Lawyers in the Music Industry

Seeing as we missed this class due to the Mama Event, (a great cause no doubt) I figured I’d take matters into my own hands and learn/blog about something I’m personally interested in. Maybe those of us who were in Paris can get the gist of what we missed.

First things first. Not common to popular belief, lawyers are wonderful, compassionate and charitable people in the music industry. I’m not very good at being sarcastic in writing yet but nonetheless, I suppose that could be true if personal incentives aren’t taken into consideration. Unfortunately, we live in a time where these bastards are truly needed in practically every aspect of an artists career, (and anyone else in the industry for that matter) and boy do they know it. I say unfortunately because this makes them extremely valuable and necessary and it always sucks to be that dependent on something. Even so,  what is always important to remember is that the lawyer works for the artist, not the other way around.

With that out of the way, the point is that hopefully after reading this you won’t be able to justify their existence, but rather you will definitely be able to understand their purpose. How’s that? Off we go!

What does a lawyer do?

The most obvious role of the lawyer is to be involved anywhere that an artist is potentially generating income. And anywhere an artist is potentially generating income, there will be a contract or an agreement needed. And when a contract or an agreement is needed a lawyer should be involved. So as you can see from the lovely circle of reasoning here, they exist because they are needed and they are needed because they exist.

Other than negotiating contracts and working with you and literally every other member of your team they (the good ones) also act as reliable A&R persons for labels. Lawyers are involved with everyone in the industry, so they know everyone in the industry, and that means they have some clout that, in the early stages at least, the artist probably doesn’t. A good lawyer promotes the acts that he/she truly believes in, to the labels and actually wants them to be successful. Why do they do this? Quite simply because the more successful the artist, the more successful the lawyer.  In other words they want the artist to do good, so they can make more money from them. Labels know this so it is easy for them to seriously consider the acts recommended by lawyers. Lawyers won’t just submit any shitty band to a label because that devalues their judgement in the eyes of the label. If a lawyer only submits artists that truly have potential, the label will love them and take every recommendation seriously.

The lawyer can also play an active role in putting together an artists’ business team which brings us to the next point.

When is a lawyer necessary?

Many people think (at least I did) that lawyers don’t come into play until much later down the road in an artists career but that isn’t necessarily the case. Lawyers can be an important member of the band’s team during it’s initial formation (so basically, when the band should be dealing with the band agreement).

Furthermore, since lawyers have so many connections it is often the case that a band hires a lawyer before they even have a manager, let alone any other member of their team. Hiring a lawyer before agreements with these members even exist makes sense because a lot of the time it can be the lawyer that finds the manager, agent, business manager, and so on for the artist in the first place. Look at it this way, an ethical label won’t let an artist sign without a lawyer. Even if you have a manager, but no lawyer, they won’t sign you. And if they do they are probably assholes that are trying to take advantage of you in a deal, so be wary of that if you are an artist.

Alright, we have established that it can be a good idea for an artist to hire a lawyer early in their careers. But good lawyers have the power to be selective. So in a weird way in order for the artist to have a good lawyer, they need to deserve one. Because of the role that lawyers play in A&R the good lawyer must be interested in the band, as I mentioned earlier, he/she must believe in the bands potential and work ethic. This means that once the artist has some stable ground under them in terms of songs written, demos recorded, and a small promo package, it can be a great time to get a great lawyer. I know this sounds contradicting to the statement of getting them as early as the band agreement, but you can always hire a lawyer on an hourly basis to deal with the band agreement, and have no other involvement with the band until the band feels they are ready enough to go for a great lawyer, or at least hire one full time.

How can an artist find a great lawyer?

The simple answer is look for one. Talk to local bands that seem to have their shit together. Find a band that you like and look inside their album to find a name that has ‘Esq.’ after it. Look for them online as there are several legal directories available. Most importantly, interview them. Ask them what experience they have in the music industry specifically, and if they foresee any conflicts of interest with other clients. Finally ask them how, and how much they bill you. Which leads us to the final part.

