Today we continue on with our Spinnup Series on Building Your Team, this time we’re looking at lawyers. If you as a music producer, artist, songwriter or band have ever signed a piece of paper pertaining to your music or career, you may have consulted or, have been advised to consult a lawyer. Obviously looking after everything law related, lawyers can actually play an even bigger and more encompassing role in your team.
A music lawyer (the suits of the industry), alongside other members in your team (including your manager, PR etc) can play a pivotal role in planning and advising your next musical and career moves, expanding on the expected legal advice you may need regarding contracts and agreements.
Let’s Look A Little Bit Closer at Lawyers:
WHO ARE THEY?
Within your career, lawyers can sometimes play the middle man between yourself as a client and the industry (similar to the role of an A&R which we will cover in a future article…). They work to protect your rights and interests and rights of whoever else they are speaking with on your team including musicians, song writers, producers, managers etc. Very often however, these people will have different lawyers as to avoid a ‘Conflict of Interest’.
Existing under the umbrella of entertainment law, you will find that many lawyers you speak with specialise in a particular area of the music industry; for example, some may only deal with music rights, whilst others may expand to digital services and brands and others encompassing live music. It may seem logical to side with a lawyer that covers everything, however as creators, you will all have different needs and therefore, it is important to establish these going forward so you know what you want to achieve and what you require as a result. Think of this in the same way that general lawyers specify in their area (i.e. family law, civil law, criminal law etc) and therefore, if in court for a criminal offence (we hope not!) you would not consult a family lawyer for your representation. Understanding therefore what you need help with and how long the period is that you require this help makes it much easier for you to find the perfect lawyer for your needs.
And many more… It is suggested that recommendations from other artists and creators are indeed the best method of locating a lawyer however, you can research into this through online directories and consulting the Law Society (in the UK).
WHAT DO THEY DO?
Lawyers can perform a number of tasks depending on what you require. They can be instrumental in performing activities on your behalf including protecting and enforcing your rights as an artist, registering your trademarks, getting a fair deal between yourself and your label/manager/band members/co-writers/producers and clearing samples to name a few.
A good music lawyer will have your best interests at heart, usually following a code of ethics. It’s quite easy to assume that the roles of a lawyer are restricted to just the legal side of your work involving vetting contracts and negotiations. However, their responsibilities can actually stretch a bit further, looking not only at what contracts you’re receiving but also, the value of these and what they could mean for your future contracts (and therefore assessing your position and point of leverage as an artist).
Typically, your lawyer will work closely with you directly or your manager to gage your aspirations and goals for your career and thus, working to initially offer advice in generating creative short term and long terms plans to actualise your vision by assessing what opportunities you may have. The lawyer can then advise you on what is best, or, take an active role in negotiating agreements in your favour in accordance to your prior defined goals. Therefore, they can do as little or as much as you want and need really (within reason).
WHEN SHOULD I GET ONE?
Usually, it is advised that you should start looking for a lawyer the second you are asked to sign anything. The initial consultation (usually free) will work to establish a working relationship between you and your lawyer early on. However, leading UK lawyer Ann Harrison (SSB) suggests that you should start to look for a lawyer even earlier than this in an attempt to create a solid plan prior to being offered anything. Therefore, it is up to you as a creator to make the call on whether you just need a bit of help planning or more.
Before settling on one prospective lawyer, you should meet with as many as possible to find the one for you. It’s suggested that you should let lawyers know that you are speaking to others/still looking for a lawyer if you are (but you don’t have to tell them who) as to keep up good relations. Think about it this way: if you give an hour of your time and expertise for free to someone and think you have secured them as your future client only to be told at the end that they are “still looking and will get back”, you would be a little bit annoyed, right? Better to be upfront.
HOW MUCH DO I PAY?
After selecting your lawyer, it is of massive importance to find out if you are actually able to agree to the fee arrangement that they are asking of you (if they have decided they would like to actually represent you). Often, lawyers are paid on an hourly basis but, some will arrange to take a commission/cut from your deal revenues whilst others will charge a fixed rate. Your initial consultation should usually be free of charge but do bear in mind to ask if they accept payment instalments or charge interest on client balances etc.
Lawyers can charge between £100-400+ per hour and so, it’s easy to be discouraged by hourly rates (as they can be quite hefty). Do remember however that not everything actually requires more than an hour and so, depending on what you need them for, it may be worth asking how much they charge on average for specific jobs (i.e. management deals, publishing deals, recording deals etc) as lawyers will work at different speeds and charge different rates and so, sometimes the costlier lawyer per hour may actually work out to be cheaper than the cheaper lawyer per hour as they are much quicker. Do be wary however of lawyers who are not upfront with their costs.
DO I NEED THEM?
In short, yes you do need an entertainment lawyer on your side. But when and to what extent is completely up to you!
Perhaps you need help with negotiations or understanding your rights or actual representation. Your lawyer should be able to read and approve and explain anything you don’t understand before you respond. Though it’s important to find a music lawyer who you trust to represent you completely in business and legal areas, please do consider the other implications on yourself and your other team members and thus, it’s important to find a lawyer who you click with and who your team also click with. So, if you do it by phone or in person, do prepare your plans and goals and questions for a few lawyers before you find the one. Find out what, and if, they specialise in anything, how quick their turnovers are, how soon they can work, their fee and importantly, their payment terms. But, don’t feel pressured or obliged to side with a lawyer because of their track record: if you get a bad feeling or just don’t click, do not hire.
Congratulations, you’ve made it to the end of this legal lecture! I said it last time but again, it’s important to assess where you are in your career and what are your actual goals when it comes to securing a lawyer before committing. Next on the agenda, managers.