Washington Law Review Online

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Taylor Swift could tell you a thing or two about record label drama. Artists like Swift who want to break into the big leagues and top the charts must rely on record labels’ deep pockets and institutional knowledge to do so. But artists, especially young ones, are often asked to sign deals with labels that leave them with little control over their careers. For many, the risk is worth the reward. However, many others come to regret their decision, with careers that languish or sputter out in label purgatory. Anyone with an ear for the music industry knows that artist-label relationships are a constant source of industry drama. Taylor Swift’s 2019 feud with her former label and subsequent decision to rerecord her first six albums brought renewed attention to the artist-label relationship and the contracts that often serve as its foundation. While Swift’s own label drama and novel solution worked for her, other artists should not be forced to go to such lengths to regain control of a career they could not have foreseen when they signed their recording contracts.

While restructuring the entire music industry will have to wait, lawmakers can and should intervene to protect young talent from the moment they sign a recording contract—this Comment explores how. By young artists, this Comment means those who sign recording contracts as “legal infants,” meaning artists under the age of eighteen. States across the country allow legal infants to contract with recording labels in exchange for a waiver of their right to disaffirm the contract because of their infancy. Building on these statutes, lawmakers across the country should give courts the power to approve recording contracts for short, two-to-three-year periods. In so doing, lawmakers can reinforce existing protections for artists and labels alike while simultaneously creating a mediative framework artists and labels can use to address and solve disputes before their relationship becomes unsalvageable. Should approval lapse, lawmakers, through the courts, would allow young talent to escape an otherwise inhospitable contract while remunerating the label for any provable and valid losses.