How does a lawyer get paid?

This is one aspect where they can get just as creative as any of the artists they are signing! I’ll briefly and simply try to outline the four main ways they like to take their money.

Hourly – usually $150-$600 per hour. The extremely expensive ones are usually only dealing with big acts and even bigger labels.

Percentage – 5%-10% of income generated from the deal they worked on/negotiated. When dealing with percentages the lawyer takes the money from the net artist share, not the gross money received. ***This type of billing is very common. It can technically be paid by the label through the artists’ personal advance; which makes it recoupable against artist royalties.

Hybrid – At first they charge a (relatively) low hourly fee and then take a percentage later once things get going. I recommend this way ideally, for a beginning act.

Value-Billing – This one is pretty abstract. It is based on this: the more “value” the lawyer helped you get in a deal, the more they get paid.

At they end of the day it all comes down to the fact that the more money the artist is making, the more money the lawyer is making.

Final Note

It is in the best interest of the artist to have the same lawyer for as much of their career as possible. You get to know them and yes, can eventually build trust. As an artist always remember the lawyer works for you, and at the end of the day they can be the only ones who can save your ass. Anyways, I hope you learned something from this post.

Love them or hate them, lawyers are not going anywhere fast and they play a massive and distinctly important role in the careers of anyone and everyone involved in the music industry.

Phillip Richard

Sources and Further Reading:

All you need to know about the music industry by Donald Passman.

http://d83mezhuhqi17.cloudfront.net/76/05/57/3956967?Expires=1353662961&Signature=Eln4vmkeSHIlfD8LGdxv6-wMGOsp5oPLPx8~HiqDkeB23z3gr-N9IezlzFsklm~7KWDuhFofBXb9tlqcKhMt~5~DwzUZk8DYQiArSX76FQ3RMaQzjDFnPSlxSe38weiJJc6-csCUPw-EEdS70rARvE~r8CrWigGqlmfXpH-D3YQ_&Key-Pair-Id=APKAIVZN4AJ762UIENTQ

What’s in a Name? – A Story of Greed

“I’m not a businessman. I’m a business, man.”

– Jay-Z

“Shut up Jay-Z, you’re going to poison your daughters mind god damnit.”

– Phillip Richard

Disclaimer: This blog post contains light, but frequent profanities. Don’t read if your offended by the english language. Also don’t read if you are a big fan of Beyonce and/or Jay-Z. Actually you know what, never-mind. Read it, it will be good for you. I honestly like their music too so whatever.

Well folks, it’s starting to get ugly out there. This is a story of people all over the place taking advantage of each other for personal profit. I don’t really know who wins, at the end of the day I guess they all do because the mind of innocent baby girl is left protected but as you’ll see it’s a crazy ass ride. I don’t know how to start or to even get my points across exactly, so I think I’ll begin by writing a script about a conversation that likely* happend (or at least something like it anyways) between the biggest couple business partnership in music around last January…

~  SCENE-1  ~

Jay-Z: “Holy shit Beyonce, this kid could be a bigger cash cow than all of our albums combined!”

Beyonce: “I know I can’t wait to exploit the hell out of her, but where do we start?”

Jay-Z: “Well, I suppose we turn her into a product A.S.A.P. ya dig? I mean we need to trademark her name/identity before anybody else does.”

Beyonce: “Genius! Let’s do that right meow. I’m going to milk this for all it’s worth. I’m talkin’ ‘Baby Blue Ivy’ bullshit all around: Baby Carriages, Baby Cosmetics, Baby Bibs, Chairs, Dolls…”

Jay-Z: “Hell even as insult to injury to all of our fans that will blow their entire paychecks on this crap, even if they don’t have kids, we will throw in some Diaper Bags!!!1 ‘Let your baby take a shit in our babies brand name shit.’ How’s that for a poetic metaphor?  No wonder we are multi-millionaire artists. Nothing can stop us now! hahahahahahlol

…or can it?

