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Need help with contracts and law related matters

3 posts in this topic

Recently I've been composing (and getting paid for) music for an indie game. It's my first actual work and the process was quite simplistic - I send over music and I get paid, no official contracts whatsoever.

However, I believe sooner or later I will have to somehow make this business official and align it with the law for various reasons. So I was wondering if anyone here could link me to some material regarding types of freelancer composer contracts or perhaps could provide some advice from personal experience.

Thanks in advance!

P. S. Not entirely sure if this was the right forum section to post into. Please move if it isn't.

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First thing is first: I am not a lawyer and what follows does not constitute legal advice.

Okay, so now that the disclaimer is out of the way, let me just say outright: You ARE a business, you don't have to do anything--you're making money, an income, right now, this year, on work that you're doing: You are a business. You're what the IRS calls a Sole-Proprietorship and you're doing business under your own name. This is okay, this is how this works, and you're in good company. This is income you declare on your taxes next year and you WANT to do that because there are so many wonderful deductions that you can declare as well.

I HIGHLY recommend finding a Tax-Class or small business class you can take--like at a community college or through some life-learning or continuing education program nearby, there's so much really useful details that are great to know when running your own business.

Contracts: Yes, contracts are REALLY important. Not because they're official but because contracts DEFINE the business relationship concisely.

You didn't realize it, but you are already under contract. In the US, contracts can be verbal or defined in correspondence--as in email.

You have an arrangement--you make music, they pay you, and wherever this arrangement is defined is your contract. Anywhere where you and your client AGREE on terms is part of your contract, it's just a really, really sketchy way of keeping track of obligations, especially when the relationship goes sour.

A good contract protects you, defines how your music is to be used, who owns the music, what they're allowed to do with it if it's a license (instead of a buy-out). If you're dealing with a client in another country, and something goes wrong, which country's courts should handle the case? Etc.

Contracts define the entire boundaries of the relationship and you should get in the habit of creating or modifying your contracts for EVERY gig.

It's a really important step toward protecting yourself and your business.

Let me ask you a question: These guys are hiring you to make music or buying music from you--do they own it then? What if they make another game? Can they use your music on that too? What if they decide to cash out their company, can they sell your music? What if they decide the music is better than the game, or their friends ask them if they can use the music, can they license your music to other people and make money off of it? What if the game is a mega-hit and it gets turned into a movie starring Nathan Fillion? Can they use the themes you wrote but have it credited to whoever they get to write the film score? Can they sell your music for use in an infomercial about aerobics equipment?

Contracts define the boundaries of the relationship--especially boundaries you didn't realize were there.

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I know a lot more about this than I should, actually, but I'm in high school still so I choose to stay away from all of this while I still can. I recommend you get a couple of books on this subject. Really, without this knowledge you will NEVER succeed in the professional music world. You should learn about different contracts, copyright laws, good business knowledge in general.

This is the boring, evil side of the music industry that no one likes to talk about :/

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