Raye, Record Deals & Release Clauses

Written by Cassine Bering | January 30, 2023

IP Contracts

This month Raye earned her first UK number one, independently and without the help of a record label. An incredible feat for an independent artist. However, Raye was not always independent. She signed to Polydor in 2014, a deal which lasted seven years, but in that time the label didn’t release any of her music. This is despite Raye submitting numerous albums and recordings for consideration. Raye was able to part ways with Polydor a year or so ago and has overcome the odds to top the charts. Nonetheless, her journey serves as an important reminder to artists about the risks of record deals, the benefit of release clauses and the importance of instructing legal counsel.

What is a Release Clause?

We haven’t had sight of Raye’s Polydor deal, but it is highly likely there was either no release clause or an extremely weak one. A release clause is essentially an ultimatum for the label – either it puts your music out or it releases you from the contract. It is an essential clause for any artist but is rarely included in the first draft. Release clauses come in all shapes and sizes and must be read in context of the overall agreement. They aren’t always what they seem and require a trained eye to dissect.

Good Release Clauses

Good release clauses release you from your obligations under the deal, freeing you to release music elsewhere, whether that be independently or with other labels. The best release clauses also revert your rights in the recordings subject to the deal back to you, meaning you regain ownership.

Good release clauses will also set a clear deadline for the label to have released your recordings and a clear path for you to exit the deal if it doesn’t.

Other Release Clauses

Most release clauses are not that straight forward and many only release you from a selection of your obligations under the deal. They might not revert your rights back to you, which can be disappointing if you spent considerable time on the recordings only to be told the label won’t release them and neither can anyone else.

The vast majority of release clauses have convoluted drafting which dilute their effect. For example, ‘the label must release the recordings within 6 months of Delivery.’ However, if ‘Delivery’ is defined as ‘when the label accepts the recordings’ the label can indefinitely reject your recordings and the release clause won’t be triggered until the label accepts them. Record deals are littered with this style of drafting, intentionally complex to trick untrained eyes.

Be aware that release clauses can be drafted to split the release obligation by territory, meaning if the label releases your music in some territories but not others, it will only release you from your obligations with regards to the territories it failed to release in. This means you would still be in contract with the label with regards to the territories it successfully released in. Although, this is less of a contentious issue now that music can be released worldwide at the click of a button.

Take It From Raye and Take it From Me!

Raye’s story should be a lesson for artists everywhere. Seek independent legal advice, ask for a release clause and negotiate a release obligation from the label which gives you a clear and fair exit route if all else fails.

Get in touch if you have been presented with a record deal. We can review, amend, and negotiate the deal on your behalf to better secure your position.

Written by Cassine Bering – Solicitor

Related articles

Back to blog

Book a free consultation with one of our specialist solicitors.

We’ll start with a no obligation chat where we’ll get to know you and understand your current challenges.

Book your free consultation now

Looking for more information?

Explore our services Key industry sectors Briffa content hub