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Recording Work in the US

Disclaimer: This FAQ should not be relied upon as legal advice, which can be provided only in the course of an attorney-client relationship with reference to all the facts of a specific situation. Any information contained here is not a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed attorney.

Last updated: 19 October 2020

I am heading to the U.S to do some recording. Do I need a work visa?

Maybe. If your recording session is pursuant to a contract with a US label or publisher, then legally you should have an employment visa (probably a P or O). If not, then the ESTA/Visa Waiver or B-1 visas are probably sufficient, under what is often called the “recording exception.” 

However, it is very important to understand that using the “recording exception” loophole is always risky. If you choose to enter the US on ESTA/Visa Waiver, you are betting that the CBP officer who inspects you at the port of entry will (a) understand the exception and (b) agree that it applies to your situation. If he or she does not understand the exception (fairly common) or determines that it does not apply to you (also common) you will be on the next flight home.

For this reason, the MU does not recommend traveling to the US on ESTA/Visa Waiver for any activities that may even resemble employment. We recommend that artists seek B-1 visas from the  local US consulate for showcases or recording sessions; in the best case scenario, you’ll get the B-1 and be much less likely to encounter a problem at the border; in the worst case scenario, you’ll find out the bad news before you board a plane, and may have time to rectify the situation. 

It should also be understood that ESTA/Visa Waiver should not be seen as a cost free alternative to a visa. If you are denied under an O or P then you cannot work in the US – using an ESTA/Visa Waiver is not a legal option.

If the artist is NOT recording pursuant to a contract with a US label (or other entity) then ESTA or B-1 is fine; so this would include a situation where the artist is recording pursuant to no contractat all. However, under the ESTA or B-1 you will be unable to sell your recordings in the US.