This famous Prince quote, given to Rolling Stone, in 1996 pretty much sums up his opinion of the music industry: not enough money to the artists; too much money to the big companies. In 2010, Prince’s words were even more spot-on after proclaiming that the internet is over for musicians as a revenue stream, “Tell me a musician who’s got rich off digital sales. Apple’s doing pretty good though, right?”

What can we learn from Prince? It is important to protect your work, no matter what work you do. As we lament Prince’s passing, with Purple Rain playing in an endless loop in our head, it behooves us to think about the best ways to protect our own work, be it music, or something else. Go try and find a source to stream Prince and you’ll fall flat. He is in control, still after his death (we won’t get into his lack of a will or what may happen to his unreleased tunes).

Prince spoke about record industry contracts as slavery and dutifully put the companies down throughout his career. But you don’t have to be a recording artist to experience this type of imbalance of power: Consumers have a similar powerlessness with big company contracts. Ever try and negotiate something on your cell phone plan? Good luck. Any attempt leaves you feeling dejected and angry and wanting to avoid every contract everywhere. No matter what. Again, good luck.

Contracts are a necessary part of conducting business. A business owner’s ability to properly provide services for clients is dependent on an understanding of the work to be completed. The trick is to draft a contract that fairly memorializes a deal and protects both parties — bonus points if both parties can read and understand the contract. Pulling a contract off the internet is laden with problems that will be addressed in a future blog topic, so stay tuned. But, the point is that a contract is a communication vehicle with which a business owner and a client agree to a certain defined arrangement.

Believe it or not, most KEW clients are not musical performers with world-wide appeal. But, that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from Prince’s proclamations against the power of the music industry, and their intimidating contracts. Contracts don’t have to be intimidating. But, they do have to exist. Written properly, a contract can protect and solidify without being eighteen pages of made-up-sounding words that make your eyes glaze over.

Thank you, Prince, for your music of course, but also for questioning the music industry, encouraging people to protect their work, and providing an interesting platform from which a small business attorney can discuss contracts. For a more detailed discussion about how contracts may be used to protect your business, contact Leslie Elkins at elkins@kewlaw.com.