could give your producer a piece of the ownership of the finished product as in Gloria’s case. “Avoid this conflict by stating clearly that any finished recordings and masters are owned exclusively by you,” McDonald says in her article “Music Producer Contracts– Before You Sign”.

The contract for both a producer if you’re a singer or an editor if you’re an author should specify exactly what is expected of the producer or editor.

For the producer, the contract should stipulate whether they will be arranging songs or creating beats.

For the author, it’s important to know if the editor will be helping you actually do re-writes or simply act as a creative coach putting you in the right direction or asking the necessary questions to push you? While you may not put this in a formal contract, having it in writing that is notarized on time-stamped is necessary.

“The nature of your relationship with the producer should be decided up front, and it should be spelled out in the contract,” writes Heather McDonald.

Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman is a writer and editor of several books, including the anthology Liberated Muse Volume I: How I Freed My Soul.  She offers editing, proofreading and creative coaching services to authors who self-publish. Contact her at for a free consultation.


8 Comments Add yours

  1. Debra Hughes says:

    First and foremost, as a representative for Herb Middleton and NuVybe Records, what was posted is totally inaccurate. Prior to any story being published; the writer should always get “both sides” of the story. It’s going to be their side, his side with the “Truth” always being in the middle.

    The songwriter/vocalist in question was afforded the opportunity to record over six (6) songs with Herb Middleton. How much did she pay for production? She paid absolutely nothing. What is the cost to work with a Multi-Platinum Producer, you might ask yourself? How often is an “undiscovered” and “non-credited” writer afforded such an opportunity?

    Instead of Management for the songwriter/vocalist contacting my office for any resolution; the Management is contacting the producer directly? More important, the manager slanders my client’s name by stating inaccurate information. No deal should have been entered into without consultation of management. When it came to the song being placed, who engineered the mechanics of the deal structure? I do believe it was my client who shopped and placed the song?

    The song and it’s concept and chorus were the intellectual properties of Herb Middleton. The songwriter/vocalist wrote 30% of the song. Therefore if there was to be any share given it would be 30% of the %50 percent ownership in the song. She definitely does not own any parts of the production, hence she can not share in the musical aspects of production. She did write a fair portion but definitely not 50% of the writing.

    Mr. Middleton offered her more than she would have received if this deal had been done correctly. Her share actually would be $1,800.00. She was aware that the song was purchased on a buy-out as many commercial companies do. So, with that in mind, I suggest all Independent Up and Coming Artists always consult with legal council prior to deals and make sure they understand the deal that is being negotiated. In no way did Mr. Middleton do this young lady wrong. I feel it was admirable to offer her $2,700.00. My suggestion was to handle it the “appropriate” way and pay her per the “ACTUAL” split-sheet and give her the lesser amount due to the slander against his name.

    Never go out and slander someone as it can cost you more in the long run. Herb’s integrity in business has always been fair. Not one record label executive, record artist (e.g. Mary J. Blige, Chaka Khan, Al Green, Kelly Price etc.) have ever had bad dealings when working with him and for this unknown artist to utilize the press to further her career with false accusations in preposterous! This is also something as an artist, you should stay clear of. Always conduct yourself in a professional manner as this industry is small. Those who actually do business know one another or someone who knows the other. This industry is always 6 degrees of separation.

    This response has been approved by my client, Herb Middleton.

    Debra Hughes
    Crystal Ball Entertainment

  2. Debra, thanks so much for visiting my site and posting your comment.

    I understand the concern you may feel given that the quotes I used do not shine the best light on your client. However, your response further illustrates my point that it is crucial to establish a contract prior to working with a producer, so, for that, I thank you.

    Arrangements occur all of the time between performance artists and producers, informally and formally. It is in everyone’s best interest to enact a written contract to ensure that everyone is on the same page and that there is a written document that deters people from going back on their word.

    Finally, I thank you again for posting such a detailed response to illustrate the perception of some producers that a performers participation in creating a track is often of less value than the input of the producer. This viewpoint gives real time example that some do not view all partnerships equal when it comes to crafting art. But,our country’s law states when two or more authors prepare a work with the intent to combine their contributions into inseparable or interdependent parts, the work is considered joint work and the authors are considered joint copyright owners. So, I will assume–since I don’t purport to know the story in its entirety– that this case is one that will probably be best settled in a court of law if one or both parties invests the time to pursue it, for, both sides have an opinion on what is fair.

  3. Love the content. Love the conflict. Love the conclusion. Well played…

  4. Thank you, Damon for your readership. Appreciate it.

  5. Baraka Njuzi Ali says:

    Historically,their have been conflict between artist and producers(jackie wilson,curtis mayfield and the impresstion featuring jerry butler just to name a few) so it would be incumbent of the new generation to seek the knowledge and wisdow of the old.

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