A recording contract (commonly called a record contract or record deal) is a legal agreement between a record label and a recording artist (or group), where the artist makes a record (or series of records) for the label to sell and promote. Artists under contract are normally only allowed to record for that label exclusively; guest appearances on other artists' records will carry a notice "By courtesy of (the name of the label)", and that label may receive a percentage of sales.
Labels typically own the copyright in the records their artists make, and also the master copies of those records. An exception is when a label makes a distribution deal with an artist; in this case, the artist, their manager, or another party may own the copyright (and masters), while the record is licensed exclusively to the label for a set period of time. Promotion is a key factor in the success of a record, and is largely the label's responsibility, as is proper distribution of records.
While initial recording deals usually ield a smaller percentage of royalties to the artists, subsequent (or re-negotiated) deals can result in much greater profit, or profit potential. A few acts, such as Madonna, Michael Jackson, R.E.M., U2, and Janet Jackson, among others, have signed multimillion-dollar deals. Whitney Houston signed a $100 million deal with BMG to deliver just six albums, the largest recording deal at the time. Robbie Williams signed an £80m (US$125m) contract with EMI.  For many other artists, though, for the millions to become tangible, hit albums meeting or exceeding their previous sales figures must follow. Recording contracts may include opt-out clauses for the label in the event an act's popularity dips or the act releases non-hit albums under the deal. For instance, Mariah Carey was dropped by Virgin Records and her $100 million recording deal cancelled after her first album released by the label sold poorly. 
Record companies put forth huge sums of money to produce, release, and promote an album. Recording time, manufacturing, packaging, photos, distribution, marketing, and music videos are just some of the areas where the label must spend money on an act it has signed. The label usually absorbs these expenses, but in some artists' contracts, some of this money may be due back to the label, unless otherwise worded. Advances (upfront money that is paid directly to a recording artist) are normally always owed back to the label. Once (and if) the advance has been paid back from record sales, the artist then begins to see royalty payments for additional sales. Advancing an act money is a risk the label endures as it does not know how well the act's album will sell. Capitol Records suspended Linda Ronstadt's contract in the early 1970s, as Capitol had spent more money on Ronstadt then it had yielded. She continued to tour partly to pay Capitol back for her 1960s deal, and a string of hits in the mid-1970s allowed her to finally clear the debt. Record companies expect to make a profit, and little concern themselves with a given performer's lack of business or financial savvy, as artists such as George Michael have discovered. "Walking out" on a deal is very difficult or nearly impossible, as is attempting to strike a new deal without completing an old one. Donna Summer signed a new deal with Geffen Records in 1980, and released an album on Geffen. She was then told by her previous label, Polygram Records, that she owed them another album, per her agreement. She recorded and delivered an album to Polygram that the label released, and it became a hit. Summer then went back to recording for Geffen Records for her next project. The Mamas & the Papas were forced into a reunion, years after their 1968 breakup, by the letter of their Dunhill Records contract, which required one more album to be completed -which became 1971's People Like Us .
Record companies will generally increase royalty rates or give artistic freedom to get acts to re-sign contracts with them once the original deal has been fulfilled. Established acts may otherwise go where they see better opportunity. During 1980, Diana Ross released her album diana , which fulfilled her contract with Motown Records. The album spawned three US hits (a #1 and two top tens) and sold 10 million copies worldwide. Ross, however, felt she was never fairly compensated by Motown for her work with The Supremes or her solo releases. When RCA Records offered her $20 million to sign with them, Ross gave Motown the chance to match the deal, or at least offer something almost comparable. Motown, believing Ross's solo career was too up-and-down, and not seeing any reason to now compensate her for her earlier Supremes work, offered $3 million. Split with the decision to remain with the label that made her famous, or sign a deal with a company that was willing to pay her what she felt she was worth, she ultimately signed with RCA. That $20 million deal was the biggest recording contract at the time. She had signed with RCA for North America only, she signed a separate longterm contract with Capitol/EMI for international territories. That contractual amount was never officially released. However, it is believed to be as much as $20 more million and she has remained currently signed with them for over 30 years and has produced many more successful recordings internationally including her multi-platinum 1991 release, The Force Behind the Power and an even greater success with a greatest hits compilation, One Woman: The Ultimate Collection that sold over 1.5 million in the United Kingdom alone, spending several weeks at #1.
There are plenty examples of recording contracts available in music business guides, legal texts and also online. 
When recordings go out of print, this typically happens because either the label has decided that continuing to sell (or distribute) the record will not be profitable, or the licensing agreement with the artist has expired. (Labels may also stop distribution as a punitive measure, if an artist fails to comply with their contract, or as a strategic measure if negotiations for a new one prove difficult.) Record labels can also become bankrupt like any business, and their masters and copyrights sold or traded as part of their assets. (Occasionally these are purchased by the artists themselves.)
Recording artists signed to a failed label can find themselves in limbo, unable to record for anyone but a company that is out of business (and thus cannot sell or distribute their records), and with their existing works unavailable for sale. When one label "buys out" another (or a label is purchased by an outside party), any existing copyrights and contracts held (and masters, if owned by the label) normally go with the sale. This often benefits recording artists, but not always.
Distribution deals are often renewed, but occasionally the label and the copyright owner cannot come to terms for a renewal. The reason is usually that one party expects too much money, or too large a percentage of profits, to suit the other.
Geffen Records is an American record label established by David Geffen and owned by Universal Music Group through its Interscope Geffen A&M Records imprint.
