There are a number of different types of contract and agreements in the music business but the most important are:

Copyright Assignment

An assignment is the outright transfer of ownership and usually for the life of copyright. You can only assign (transfer) copyright in writing to a third party. A songwriter can transfer copyright (ownership) in existing and future compositions to a music publisher. An artist can transfer copyright for recordings to a record company.


The owner of a licensed work will still own the rights to the work (the copyright) but will grant permission for someone else to use them. It is like a ‘loan’ period in which the licensee can exploit the material for an agreed deal – this could be a fee or a profit share. The owner retains copyright but grants rights to licensee for set period

Personal Services

A management contract would be an example of this as it is a service agreement only. There is no exchange of copyright (unless you do a record deal with your manager) and the contract is not specifically enforceable in law e.g. you can’t be forced in law to have a certain manager. A manager does however have the right to compensation and if a relationship breaks down and this agreement may decide the level of damages. It protects the manager in this way so if you ‘sack’ them you may still have to pay them for work up to that point – and possibly into the future.

There are other contracts that cover things like production agreements, live music, and merchandise and distribution agreements. For more on these and the above read:

  • Music The Business: The Essential Guide To The Law And The Deals - Ann Harrison

  • All You Need to Know About The Music Business – Donald Passman