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Billy Murray’s Victor Recording Contracts:
The Complete Original Texts

 

Related Article: Billy Murray's Victor Recording Contracts — A Case Study


Signatures on Murray's 1909 Victor contract. Calvin Child and Albert C. Middleton were
among the initial incorporators of the Victor Talking Machine Company, in 1901.



Billy Murray’s Victor recording contracts provide a fascinating look at the legal workings of the early American recording industry. The primary documents are the 1909 and 1920 contracts, which are reproduced here in their entirety (for an analysis of these documents, and their significance within the context of the recording industry, see Billy Murray's Victor Recording Contracts: A Case Study), in which the details of these contracts were first publicly disclosed). Murray's contracts underwent amendments at times, and he was required to sign additional riders over the years covering his radio and touring work, a representative sampling of which is also included here.

The text has been transcribed directly from copies of the original documents, and it contains notations that were missed by several hobbyist websites. The original texts of these contracts (but not the introductory comments) are the public domain, and they may be freely quoted or reproduced in their entirety without permission.


RECORDING CONTRACT — January 1, 1909

This was Murray's first Victor contract. It was not exclusive; at approximately the same time, he signed a similar agreement with the National Phonograph Company (Edison), which was producing only cylinders, but was also recording experimental disc masters. The Victor and Edison agreements were separate documents with different terms for each company.

AGREEMENT between the VICTOR TALKING MACHINE COMPANY, of Camden, State of New Jersey, hereinafter known as the VICTOR COMPANY, and Mr. Billy Murray of New York City, hereinafter known as Mr. Murray made this (entered by hand: First) day of January, 1909.

WITNESSETH:

1. That the said VICTOR COMPANY agrees to pay to the said Mr. Murray (entered by hand: Seventeen Hundred and Fifty) Dollars each year for a period of (entered by hand: two) years, said amounts to be divided into twelve payments of (entered by hand: $145.90) dollars each month, first payment to be due on (entered by hand: First) day of (entered by hand: Feby '09) for the services of said Mr. Murray (blank inserted here by hand) for making records of his voice for the VICTOR COMPANY.

2. In consideration of the above amount the said Mr. Murray agrees that he will make no record of his voice, or do any (addition inserted by hand: record; OK'd and initialed "B.M.") work of any kind for any person, party or concern other than the VICTOR COMPANY, except the (blank inserted here by hand) NATIONAL PHONOGRAPH COMPANY, at any time during the period of this agreement.

3. The records of said Mr.Murray 's voice are to be made at a place appointed by the VICTOR COMPANY at a time subject to the reasonable convenience of the said VICTOR COMPANY, the said Mr Murray and the NATIONAL PHONOGRAPH COMPANY, with the distinct understanding that the said Mr. Murray shall give not less than two days each month to the VICTOR COMPANY for the purpose of making records of his voice.

4. It is distinctly understood and agreed by the said Mr Murray that he will furnish (inserted by hand: four) new selections each month to the said VICTOR COMPANY for their approval, and shall be prepared to make records of such selections when called upon. A failure to furnish the said number of new selections each month will constitute a breach of agreement, and the VICTOR COMPANY shall have the right to cancel the balance of the period of this agreement if the said Mr Murray fails to furnish new material as herein stated, said new selections must be fully up to the standard of the selections which the said Mr Murray has heretofore submitted to the VICTOR COMPANY.

5. It is further understood that the said Mr Murray will sing in any combination with other singers and will make records of any song or selection which the VICTOR COMPANY may ask him to do, for the purpose of making a record of his voice.

6. It is further understood that when the VICTOR COMPANY requests the said Mr Murray to make records outside of the City of New York, railroad fares to end from New York are to be paid by the said VICTOR COMPANY, and an additional allowance of $2.00 per night for hotel expenses will be made, where it is necessary for the said Mr Murray to remain over night for engagements with the VICTOR COMPANY.

7. It is further agreed that the VICTOR COMPANY has the power and right to declare this contract void at any time if the said Mr Murray makes a record of any kind of his voice for any other party, person or concern other than the VICTOR COMPANY and the NATIONAL PHONOGRAPH COMPANY herein referred to, if the said Mr Murray refuses without just cause to sing for the purpose of making a record of his voice, when requested so to do by the VICTOR COMPANY.

