When Do I Need a Music Lawyer?
By Alyssa Minnec
When you’re at the point of your career where it’s time to bring on an attorney to help facilitate your goals and tasks, there are a few steps and questions to consider. However, even before it’s time to bring on a team, knowing the ins and the outs of the music business is an essential way to further your career, make strong choices in various situations, effectively negotiate, and gain respect among peers and labels. Combined with this personal knowledge, the help of a good attorney is the best way to strengthen your career and have someone on your side.
There are typically two types of entertainment lawyers: transactional attorneys who specialize in contracts, copyright, negotiations, clearing albums, etc., and litigation attorneys, who appear in court on your behalf when you are suing someone or there is a contract dispute.
Potential Reasons You Need A Lawyer:
A clear, well-written contract between you and an artist or a label creates a legal agreement to release your beat or song. A lawyer will read over any agreements you receive to make sure that you are receiving what is owed to you for your music, such as an advance, royalties, publishing, and proper credit. Watch out for labels, artists, and managers who will tell you that “the exposure of your beat with this artist is better than payment,” or “we’ll pay you if the song does well.” A lawyer will make sure you don’t get pushed around or taken advantage of.
A strong lawyer will not only help you with any potential agreements, negotiations, or placements but will push you to be the best you can be in your career and develop a strong network. Your lawyer should be on your side, help you fight for what’s yours, and make sure that you have a respected name within the industry.
Here are a few examples of situations when you should think about hiring a lawyer:
· You’ve received an agreement and you’re unsure what the legal language means
· A commercial, television show or movie wants to license your song
· Agreements between band members
· Signing an agreement with a manager, record label, agent, or distributor
· Copyright infringement issues
· Publishing deals
· Registering your brand or name as a trademark
Adding Value to the Process:
Ways that a lawyer can add value to a deal from beginning to end start with effective negotiation and good communication with all parties involved. Your lawyer should ask you what terms you’re looking for in this agreement (advance, royalties, publishing, credit) and present those terms to the other side. If the terms are already provided by the artist or the label, your lawyer should present and discuss them with you. For example, say the advance offered to you is too low and they’re not caving on increasing it. Negotiating to get a higher royalty or a future free verse from an artist are two examples of ways your lawyer can and should be fighting for you.
On the topic of pushing for the best terms, does your lawyer go to bat for you, or does their loyalty remain with the label or the manager? Something to stay aware of is where exactly the lawyer’s efforts are being placed. You may just be a small piece of the bigger picture in the lawyer’s eyes. Because of this, they might act in ways that benefit the manager or the label involved. It’s important to hire an attorney that you can trust is acting in your best interest from beginning to end.
After the negotiation of terms is complete and you receive an agreement, take the time to have your lawyer send you their redline (requests and edits on your behalf in an agreement) and discuss it with them. Is your lawyer making sure you receive your advance on or before the song’s release date? Are they protecting your royalties and publishing from being reduced if an undisclosed sample is later brought to light? Are they making sure you’re receiving the proper credit for the song?
After this point, it’s all about making sure that you receive the signed agreement and making sure that you get paid. As we’re all aware, labels tend to not prioritize payment for producers. A good lawyer will go to bat for you and push to make sure this gets done. We’ve learned through experience that labels can and will pay “on time” if they really want to, and there are plenty of options at hand to make sure payment is made. Staying attentive to payment by drafting a proper invoice, following up, and hopping on the phone with the label’s accounting team are ways to make sure this is handled efficiently.
How to Find a Good Music Lawyer:
The best way to find a lawyer that can fit your needs is through referrals, recommendations, and word of mouth from someone you trust. Through speaking with other fellow attorneys and clients and doing some research on our own, we’ve gathered some efficient ways in which you can find a music lawyer with all of the strong qualities that you need.
First, ask yourself, “What exactly am I looking for help with?” “What type of lawyer do I need?” Many times, we’re approached by potential clients who don’t quite know what they need help with, and when explained to them, they don’t need help with what they originally reached out to us for. As mentioned above, having your own basic understanding of how the music industry works is the first step toward having a successful career- bringing on a team or a lawyer is one of the next steps down the line.
