Steve Albini got along “just fine for 30-plus years without being contractually bound to anybody”

“I’ve long argued against the use of contracts in music… I think they favour the party that has more money and resources, and so they’re no protection for a band.”

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Steve Albini sat in a studio, leaning his back against music gear

Image: Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune via Getty Images

Last week, the music world was shaken by the news of Steve Albini’s passing. The legendary producer, famed for his work with Nirvana, Pixies, and many more, died suddenly aged 61.

Since his passing, the industry has been looking back on the many wise words of Albini during his career, and in a newly reshared interview with NME (originally from 2018), the producer had some interesting takes on record labels and contracts, which were perhaps a little ahead of the curve.

More artists have been shifting away from traditional recording contracts in recent years, in favour of licensing deals or other ways of remaining somewhat independent.

In Albini’s former interview, he said, “I don’t think we need to concern ourselves too much with the record business, just because the record business is such a trivial aspect in most bands’ careers now. Most bands make their living performing live now, or occasionally lining their music up with other projects like doing film stuff, or sync stuff, or licensing their music for advertising.”

He went on to add, “I’ve long argued against the use of contracts in music – I think they’re counterproductive. They tend to create an adversarial relationship, and they put bands on the defensive. I think they favour the party that has more money and resources, and so they’re no protection for a band. I don’t think contracts are useful.”

Further expanding on his opinions on contractual obligations within music, Albini explained, “I’ve gotten along just fine for 30-plus years without being contractually bound to anybody, for anything.

“I feel like that’s the most flexible, most cooperative way to do things. Let’s say you have a relationship with a record label, and everybody gets along great at the start. If you have a contract that binds you to them, if they start treating you like an employee, or they start treating you poorly, you are still bound to them even though your relationship has changed.”

He continued, “If you don’t have a contract with them, then they’re obliged to keep you happy, or else you leave. If you get along well, and things go well, and everybody’s happy, then it will naturally continue. I feel like that’s the most stable and most dependable kind of relationship – the one that’s based on past success.”

Interestingly, Albini was known to refuse royalties on his recordings, and opted instead for a flat fee when working on an album. Before his passing, he was preparing to tour Shellac’s first album in a decade, To All Trains. He fronted the rock band alongside Bob Weston and Todd Trainer.

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