8. It is understood and agreed that the said Mr Murray shall be liable in damages to the sum of Five Hundred ($500.00) Dollars should he make a record of any kind of his voice for any person, party or concern other than the VICTOR COMPANY and the NATIONAL PHONOGRAPH COMPANY herein referred to.

WITNESS OUR HANDS AND SEALS this Nineteenth day of January 1909.

Victor Talking Machine Company
By Albert C. Middleton, Secretary

C. G. Child (Witness)

Billy Murray


MEMORANDUM — 1912

This memorandum, recently located in a private collection, extended the 1909 contract under similar terms, but with some minor changes and provisions for additional payments for certain types of work. The complete text will appear in an upcoming work.


RECORDING CONTRACT — October 1, 1919

This contract acknowledged Murray's right to record for other companies, while still working for Victor as a freelancer. A photo scan of the complete original contract can be viewed on the Mainspring webpage, Billy Murray's Victor Recording Contracts: A Case Study .

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RECORDING CONTRACT — July 1, 1920

Murray's 1920 contract was remarkable in that it granted him royalties in addition to a generous annual salary. Until this time, the record companies had rarely granted royalties to their studio performers, the most notable exception having been a short-lived Edison agreement with comedian Cal Stewart.

AN AGREEMENT made the first day of July, A. D., 1920, by and between VICTOR TALKING MACHINE COMPANY, a corporation organized and existing under the laws of the State of New Jersey, United States of America, having its principal place of business in the City of Camden, County of Camden, State of New Jersey, hereinafter called the Victor Company, of the one part and WILLIAM MURRAY (professionally known as Billy Murray), of New York City in the State of New York, hereinafter called the Artist, of the other part.

In consideration of the several provisions hereinafter contained, it is hereby agreed between the parties hereto as follows:

1. This agreement is made for a period from and including the day of the date hereof to and including the first day of July, A. D., 1925.

2. The Artist agrees that at mutually convenient times, on not less than six (6) days each month, he will come to the recording laboratory of the Victor Company, and, for the purpose of making complete, perfect and approved master records of his voice, will there sing and when requested repeat for the Victor Company not less than fifty (50) and not more than one hundred and eighty (180) selections of solos and concerted numbers, the selections to be chosen by an authorized representative of the Victor Company. Of such selections, such number as the Victor Company shall request, but not less than ten nor more than thirty-six, shall be so sung and recorded during the first year of said period (counting the year as beginning on July 1, 1920), such number as the Victor Company shall request, but not less than 10 nor more than 36, shall be so sung and recorded during the second year of said period, such number as the Victor Company shall request, but not less than 10, nor more than 36, shall be so sung and recorded during the third year of said period, such number as the Victor Company shall request, but not less than 10 nor more than 36, shall be sung and recorded during the fourth year of said period and such number as the Victor Company shall request, but not less than 10 nor more than 36, shall be so sung and recorded during the fifth year of said period. No master record shall be considered satisfactory or complete and perfect until it has been approved by an authorized representative of the Victor Company and if an approved master record becomes defective or otherwise unsatisfactory the Artist will repeat the selection until a new approved master record thereof is made. The Artist further agrees that he will for the purpose aforesaid, at mutually convenient times, when so requested by the Victor Company, sing in concerted numbers with other artists, and will also at mutually convenient times and places attend and take part in rehearsals.

3. The Artist hereby grants to the Victor Company the right, at any and all times during the period of this agreement and hereafter, to manufacture, advertise and license or sell, and any or all these rights and powers, in all parts of the world records of his voice in selections of which approved master records have been heretofore made or shall hereafter be so made, including the right to place records of his voice, either in solo selections or in concerted numbers, on one side of a double-faced record and to place the record of some other artist or artists selected by the Victor Company on the other side of such double-faced record, and grants the further right to make use of his name and his photograph and the name Billy Murray in connection with the manufacture, with the advertisement and with the license or sale of such records and likewise grants all rights in and to the matrices and records upon which have been or shall be reproduced the performances herein referred to.

