What Do I Really Get When I Get a Record Deal?

In a standard recording agreement, you give the record label the exclusive right to record, produce and distribute your music for a certain period of time, and in return for the privilege (and for their investment, which is often substantial), the company shares handsomely in the proceeds of sale of your music.   With a major label, you can expect a high level of investment and a small percentage of the proceeds (say, 12%).  With an independent record label, you can expect a low level of investment and a higher percentage of the proceeds (from 25% to 50%).

Recording contracts generally do NOT require the record label to make or release a recording of your music.  Rather, the company is paying you (if you get an advance) to give them material that they have the right to make into an album and distribute, if they feel like it.

This means that you could give the label exclusive rights to your music only to have it sit on a shelf for the duration of the contract.  Try to negotiate a return of rights to the artist if the label does not distribute the album after a reasonable period of time.

Read your agreement carefully to see what the record company is actually promising to do for you, and be sure you get them to put in writing whatever promises they are making to you in person -- before you sign!