Atlantic Recording Corporation is an American record label founded in October 1947 by Ahmet Ertegun and Herb Abramson. Over the course of two decades, starting from the release of its first recordings in January 1948, Atlantic earned a reputation as one of the most important American labels, specializing in jazz, R&B, and soul by Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Wilson Pickett, Sam and Dave, Ruth Brown and Otis Redding. Its position was greatly improved by its distribution deal with Stax. In 1967, Atlantic became a wholly owned subsidiary of Warner Bros.-Seven Arts, now the Warner Music Group, and expanded into rock and pop music with releases by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Led Zeppelin, and Yes.
A record label, or record company, is a brand or trademark of music recordings and music videos, or the company that owns it. Sometimes, a record label is also a publishing company that manages such brands and trademarks, coordinates the production, manufacture, distribution, marketing, promotion, and enforcement of copyright for sound recordings and music videos, while also conducting talent scouting and development of new artists, and maintaining contracts with recording artists and their managers. The term "record label" derives from the circular label in the center of a vinyl record which prominently displays the manufacturer's name, along with other information.
Motown Records is an American record label owned by the Universal Music Group. It was founded by Berry Gordy Jr. as Tamla Records on June 7, 1958, and incorporated as Motown Record Corporation on April 14, 1960. Its name, a portmanteau of motor and town, has become a nickname for Detroit, where the label was originally headquartered.
MCA Records was an American record label owned by MCA Inc., which later became part of Universal Music Group.
Interscope Records is an American record label based in Santa Monica, California, owned by Universal Music Group through its Interscope Geffen A&M imprint. Founded in late 1990 by Jimmy Iovine and Ted Field as a $20 million joint venture with Atlantic Records of Warner Music Group and Interscope Communications, it differed from most record labels by letting A&R staff control decisions and allowing artists and producers full creative control. Interscope's first hit records arrived in under a year, and it achieved profitability in 1993. Chair and CEO until May 2014, Iovine was succeeded by John Janick.
Mary Esther Wells was an American singer, who helped to define the emerging sound of Motown in the early 1960s.
Velma Jean Terrell is an American R&B and jazz singer. She replaced Diana Ross as the lead singer of The Supremes in January 1970.
Asylum Records is an American record label, founded in 1971 by David Geffen and partner Elliot Roberts. It was taken over by Warner Communications in 1972, and later merged with Elektra Records to become Elektra/Asylum Records.
Warner Records Inc., is an American record label. A subsidiary of the Warner Music Group, it is headquartered in Los Angeles, California. It was founded on March 19, 1958, as the recorded music division of the American film studio Warner Bros.
The Island Def Jam Music Group (IDJMG) was an American recording music unit, formed on New Year's Eve 1998 by the Universal Music Group. It consists of labels devised and consisted under the basic operations of Island Records and Def Jam Recordings. On April Fools Day 2014, Universal Music publicly announced the disbandment of the Island Def Jam Music Group, leaving Island, Def Jam and its affiliated subsidiaries as separate sister labels.
Universal Records was a record label owned by Universal Music Group and operated as part of the Universal Motown Republic Group. The label has been dormant since 2006, due to Universal Motown and Universal Republic Records being formed and taking all of the artists from it. Those labels were eventually combined to form the latest iteration of Republic Records.
T-Neck Records was a record label founded by members of the R&B/soul group The Isley Brothers in 1964, which became notable for distributing the first nationally-released recordings of Jimi Hendrix, their guitarist, and which later became a successful label after the Isleys began releasing their own works after years of recording for other labels, scoring hits such as "It's Your Thing" (1969) and "That Lady" (1973).
Independent music is music produced independently from commercial record labels or their subsidiaries; this may include an autonomous, do-it-yourself approach to recording and publishing.
Greatest Hits 1976–1986 is a collection of hits by Elton John released in the United States only by MCA Records in 1992. It replaced an earlier compilation, Geffen's 1987 release Elton John's Greatest Hits Vol. 3. This was necessitated because of a shift in the control of copyrights and a resulting reshuffling of compilation albums.
Why Do Fools Fall in Love is the twelfth studio album by American R&B singer Diana Ross, released on September 14, 1981 by RCA Records. It was Ross' first of six albums released by the label during the decade. It peaked at No. 15 in the United States, No. 17 in the United Kingdom and the top ten in Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands.
Workin' Overtime is the eighteenth studio album by American singer Diana Ross, released on June 6, 1989, by Motown Records. Her first Motown album with new material since To Love Again (1981) after a short stint with RCA Records, Ross reunited with frequent collaborator Nile Rodgers, chief producer of her most successful album to date Diana (1980), to make this album which was an attempt to gear her to a much younger audience bringing in new jack swing productions and house music.
The Gordys are an African-American family of businesspeople and music industry executives. They were born to Georgia-reared parents Berry "Pops" Gordy Sr. and Bertha Fuller Gordy and raised in Detroit, where most of the siblings played a pivotal role in the international acceptance of rhythm and blues music as a crossover phenomenon in the 1960s. The accomplishment is attributable to the creation of Motown, a company founded by the seventh-oldest sibling, Berry Gordy Jr.
19 Recordings Inc. is a New York-based record label owned by 19 Entertainment. Founded in London by British entrepreneur Simon Fuller in 1999 as the music division of 19 Entertainment, the label is one of the top record imprints as compiled by Billboard in 2012. 19 Recordings has the exclusive rights to sign contestants of the television series Idols. Since 2005, it shifted its main operations to the United States following CKX, Inc.'s acquisition of 19 Entertainment.
A re-recording is a recording produced following a new performance of a work of music. This is most commonly, but not exclusively, by a popular artist or group. It differs from a reissue, which involves a second or subsequent release of a previously-recorded piece of music.