Leveraging and using your network to find representation is among the easiest and best ways to find a good lawyer. Reach out to your friends, fellow producers, and artists that you look up to. Chances are, they can save you the time they spent looking for a good lawyer by sharing their experiences firsthand. Who have they used, and who are they currently using to represent them? Who do they recommend to you?
Going directly to fellow members of the industry for their advice on a lawyer with the questions mentioned above in mind is the easiest way to find someone you can trust. Of course, word of mouth from your network will be much stronger than an internet search, but reading through reviews online is a helpful resource too. Pay attention to any flags about certain lawyers that are mentioned (good and bad) and think about which type of lawyer would best serve your specific needs.
Once you have a solid list of 3–4 attorneys that were recommended to you or that you discovered on your own, do some investigating and vetting. Check out their websites, their social media pages, and read some reviews online. Have these attorneys successfully represented more than one member of your network? Are there any differing opinions? Based on what you find, ask yourself if this lawyer seems like they will be a strong asset to your team.
Next, reach out to these attorneys and schedule a consultation call. Have a clear, well thought out introduction of yourself and your project ready to share. The easier you can communicate, the easier it will be for the lawyer and yourself to determine if you’re a good fit for one another. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, such as everything mentioned above, how they are compensated, their turnaround time for agreements, etc.
Things to Look Out for In A Lawyer:
Caring about your career and following through on what they say they are going to do are two easy ways to tell if a lawyer is worth bringing on to your team. Making sure that this lawyer has experience with the specific deal you’re seeking help with is a key factor here. Has the lawyer done this sort of deal before, and if so, what about the way it got done added value to the experience outside of just doing their job?
A good music lawyer has a somewhat similar role to a manager, but just handles different aspects of your music career. Locking in a big-name lawyer to represent you might seem intriguing, however, you need to think about what exactly they can do for you and your career as opposed to how it looks to work with them. Your lawyer always needs to look out for your best interests.
On the topic of locking in a big name attorney, there are pros and cons. Hiring an attorney with “clout” who has lots of connections can be very beneficial depending on the deal or your specific goals. If you want to maximize a deal, an attorney with clout has relationships and a network that can potentially open doors for you. If they’re friends with the label involved, they can get you more money. If you want a big publishing deal, paying a big shot attorney more money than hiring a lower cost one is worth it, because they can get you more money in said deal. They can shop around for deals and use their connections to your benefit.
On the other hand, there’s a time and a place for this type of lawyer. This type of lawyer might secure some great deals for you, but may be doing the same thing for ten other clients. You might only be able to get this type of lawyer on the phone once a week. This isn’t saying that this lawyer isn’t worth hiring, but make sure that you hire one that can actively strengthen your career from the point you’re currently at. For example, if you’re just starting out and are new to the producer world, you’re not going to need the type of lawyer mentioned above. Instead, hiring one that you can communicate with often and who can guide you and teach you along the way is more beneficial at that point in your career. Either way, having a solid idea in mind of what you want when selecting your lawyer will help you lock one in that can fit as many of your needs as possible.
Here are some important questions to think about when selecting your lawyer:
· Are you able to pick up the phone and get a response from your lawyer within a few hours at most?
· Does this lawyer have knowledge and experience within the specific issues you’re asking about?
· Does this lawyer strategize and think critically while making decisions and negotiating on your behalf?
· Do you feel comfortable placing agreements in their hands, trusting they’ll get the job done in a reasonable amount of time?
· Will this lawyer go to bat for you and push to make sure you get your money?
· This is a big one- do they simply have enough time for you?
· Who is paying for the lawyer’s services? You, the publishing company, the label, etc.?
Overall, finding a strong music and entertainment attorney can be a tough process, that sometimes, may take a little trial and error until you find the right fit for you. However, by using your network, having your own industry knowledge, and thinking about the questions above while communicating, it will make the search that much easier. A good lawyer will always be on your side and make your career that much better. Make sure that you take the time and go through the steps to find one that works for you!
Do you think we missed anything?