Music Attorneys: 5 Situations Where You Might Need One
Getting into the music industry is incredibly difficult at almost every turn. There is so much to do and keep track of, and on top of wearing several different hats, one needs to actually churn out good, quality music on a regular basis, which is usually the most challenging task of all, even if it takes a backseat to the business dealings of the everyday.
Musicians need to be everything they may require in their jobs sometimes: Producer, Songwriter, Designer, Tour Manager, Social Media Manager, Marketer, Promoter, Publicist…all of these tasks can be learned to a certain degree, and there have been many successful artists who were able to take their careers to the next level by absorbing all of these positions into their own. But it is not advisable for any musician to be their own Lawyer (sometimes even if they are a Lawyer).
There are plenty of instances where a Lawyer is not just a good idea, but a true necessity for musicians as they begin to find success and make a name for themselves. Don’t forget while the music industry is all sex, drugs, and rock and roll, it’s also a business and one you have decided to live and work in. Have fun, make your art, play your shows and get everything you can out of what is sure to be a thrilling experience, but also take it seriously, which may sometimes mean hiring a Lawyer to represent your interests, especially when it comes to the following situations.
1. Signing A Record Deal
This is perhaps the most obvious time in any band’s career when they would need to hire a Lawyer, and while the role of record labels is changing in today’s musical economy, that doesn’t mean proper representation is any less necessary.
Throughout the relatively short history of the music industry, there have been dozens (if not hundreds) of examples of artists getting ripped off by unfair contracts they signed when they were first launching their careers. This is the time when musicians are perhaps at their most vulnerable, as they don’t often know what they are getting themselves into or what they are signing, and even if they do, they don’t usually start with a lot of power when it comes to negotiating.
I don’t mean to completely scare every artist gearing up to sign their first recording contract away from the idea entirely, but it is a process that needs to be taken seriously and handled very carefully. Before any meaningful discussions begin between either the artist and the label, or even between the Manager and those at the record company, a Lawyer needs to be involved. Don’t simply hand your hired legal muscle the finalized deal and have them look it over once before signing, try to make them an involved party in all discussions. If you do, you’ll see not only they can ensure you’re not signing away your life’s rights or you’ll never be able to get out of this binding deal, but they may be able to make the terms more favorable to you as an up-and-coming musician.
It might cost you some cash upfront, but you’ll be happy you spent the money when the deal you end up with is everything you wanted it to be.
Throughout the relatively short history of the music industry, there have been dozens (if not hundreds) of examples of artists getting ripped off by unfair contracts they signed when they were first launching their careers.
2. Signing With A Manager
This is where hiring a Lawyer can get a bit tricky. Signing with a record label doesn’t usually happen until later in one’s career, or at least until some music has been written, recorded, and released, and by that time, there is typically already a Manager in place. But what kind of agreement has been established with that person? What percentage of the profits are they getting? What exactly are they being paid per year? What are they doing to earn this money, and for how long are they expected to do it?
If you have already been working with a Manager under some kind of verbal (or even unspoken) agreement and your career is starting to grow in noticeable ways, it might be time to get to a legal professional and do things right. This isn’t to say the terms you’re already working under need to change in any way, or you need different representation, but it’s not a good idea to not have everything sorted out, written down on paper, and agreed to by both parties, especially when some real money begins coming in. There are too many stories of bands being ripped off by Managers, and while you don’t hear about them nearly as often, there are also tons of tales of Managers who didn’t have any form of legal protection who were cast aside or not given what they rightfully deserved for their hard work.
It might be an awkward conversation to have with your Manager, as they may be a friend or family member, but a properly-written contract can protect both parties.
3. When Someone Has Ripped Off A Song
Hopefully, you’ll never have to trudge through the ordeal of going after another artist who you feel has taken some part of one of your creations and tried to pass it off as their own, but this sort of thing does happen in the music world, and it really isn’t uncommon.
Before you do anything, speak to a Lawyer. It is not advisable to bring legal help in after you’ve already made a public spectacle or harassed someone who you feel has copied your creative endeavors. You’ll want to think long and hard about whether it’s worth it monetarily before engaging somebody, or if it is just something you’ll mention to the artist (or perhaps their team) and let go. Not every infraction requires a Lawsuit.
If another musician is profiting healthily from music you created, this may be when a Lawyer is appropriate. That person can help you gather all relevant evidence there was a crime committed, and then they can reach out to the right people, be they the artist’s Manager, their record label, or whomever it may be, and let them know what is going on. It might be as simple as this, and before you know it, your Lawyer could settle for a respectable payment. If things don’t go smoothly, at least you now have somebody who knows very well what legal steps need to be taken next and who can lead you down the right path to get you what you deserve.
If you don’t trademark and copy your creative properties, you could easily live to regret it.
4. Filing A Copyright Or Trademark
As your brand grows and your music becomes more popular, you’re going to want to both copyright everything you put out into the world and trademark essentially everything connected to you. That means the name you perform under, your logo, and anything else entirely yours that was created and made popular by you, and that you and you alone can lay claim to.
Of these two, copyrighting is easier, and you can usually get away with just putting the copyright symbol on your CD and on your website…but this is not going to cut it when you make it big. Also, trademarking isn’t a simple process, and you’re going to want to get some help.
If you don’t trademark and copy your creative properties, you could easily live to regret it. Many people have gotten into trouble when they assumed they were protected under the law, only to learn since they didn’t take the proper legal steps to prove their ownership, the things they brought into this world aren’t theirs any longer.
There are plenty of Lawyers who can quickly get these tasks done for you, and it shouldn’t cost you an arm and a leg (probably not both, at least) so it’s worth it. I would suggest you wait until your career has really gotten going and you’re making some money off of your brand before you invest in this procedure. Again, it’s likely something you can get done quickly and easily, but it would be a shame to spend money on trademarks before you even make any music (or any cash). While it might be helpful to go to a Lawyer who specifically works with musicians and creative types to secure these legal protections, in the beginning, which firm you go with probably isn’t your main concern.
5. If Someone Refuses To Pay
As a musician building your career, this might not be a situation you run into, and by the time you do and you need to hire a Lawyer, you’ll probably have a team surrounding you who will know what to do and who to go to, and you won’t be forced to go it alone.
At some point in your life as a working musician, you’ll probably come across someone who winds up refusing to pay you. I hate to tell you this, but it happens to pretty much everybody in every line of work, so it’s bound to come your way sooner or later. When it does, you have to go through a similar thought process as when you’re deciding if you want to go after another musician for stealing your music. You might be very angry, but think about it: is it really financially worth investing in counsel? It can easily get to that point when you’re able to sell hundreds or thousands of tickets to a show, but you don’t get paid for the gig, but the same can’t necessarily be said for when you’re struggling to fill a small room.
In this case, you may benefit more from speaking to a Lawyer for an hour or two, instead of actually hiring one for any real length of time. That way, you can save a ton of cash—perhaps more than you’re owed—and you can pursue other legal recourses. Small claims court is a legitimate way to get your hands on money you’re owed, and you don’t need a Lawyer for it at all.
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