While Travis Scott performed a three-song medley at the Grammys earlier this month, the teams of some of the producers and songwriters who contributed to his successful album Utopia were furious because they had not yet received the signed paperwork that would pay them for their work on the project.

According to four people close to the project, at least four of the album’s producers and writers did not have finalized producer agreements or publishing shares at the time, which means they were not completely reimbursed for their efforts. Some Utopia contributors have finished their agreements: Scott’s representative, Ted Anastasiou, said in a statement that “the vast majority of payments for contributors on this album have been paid and that any outstanding payments are near complete.”

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According to artist managers and industry experts, it is becoming more customary for performers to release an album first and then work out all of the clearances. (Utopia was released more than six months ago, on July 28, 2023, and quickly became one of the year’s most successful titles.) “The amount of paperwork potentially required for clearing a single track has become so excessive that I think some music industry executives may have become desensitized to the importance of having everything in place before release,” Gandhar Savur, an attorney for the entertainment sector, states

Although performers sometimes generate cash outside of recorded music, particularly through touring and merchandise, the same is not true for most songwriters and producers. Writers are typically financially reliant on publishing royalties from the tunes they work on. Producers often rely on a combination of master royalties (often simply an advance until an album recoups its costs, which is uncommon) and publishing royalties (but only if they contributed songwriting).

This implies that all but the most well-known writers and producers are already struggling financially. Furthermore, enormously popular musicians are frequently slow to finish agreements that specify what proportion of royalties writers and producers are owed, as well as what charge is imposed on producers. As the months pass, collaborators’ discontent builds.

Scott’s representative, Anastasiou, stated in a statement that “the trouble with contributor payments on albums with several participants on each track is that negotiations and disputes frequently emerge before and after an album’s release, as terms must be agreed upon and are all interdependent. This gets even more problematic when some individuals, such as those mentioned in the story, are relatively unknown and their little contributions only came to our attention later.”

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Anastasiou went on, “These issues are not unique to Travis or any other artist. Attributing responsibility to Travis or his team for this common issue is both incorrect and short-sighted, especially because Travis’ staff has been more than proactive throughout the process and is working hard to finalize the last few remaining payments.”

The Utopia contributors who spoke with Billboard about their experiences would almost probably disagree that they are “relatively unknown.” However, as Anastasiou pointed out, the collaborative character of much contemporary pop music means that an artist’s crew must complete mountains of paperwork and agreements prior to each album release.

“Back in the day, a band could release a record and basically have a producer agreement, maybe a mixer agreement and a few session musicians, and possibly not much else,” Savur said. “These days, commercial pop tracks can have multiple producers, outside people contributing beats or music beds, samples and interpolations, one or two featured artists or side artists who each need their own agreements and also waivers from their record labels, and sometimes a dozen or more co-writers who are all signed to different publishing companies.”

“I don’t know any attorney’s office that represents producers and songwriters that’s not completely underwater at the moment, scrambling to get all the deals done,” adds Dan Petel, founder of This Is Noise MGMT, another writer-producer management business. He claims that the problem is exacerbated by musicians releasing music more frequently in order to keep their fans engaged.

To make matters even more difficult, artists’ teams are often in charge of all permissions on their albums, yet the money given to producers is normally provided by a label. For producers, “the lack of a direct contractual relationship [with the label] yields an uncomfortable disconnect between who creates the music and who pays for it,” says Matt Buser, an entertainment lawyer.

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And once an album is published, performers frequently go on tour, which diverts their — and their team’s — attention. Nonetheless, “the labels insist that the producer agreements be finalized and signed by both parties [producers and artist] for the producers to be paid their fees in full,” adds Maytav Koter, founder of Good Company MGMT, which works with songwriters and producers. However, one of those parties could be on a tour, traveling from town to town.

Most writers and producers have few options for expediting clearances. “I’ve not gotten a cohesive response as to what the f— is going on,” says a source close to a person involved in the production of Utopia who is still waiting for papers. “Why is it so hard to ask people to do good business?” wonders another dissatisfied Utopia producer’s crew.

According to Savur, significant email correspondence is common for post-release clearances. The only other option is to attempt to remove the track or prosecute the artist who released it — for example, without a signed producer agreement, that artist has distributed that producer’s work without permission. However, writers and producers rarely go this route. They most likely want to maintain excellent relations with the artists they work with, especially if they are stars, because suits are expensive and time-consuming.

That leaves collaborators with the task of following up with the artist’s team on a weekly basis and making personal appeals.