Is it Possible to Break Free From a Record Deal?

Mixed race woman singing and playing guitar

For artists, securing a recording agreement with a label is the big dream. But what happens when reality doesn’t meet expectations? In the public eye, we’ve seen dozens, if not hundreds, of stars engage in legal battles to terminate their contracts. More recently, singer Kesha was denied a preliminary injunction to void her contract with Sony Records and free her from working with Dr. Luke.

Considering her situation, and many others, it begs the question: Can an artist get out of their record deal, and how is it done?

What You Should Know Before Entering a Contract

Don’t jump into signing on the dotted line as soon as you get your offer. Research who you’re dealing with— are they an honest company or person, and do they have a reputation for integrity? Next, have an entertainment attorney review the agreement and negotiate terms on your behalf. They can also help you build “outs,” meaning ways to terminate the contract early if things don’t go according to plan. If you were to void the deal in litigation, you would have to prove that the other side breached the contract, which can prove to be challenging. Having that “out” can benefit you.

Read more: About to Sign Your First Record Deal? Consider These 5 Tips

How to Leave a Contract

There is no simple way to break a contract. Most are appropriately drafted, rigid in their obligations, and not easily escapable without both parties’ consent. With that being said, there may be ways in which a contract might be invalid:

  • You were under the age of consent when you signed the contract.
  • You signed the contract under duress. Examples include extortion, blackmail, and physical threats.
  • You were mentally incapacitated.
  • You were duped into signing. This is legally known as "fraudulent representation" and includes situations where someone makes false statements to induce you to rely on the information and know its falsity or lack of adequate foundation for the representation. An example would be a manager who lied about who he/she's represented to get you to sign. An example would be a manager who lied about who he/she’s represented to get you to sign.

If you’ve entered a valid contract, there are still ways to break it under the following circumstances:

  • The other party breaks its promise. Breach of contract is the failure to perform any term of a contract without a legitimate reason. For example, your record company fails to pay you in accordance with the terms of the contract.
  • The other party has breached its fiduciary duty. Individuals in a position of trust or those who handle your finances have certain duties to you. These relationships rely on good faith and require that the fiduciary acts solely in your best interest and free of any self-dealing, conflicts of interest, or other abuse of the principal for personal advantage.
  • Both parties consent to end the contract. If there are no legally valid reasons to break from your contract, it does not mean you are bound to it. If you both agree to end it, you can sign a termination of contract.

Los Angeles and Las Vegas Entertainment Attorneys

If history tells us anything, it’s not easy to leave a recording contract. Famous examples include TLC, Toni Braxton, and Tom Petty. While they were unable to break their contracts entirely, they were able to renegotiate better deals. If you are unhappy with your contract, it’s in your best interest to sit down with an attorney and discuss your unique situation. Our entertainment lawyers at Ford & Friedman are skilled negotiators and litigators committed to advocating for our client’s rights.

Contact Ford & Friedman for legal advice from our entertainment and media attorneys by calling (702) 904-9898.

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