There comes a point in every musician’s career when he or she needs to hire an entertainment lawyer. It’s an exciting step, but also a very important one. Most musicians go from never even talking to a lawyer to needing one to help with the biggest contract of their career. So, how do you make this big step intelligently and gracefully? Here are a few important things to keep in mind when finding and working with an entertainment lawyer.
When do you need an entertainment lawyer?
For the most part, you probably won’t need to work with an entertainment lawyer until you’re actually signing a contract. For some musicians, this comes earlier than others, but it could be a sync license, or a publishing, management, record, sponsorship, or endorsement deal.
It’s probably not worth your time or money to consult a lawyer when choosing a band name or drafting an internal band contract. You can do this on your own with a little research on Google and the US Trademark Office. You can even register your own copyrights on the US Copyright Office’s website. To do this, however, you need as good an understanding of copyright law as possible. Copyright basics and some advanced topics are covered in the New Artist Blueprint courses.
Finding an entertainment lawyer
The first (and most important) step is actually finding a lawyer you trust and that you’re comfortable working with. You don’t want to put the biggest deal of your career in the hands of someone you don’t like or trust. Your best bet is to turn to your network for referrals. You don’t necessarily need to know music industry experts – other musicians are often the easiest route to great music business connections, especially in your town. If you know or collaborate with other musicians, chances are they’ve either worked with an entertainment lawyer themselves or know someone else who has. Who do your friends work with?
If you don’t have a good network going, there are plenty of online directories that provide up-to-date lists of entertainment lawyers and their contact information. Websites like Connection magazine, Production Hub, Lawyers.com, and similar sites are good places to start, but you can also find entertainment lawyers simply by doing a Google search. If you end up finding lawyers online, it’s even more important that you get some references from musicians they’ve worked with in the past. You are entrusting a big part of your career to them, so make sure you do your homework.
As a rule of thumb, avoid entertainment lawyers referred to you by the party interested in your music. In this case, the lawyer could hold the label’s interests above yours. You should also avoid lawyers who don’t answer your questions directly and clearly, or talk down to you. Copyright law can sometimes get complicated, but it isn’t rocket science.
Setting up a meeting
Before you meet with a lawyer, you need to know exactly what you want. Being as specific as possible will help cut down on extra work the lawyer may do due to miscommunication, saving you money in the end. You want to try to set up introductory meetings with a few lawyers so you know the playing field and then have some options. Remember, these first meetings are not the time to get legal advice – you want to get to know them and their experience, tell your story, and see how they can help you.
In any first meeting, you want to make sure the lawyer has worked in music law. Ask about the specific kinds of work he or she has done in the music industry. If a lawyer has never done what you need him or her to do, you may end up paying for the hours spent learning the subject. Try to get a list of musicians he or she has worked with. These are people you could call up for references.
You also want to get a feel for the lawyer’s payment system. It’s important to understand just how much you’ll be investing here. Lawyers can charge hourly, on a flat fee, or some combination of the two. Often, you’ll pay a retainer upfront, which is what the lawyer's payments will come out of. Larger firms will charge higher fees but may also have more experience. In contrast, smaller firms may be able to provide you with more personal attention and place higher priority on your issue. If you’re in the earlier stages of your career, you may not even need the expertise of a larger firm. These are all things you need to determine for yourself by looking at your specific needs and resources. Once you decide on a lawyer you feel you can trust, try to get an estimated cost so you both know what is expected.
Working with your lawyer
The number one key to maintaining a relationship with your lawyer is to keep the communication going. Be extremely clear about what you want, and if you don’t understand something, ask the lawyer to explain. Do as much reading on the subject as you can so you’re able to actually participate in the discussion and understand the impact of the decisions. Remember – this is your career, and you want to make sure you know exactly what you’re getting into, especially before signing any kind of contract. The more you personally know, the better decisions you can make.
The best thing you can do for yourself when working with an entertainment lawyer is to have a basic understanding of copyright law. In the New Artist Model online music business courses, you’ll learn the foundational knowledge you need to participate in discussions with your entertainment lawyer. If you’d like to learn even more great strategies from the New Artist Model online music business courses, download these two free e-books. You can also check out these four free video lessons. You’ll learn how to think of your music career like a business and get some great marketing, publishing, and recording strategies!
Dave Kusek is the founder of the New Artist Model, an online music business school for independent musicians, performers, recording artists, producers, managers, and songwriters. He has worked with musicians his entire career, providing tools, mentoring, and knowledge necessary to be successful in the music industry.