 END SCENE 

Well, if you didn’t follow any of that Beyonce and Jay-Z got the, (clearly in my opinion) tasteless, but smart business idea to trademark the name of their daughter Blue Ivy, to begin a line of beguiling baby products.

Unfortunately for them and fortuneatly for their daughter they weren’t able to trademark the name. I mean the girl is going to grow up in the most superficial environment possible already, with her mom being, to many, the most attractive woman in the world, and with too much wealth to possibly know what to do with. She’s right on track to being a spoiled shitty self-entitled materialistic itch-bay. Quite frankly having her own million dollar franchise before she even knows how to avoid vomiting on herself is a step closer to everything nobody wants Beyonce’s and Jay-Z’s child to be.

Anyways, they go to their lawyer and are all like, “Blah blah blah trademark my kids name.” And the lawyer is like “Sweet, ok. Give me too much money.” But the lawyer soon finds out he can’t do this because somebody else already has. Well, ladies and gentleman as you can imagine at this point shit hit the fan and this overindulged couple didn’t go down without a fight. Nine months of court cases and I’m sure millions of dollars coming off of trees for I.P. lawyers later the case was lost to Veronica Alexandra, a small Boston based business owner. Her company is called Blue Ivy and they plan weddings for people. How nice.

Let’s take some time to reflect. So far we have Jay-Z and Beyonce taking advantage of each others fortunes, then we have them trying to take advantage of their first and only daughter so far, then we have the lawyers dragging an expensive court case over a nine month period and we also have, which I have yet failed to mention, fashion designers already trying to trademark the name before them. Some douche-bag fashion designer by the name of Joseph Mbeh tried to trademark the name “Blue Ivy Carter NYC” four days after the kid was BORN. Someone else tried to trademark the name “Blue Ivy Carter Glory IV” for a damn fragrance. What on earth would that have smelled like? Petroleum jelly and baby powder!? You people sicken me. Finally, and most importantly we have Veronica Alexandra of Blue Ivy Events who is happily soaking in the publicity and increased business like a parched sponge. Seriously though, take a look at the front page of her website. http://www.blueivyevents.com

Seriously click it. Did you see that? I know right? It’s like the main feature on her front page. Look at all the sparkling stars and shit coming off of that once in a lifetime promotional opportunity. Damn. This small wedding planning company is probably going to explode so big that by the time it’s little Ivy’s turn to get married she probably won’t even be able to afford the damn service. Owell at least Veronica has the decency to admit that she is using and abusing the whole circumstance: “I can’t be frustrated with something I think is going to bring me to produce and define my brand even more, which is financially exciting in itself and intellectually exciting as well. It’s like they caused me to create more opportunity for myself.” However, as sad as it is, everyone has their price and Ms. Alexandra is still open to the possibility of a buy out.

Anyways this whole thing is both sad and hilarious to me. While most parents spend their time thinking of a name or a small gift or how wonderful it will be to watch them grow into happy contributing citizens, the Carter family is going through a trial to turn their daughter into a labelled, branded product.

People, especially Berklee students seem to be in a constant desire to live and lead the life of Beyonce and Jay-Z, or any other super star for that matter. We must remember that while it is important to brand yourself and your artistic work, as artists there is a fine line between your business and your personal life. Once those lines get crossed things can get all kinds of fucked up. Sell your products not your souls ladies and gentlemen.

Phillip Richard

*This means it almost certainly didn’t happen, please don’t sue me.

