I’m sort of surprised that no one (that I’ve seen at least) has compared Taylor Swift’s “Eight Seconds of Static” (see the article on this below) to Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music. If you’re not familiar with Metal Machine Music, it’s a double album Reed released in 1975 that, to many people (present company excluded – I love it) sounds like a wall of noise/feedback.

One theory behind Reed’s motivation for MMM was that it was a so-called “contract fulfilling” record. True or not (Reed disavowed this theory), it’s a nice point of entry into an important, but misunderstood element of the recording business.

A lot of artists don’t know that when they sign to a record label (I know, I know – ”What are these so-called record labels?”  – yes, they still exist, and artists still aspire to signing to them, and some do) that frequently they become “exclusive recording artists” for some period of time (called a “term”). This term is typically a number releases. So, for instance, you might sign to a label for a three-record deal. Which means that the record label will release one record, and have the option to release two more.

During that time period, where the artist is signed to the label, they are deemed exclusive recording artists, and can NOT release music with any other label, or on their own, or be a guest/side artist on any other artist’s release during the term without the label with whom they are signed giving them permission to do so.

So, for instance: you’re signed to a label, and you decide that label isn’t doing all they should be for you, and you want to take matters into your own hand, and so you go into your home studio and bang out a few songs to put up on your site/Bandcamp, etc.  Absent the label’s approval, you’ve just entered a world of pain. You’ve violated the exclusive recording clause in the agreement, and – significantly – the label may (and likely will) claim ownership of the masters that you created.

To be clear, any masters an artists creates (home studio recordings, live recordings, etc.) during the term will likely be deemed owned/controlled by the label.

It’s crucial, therefore, that artists be careful both about the type of deal they make with a label and/or be careful about what masters are released while the artist is an exclusive recording artist.

Back to Lou Reed, the theory is that he owed the record label more records (the “options” I referred to above), and that the most expedient way for him to satisfy this requirement so that he would no longer be an exclusive recording artist, and could sign to another label/release records on his own (not likely at that era), etc.) was to deliver a record of noise.

Now, certainly, Taylor Swift did not release her eight seconds of noise to try to get out of her contract, but it’s important, in an era in which music must be released with such velocity, for artists to understand the potential contractual roadblocks that labels put in place to prohibit this.

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