4. The Victor Company agrees (subject to the provisions of paragraph 6) to pay to the Artist for and during the period of this agreement a salary of fifteen thousand dollars ($15,000) each year in equal monthly payments, the first payment to be due on the first day of August, 1920, so that each monthly payment will be for the services rendered during the month then ended. An account is also to be kept of the record services of the Artist hereafter given under this agreement and upon each record of his voice where the selection is so sung under this agreement and the record is licensed or sold by the Victor Company, allowances shall be made of royalties, that is to any, upon solos [notation inserted by hand: "three quarters of"] one cent and upon concerted numbers one-half of one cent. If at the end of any year during the period of this agreement the allowances for such year at the rates above indicated shall exceed the sum of fifteen thousand dollars ($15,000), the Victor Company further agrees to pay to the Artist whatever shall be the excess of such allowances over the sum of fifteen thousand dollars ($15,000). If, however, at the end of any year during the period of this agreement the allowances for such year at the rates above indicated shall be less than the sum of fifteen thousand dollars ($15,000), the difference between such allowances and fifteen thousand dollars shall be applied to and in payment or part payment of the royalties thereafter to become due to the Artist. Moreover the Victor Company agrees that it will after the period of this agreement continue to pay to the Artist the royalties above specified so long and only so long as he does not after such period make or permit to be made for any person, party or concern other than the Victor Company a record of his voice of any kind or description. Payment of the amount, if any, due upon such royalties shall be made annually and the Victor Company shall have the right to deduct from the amount of any statement or account of royalties due the amount of royalties previously paid to the Artist on records subsequently returned either as defective or on exchange propositions.

5. The Artist further agrees that he will not at any time during the period of this agreement make or permit to be made a record of his voice for any person, party or concern other than the Victor Company and will not during such period enter into any agreement with any person, party or concern that would in any way prevent the Artist from making records of his voice for the Victor Company or from singing in combination with the other singers for the purpose of making records for the Victor Company, nor will be during such period appear in concert or permit himself to be advertised in any way except as an exclusive Victor artist. In case the Artist after the period of this agreement makes or permits to be made for any person, party or concern other than the Victor Company a record of his voice of any kind or description, the Victor Company shall then be free from any and all further obligation to pay royalties to the Artist and the Victor Company shall thereafter have the right to manufacture, advertise and license or sell anywhere, and to use his name and photograph and the name Billy Murray, in connection therewith, records of the Artist's voice without payment or obligation of any kind to the Artist and all right of the Artist to any further accounting shall likewise thereupon forthwith cease.

6. Upon the death of the Artist at all obligation of the Victor Company to make any further payment of salary under this agreement shall be at an end, but, if the Artist does not between the date of this agreement and the day of his death make or permit to be made for any person, party or concern other than the Victor Company a record of his voice of any kind or description, royalties at the rates above indicated, shall after his death be due and payable in lieu of salary. If in any year during the period of this agreement the Artist is unable, through sickness or temporary or permanent loss of voice, to sing, or for any reason does not sing for the Victor Company and this permit the Victor Company to make at least ten perfect and approved master records of ten selections of solos and concerted numbers chosen by the Victor Company, the salary for such year shall not be due or payable but in lieu thereof royalties for such year at the rates above indicated shall be due and payable.

7. In case the license or sale of records of the Artist's voice in any selection of which an approved master record is made shall fall below an aggregate of sixty (60) in any three consecutive months after the first year of its being listed in the catalog of the Victor Company, such selection shall be considered by the Artist and by the Victor Company not a good record selection and the Victor Company shall have the full right to withdraw from license and also from sale records of any such selection.

8. All agreements heretofore made between the parties hereto are terminated and superseded by this agreement. The covenants of and rights granted by this agreement shall apply to, bind and be for the benefit of the heirs, executors, administrators, successors and assigns of the parties hereto.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF the parties hereto have hereunto set their hands and seals, dated the day and year first above written.

VICTOR TALKING MACHINE COMPANY BY
Edward K. MacEwan

William Murray
Witness J. S. Macdonald


TRAVEL RIDER — December 23, 1921

The following was a rider to Murray's July 1, 1920 agreement, allowing him to be absent from the studio while making a concert tour. Murray was granted permission to travel to the West Coast, but he forfeited one-twelfth of his annual salary ($1,250) and was forbidden to book any further concert engagements that would cause him to be unavailable for recording for more a month without written permission from Victor. He later traveled extensively with the Eight Famous Victor Artists, but seems to have fulfilled his monthly studio obligation after this rather costly lesson.

AN AGREEMENT made the Twenty Third day of December, A. D., 1921, by and between VICTOR TALKING MACHINE COMPANY, a corporation organized and existing under the laws of the State of New Jersey, United States of America, having its principal place of business in the City of Camden, County of Camden, State of New Jersey, hereinafter called the Victor Company, of the one part, and WILLIAM MURRAY (professionally known also as Billy Murray), of New York City, in the State of New York, hereinafter called the Artist, of the other part.

