Producers, This Is Why the Record Label Hasn't Paid You

When I worked at Def Jam, I was the one not paying producers.
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In a recent interview on the Pull Up, Jadakiss complained to Joe Budden that his record label, Def Jam Recordings, was taking forever to pay producers on his 2017 album Friday on Elm Street.

I’m sure this is true. When I worked at Def Jam, I was the one not paying producers. That was part of my job.

Before you come at me, I’ll explain. It all comes down to a single word: “delivery.” If a producer isn’t getting paid as quickly as he or she expects, the delay is usually because of this word. I’ve encountered this issue on countless projects, and it’s frustrating not only for the producer but also for the artist and the label. Everybody wants to wrap things up, and it takes clear communication on both sides to do so satisfactorily.

Here’s an example of how “delivery” can be contractually defined. This affects producers, too, even though the definition is in the artist’s recording contract (and by the way, this is a short definition):

“Delivery”: receipt by Company of the following items necessary for the manufacture, marketing, and sale of Phonorecords (collectively, the “Deliverables”), including, without limitation: audio tape(s), hard drive(s), or other then-current storage device(s) containing the following: a) fully mixed, edited, sequenced, and equalized Master(s); b) unmastered “alternate” or so-called “stem mixes” (as is commonly understood in the music business and per Company specifications); and, c) the original unedited multi-track session masters; submission in writing of all credits, liner notes, and label copy detailing titles and timings, personnel, performers, and studios involved in the creation of each Master; songwriting information for the underlying Composition embodied on each Master, including the legal name(s) of the writer(s), together with their publishing company name(s), and performing rights organization affiliation; any consents, clearances, licenses, and permissions, including, without limitation, that relating to all samples, if any, interpolated in the Master(s) and / or the underlying Composition(s); first use mechanical licenses, if applicable; sideartist permissions, guest artist clearances, and any information required to be delivered to unions, guilds or other third parties, including applicable employment and immigration verification forms.

Labels call this “capital D Delivery.” It signifies that the label has obtained everything they need in order to put out the release. If it sounds like CYA, it is—if any of these items is not delivered, bad things can happen. Missing masters represent lost revenue opportunities; uncleared samples are potential copyright infringement claims; delays in receiving credits or incomplete information can mean missed deadlines, unpaid personnel, or costly artwork and/or packaging reprints.

Each of these problems has an associated cost, and whether calculated in money, time, or both, the label wants to avoid them. Labels take “capital D Delivery” very seriously, and for those managing recording projects (like when I handled A&R Administration for Def Jam), refusing to make payments to the artist and/or the producer might be the only way to ensure Delivery takes place. This is not meant to be punitive and is often the only way to protect the label’s revenue streams or keep its releases from resulting in lawsuits.

Even though “Delivery” is defined in the artist agreement, in practice, it is the producer who turns in most, if not all, of the items on the list. Here’s a link to what RCA requires. This responsibility falls to the producer for two important reasons: 1) the producer is hired by the artist (though paid by the label); and, 2) virtually every item on the list is the result of a creative decision he or she makes.

To understand the first point requires a quick history lesson in how the label-artist-producer relationship has changed over time. A label’s Artists & Repertoire department originally undertook the role of producing. A&R reps found the artist, matched him or her with songwriters and material, hired musicians, booked the studio, and oversaw all aspects of each production. But as the recording process became more complex and as artists began to write their own material and take greater responsibility for their music, producing became a separate function from A&R, ultimately becoming a job independent from the label. As producers’ independence grew, so did their importance, and nowadays, the sound they create is so important that on a pop or hip-hop record there may be multiple producers for each track.

As the need for their services grew, so did the number of producers. This led to increased costs for labels. Labels didn’t want to shoulder the cost of hiring producers or paying their attorneys to work on producer contracts, so they outsourced everything to the artist.

But why does the label still pay the producer if it’s the artist who hires them? At a major, typically, the label manages all of the spending for a given project. It’s rare for an artist to be given money directly and allowed to manage their own spending; only superstars get that ability. As a result, the label pays all the recording costs, including the producer advance.

To understand the second point, consider the list of deliverables. Virtually every item is affected in some way by the producer’s decisions. It should come as no surprise that if the label is spending money on these things that they will look to the producer to get what they paid for.

Producers need to fully understand their role. In fact, it’s similar to how artists must understand their recording contracts. Producers are responsible for providing much more than just a beat. Sadly, they often don’t appreciate this, and that lack of awareness gets producers into trouble all the time. While it’s easy to describe their role in such simple terms, a producer’s impact on a project is far more important. (Believe me, a producer’s role is so complex it could be the subject of a whole other article.)

Therefore, producers must understand that their actions and decisions—whether overseeing the creation of a TV track, hiring a union musician, or deciding to include a sample as part of the beat—have a tremendous effect on the artist and his or her label. Of course the creative is important, but simply turning in a beat is not enough to get a producer paid.

So when an artist or a producer complains that his or her money is being held up, consider whether he or she has done their job as defined by the contract. Also, consider whether anything missing might prevent the label from doing its job. Remember, an uncleared sample can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages; a missing instrumental track can mean losing a lucrative synch placement. And these are only two of the many issues that can come up for a label.

Labels invest lots of money in artists and pay producers to deliver hits that are free from any issues or complications. The only way for a label to prevent problems is to dot every “I” and cross every “t.” Sometimes that means withholding payment as leverage against Delivery.

Producers: take ownership of your role. Understand all of your responsibilities. Don’t think that the work ends once the track is submitted. Take time to find out what is required for a project, and work with the label to provide what it needs. Doing so will prevent frustration and ensure prompt payment. 

Mark Tavern is an artist manager, consultant, educator, administrator, and arts advocate with more than twenty years of music business experience. In addition to running his own management company, he currently teaches music business at LaGuardia Community College and before that at the Institute of Audio Research. Prior to 2012, Tavern worked at major record companies including Universal Music Group, SONY Music Entertainment, and BMG Entertainment. As an A&R Administrator with such labels as Island, Def Jam, RCA, and RCA Victor, he took part in more than 200 recordings, a dozen Broadway cast albums, and numerous reissue projects, including the GRAMMY®-winning 24-CD box set The Duke Ellington Centennial Edition. Visit his website for insider tips about the music business, and subscribe to his newsletter to get a free ebook: Listen Up! A Simple Guide To Getting Heard On Spotify.

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