Musicians suffer poor recording contracts

HARARE - Many people take the adage “Ignorance is not an excuse at law” for granted until they are in a tight spot.

There is an increasing number of artistes who are signing contracts without paying particular attention to the small print.

Not surprisingly, most of these artistes eventually cry foul.

Two weeks ago, musician Willom Tight was dropped from a music project he was working on with producer MacDee due to a 10year binding contract with South Africa-based Shamiso Records headed by Gilbert Muvavarirwa.

This is despite the fact that Shamiso has for several years failed to release Willom Tight’s over-hyped 15-track album which includes collaborations with Malian music giant Salif Keita and Bongo Maffin’s Harold Rangakane “Speedy”Mathaku.

“The contract is 10 years long, and we are into the fourth year. What is unfair is that I have an unreleased album which has been kept for the past four years.

“When I tried to get to work with other producers I was told I could not as I was legally bound to Shamiso Music,” he said.

Willom Tight added that Muvavarirwa’s objection was despite the fact that he had given him permission to record with his son Gary.

“We had a long talk about my working with Gary. We even released about three songs with my son and Muvavarirwa did not say anything.

“Now that this project by MacDee has received so much hype he comes out guns blazing at the producer’s head. The thing is on the song I will be supporting Gary. Now he has ruined it. I have been dropped from the recording,” said a bitter Willom Tight.

Willom Tight’s case is not an isolated one.

Last year, veteran sungura musician Alick Macheso complained about an unfavourable contract he once had with Gramma Records during a public meeting held by the Zimbabwe Music Rights Association (Zimura)

“What must we do about these recording studios that cling on to our music? We write the songs and we want the right and what are you told? That pay $25 000 if you want full rights to your music. Tatambura navo vanhu ava (We are suffering because of these people)

“Please Zimura if you can assist us, these studios are lynching us. Why should I pay such a ridiculous amount for my work? All my fans know my work, why should I pay?,” asked Macheso.

Often musicians fail to understand the logic behind their contracts and sign without full understanding.

A lawyer, Ashford Rukawo said it is often in the artistes’ best interest to properly read a document before signing it.

“When a person gets a contract they should try to get clarity on issues they don’t understand. They can either discuss with the other party or look for a lawyer to interpret.

“Even when you go to court they will be told that they are bound to the contract as they put their signature on the contract,” he told the Daily News on Sunday.

This situation is not unique to Zimbabwe only. Even in the first world celebrities fall victim to such catastrophic negotiations.

According to fame.10, American star Toni Braxton was paid just $1 972 despite the fact that her music had generated $170 million in worldwide sales and a pair of Grammy Awards for best new artiste and best female R ‘n’ B vocal performance.

It turns out that she was responsible for paying the record label back for clothes, travel, studio time and music video expenses.

Braxton ended up filing for bankruptcy and suspended her studio work until she was able to renegotiate her contract in 1999.

Girl group TLC had a less than favourable recording deal with their manager Pebbitone and their record label LaFace Records. Both charged the girls for expenses such as airline travel, hotels, promotion, music videos, food and clothing.

In addition to this, TLC also had to pay their managers, lawyers, producers and taxes, which left them with less than $50 000 a year.

In 1995, they filed for bankruptcy and spent the next two years locked in legal debates with Pebbiton and LaFace. Once it was settled, TLC renegotiated their contract with LaFace and Pebbitone agreed to let them out of their production/management deal in exchange for royalties on some of their future releases and buy the rights to their name.

Post a comment

Readers are kindly requested to refrain from using abusive, vulgar, racist, tribalistic, sexist, discriminatory and hurtful language when posting their comments on the Daily News website.
Those who transgress this civilised etiquette will be barred from contributing to our online discussions.
- Editor

Your email address will not be shared.