Sources and Further Reading:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/deborahsweeney/2012/10/22/blue-ivy-trademark-name-a-no-go-for-beyonce-and-jay-z/

http://www.bostonherald.com/business/general/view.bg?articleid=1061168659&srvc=rss

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/reliable-source/post/blue-ivy-the-trademark-feds-move-fast-on-rights-to-beyonce-and-jay-zs-babys-name/2012/02/03/gIQAOTDGnQ_blog.html

http://uk.eonline.com/news/355945/beyonc-and-jay-z-lose-trademark-battle-for-blue-ivy-but-get-good-advice-from-president-obama

Band Agreements – Four Things you Definitely Want Covered

Poor Robin

With all this talk about contracts between artists and managers and agents and promoters and publishers and record labels and all kinds of other money grabbing people and things, it becomes easy to overlook one of the most important and fundamental  agreements a band can have: the band agreement. The band agreement is exactly what it sounds like – an agreement between the band members that outlines the business aspects of their art. I know that for all the cool kids out there that are in bands with their BFF’s because their ‘vibe is just so pure and wonderful and it’s all about the music, not the money’ – this doesn’t apply, you guys just high five and call it a day. But, for anybody else here are some things you might want to consider about the band agreement.

First of all this is something that should get done in the very early stages of the band. It brings up very important questions that you normally wouldn’t necessarily think of. These are best discussed when there isn’t too much money coming in (or any at all) and everybody in the band still loves each other. This just ensures everything gets done in an easy and friendly way. Sometimes it is difficult to bring up depressing things like breakups and it might be a good idea to hire a lawyer to overlook the whole process and bring up the negative stuff for you. You may never need the agreement but it will definitely be better to have it rather than not.

So we have established that they should be done in the early stages and that they might never even be used but what exactly should the band agreement entail, what questions should get asked? Here is a summary of Martin Frascogna’s four things that should always be covered at a minimum level and I think these are pretty good starting points.

1. Decide How the Band and Will Decide

For any decisions the band makes from buying new equipment or software to who to hire as a manager, there should be a defined way that they are made. A simple vote makes sense but what if the band has an even number of members and the vote comes in 50/50? Furthermore try and think about which decisions will require a unanimous vote and decide who has the power to break a tie based on things like financial investments and individual workload.

2. Income Structure

When the band makes money where does that money go? With certain income streams and depending on other contracts you might not have a choice but for when you do have a choice this comes in handy. Do all members get a cut? Is some of the income put aside for investments in the band? Establish who the songwriters are, in other words if you register a song for copyright (or a creative commons license woop woop!) Whose name is it registered under; the band as a whole or a certain individual?

3. Trademark

Who owns the band name? If you assume everyone shares equal parts that means 3 people could leave a band that originally had 5 members and start using the name. In a weird way them quitting would be like the other two getting fired. Figure out what you want because once a band gets started they will be spending a lot of effort and resources in branding themselves and getting the name out there/developing a fan base. There is a lot at stake with band names and trademarks so it is important to discuss the best way to go about it. If this isn’t determined often times a court will decide that no one can continue using the name and then both sides get screwed out of it. Furthermore, if your band has registered the name and somewhere down the road you come into contact with someone else who has the exact same name but isn’t registered, you can probably guess who wins and get’s to keep it.

4. Jurisdiction

The band needs to know under what laws their disputes (if any) will be governed. If you ever need to go to court will it need to be in California? or Massachusetts? or Valencia? This are more important than one thinks. If you live in Boston and you have a deal with some company in Los Angelas, that says your jurisdiction is in California you would need to  pay California Courts, travel expenses to and from LA, and you might even need to deal with different laws you were unaware of. In any case, make sure you pick a home base!

Remember that a band agreement is as important as any other contract and the earlier it gets done the less painful and expensive it will be for everyone if you ever need it. As a manager this should be one of the first things you organize for a band if they don’t already have it.

Phillip Richard

Sources and Further Reading:

http://blog.midem.com/2012/06/martin-frascogna-4-minimum-requirements-for-artist-agreements/#.UIgyFLTevWY

http://www.themusiciansguide.co.uk/blog/13/why-you-need-a-band-agreement-contract-guest-post-by-daniel-ward/

http://www.digitalmusicnews.com/stories/020311samename