WHEREAS the parties hereto heretofore made an agreement dated the first day of July, 1920, for a period extending to and including the first day of July, 1925, in which the Victor Company agreed to pay the Artist a salary therein specified and the Artist agreed that during such period on not less than six days in each month he would come to the recording laboratory of the Victor Company and, for the purpose of making complete, perfect and approved master records of his voice, he would sing selections of solos and concerted numbers, the selections to be chosen by an authorized representative of the Victor Company.

AND WHEREAS the Artist now desires to make a concert tour to the Pacific Coast which will make his services unavailable to the Victor Company for the month of January, 1922, and possibly for the month of February, 1922.
Now in consideration of the several provisions hereinafter contained, it is hereby agreed between the parties hereto, as follows:

1. The Victor Company grants permission to the Artist to be absent from the recording laboratory for the months of January and February 1922.

2. The Victor Company will deduct from the annual salary so specified in said agreement one-twelfth part thereof for the month of January, 1922 and if the Artist does not return in time to give to the Victor Company in the month of February, 1922, the six days' services so provided for, the Victor Company will deduct another one-twelfth part of said annual salary.

3. The Artist will not at any future time prior to July 1, 1925, book concert engagements which will take him away and make his services unavailable to the Victor Company in any month without permission in writing from the Victor Company.

4. The deduction of a proportionate part of the Artist's salary shall in no way alter or affect the other covenants, terms and conditions set forth in the said agreement dated July 1, 1920, which agreement, as supplemented by this agreement, is hereby ratified and confirmed. The said agreement dated July 1, 1920 and this supplemental agreement are to be construed and their validity determined according to the laws of the State of New Jersey.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF the parties hereto have hereunto set their hands and seals dated the day and year first above written.

VICTOR TALKING MACHINE COMPANY
BY Edward K. MacEwan, Secretary

Billy Murray


BROADCASTING RIDER — December 1, 1922

This rider to Murray's July 1, 1920 contract is typical of many such documents that recording companies forced their exclusive artists to sign in regards to broadcasting. Murray was forbidden to broadcast for any radio station, although Victor would later grant him permission to do so under its auspices. For a detailed analysis of how the recording industry appraoched broadcasting by their artists, see Recording the 'Twenties.

AGREEMENT entered into this 1st day of December 1922, by and between the VICTOR TALKING MACHINE COMPANY, a corporation organized and existing under the laws of the State of New Jersey, having its principal place of business in the City of Camden, in said State, hereinafter called the COMPANY and Billy Murray, now residing in New York City of the State of New York, hereinafter called the ARTIST.

WHEREAS, the parties hereto entered into an agreement on the first day of July 1920, hereinafter referred to as the principal agreement, and

WHEREAS, the parties mutually intended, in entering into the said principal agreement, that the Artist grant and the Company receive the exclusive right to the services of the Artist for the period of the principal agreement for sound reproducing purposes, broadly, including all productions of the Artist's performances by any and/or all mechanical or electrical or other such means for disseminating and/or transmitting the same.

NOW THIS AGREEMENT WITNESSETH: That for and in consideration of the promises and for the mutual protection of the parties hereto, and the safeguarding of the covenants of the said principal agreement and the advantages and benefits accruing to them respectively under the name, and other good and valuable considerations, the parties hereto agree as follows:

1. That the said principal agreement shall be interpreted in accordance with their said intent, above referred to.

2. And in pursuance of such intent and agreed interpretation of the principal agreement, the Artist covenants and agrees that he will not perform for any other person, firm or corporation for the purpose of transmitting and/or broadcasting such performance by means of radio or by any mechanical, electrical or other means whatsoever, nor with the knowledge or intent that such performance is to be so transmitted and/or broadcasted.

This agreement and the said principal agreement are to be construed and their validity determined according to the laws of the said State of New Jersey.

Thus interpreted and modified said principal agreement is hereby ratified and confirmed and shall remain in full force and effect, this present agreement to run concurrently therewith.

This agreement to bind and be for the benefit of the heirs, executors, administrators, successors and assigns of the parties hereto.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF the parties have set their hands and seals the day and year first above written.


Edward K. MacEwan
Billy Murray



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