As an artist, dealing with the legalities of the music business may seem uninteresting and time wasting, but getting it right from the start is absolutely essential if you want to avoid complications further down the line. Here are six pieces of advice from professional music lawyers to developing artists.
1. Network and establish the splits between all writers
“Always introduce yourself to as many people as possible. The more you know the better you will be. Do not burn bridges, because you will learn this industry is a lot smaller than you think!
Make sure that you have an agreement in place which establishes the royalty splits between all writers of a particular composition. This is true even if you are best friends, and can literally be done a piece of tissue signed by everyone. Trust me this will help in preventing any problems that may arise in the future once you become rich and famous!”
Donald Glista, Universal Music
2. Find a good lawyer and trust them – even if you disagree with them
“It is important that you have a grasp of the basics of law but you need to be careful of thinking that you know more than you do. I receive numerous enquiries from artists who have read a couple of articles online, or even a book, and then simply phoned round lawyers until they find someone who will say what the artist wants, whether it is right or wrong.
You need to trust your lawyer and the advice that they give you. When looking for the lawyer you want to work with: (1) ask who they have worked with and get recommendations to ensure they actually have appropriate experience; and (2) stick with them – don’t jump ship just because they won’t play puppet.”
Ben Evans, Solicitor, Blake Lapthorn
3. Get legal advice from the early stages
“The music industry is a money-making industry – and as such, you need to protect yourself and make sure you have agreements in place that clarify who owns what and what is due to you.
It is important to get legal advice from the early stages: clarify the relationship between the members of a band and make sure you know, for example, what will happen if one of the members decides to leave the group.
Find a good lawyer who is willing to explain to you the consequences of your decisions; getting the legal frame right doesn’t mean getting ready for a fight against the other party; it only means you’ll create a solid ground to avoid future problems and protect your most valuable asset: your creativity.”
Loredana Cacciotti, Ministry of Sound
4. Always think of the long game
“Always think of the long game and make considered and informed decisions early on in your career. Too many artists, in their desire to get their “big break”, will hastily enter into agreements that can adversely impact them later on in their careers. Ensure you understand what people are asking of you – make sure you know exactly what you are entering into and with whom.
Know and understand what you’re getting out of the deal and most importantly what’s required of you and what you’re giving up in way of rights and for how long. Ideally consult with your lawyer and/or manager but if you are a young unrepresented band, ask colleagues and other more experienced bands, research, chat to music industry people and generally harass people for help. The earlier you treat your musical career as a business and make informed decisions the better.
Marcus Walkom, Media Arts Lawyers Australia
5. You can’t measure commitment to a clause
“People working in the music industry are often fixated on having a written legal agreement in place. Nothing in a written agreement will make things happen if motivation, energy and enthusiasm aren’t there. You can’t measure commitment to a clause neither quantify nor qualify perseverance.
Meet the party you are so eager to do business with and discuss the way you want to work. Create a vibe and feeling of trust and then, and only then, use a contract to summarise what has been agreed.”
Juan Lopez, Avenant Law & MusicLawContracts.com
6. There will always be another offer
“It’s difficult sometimes to have confidence in your value but really if one manager or company are offering a contract then it’s unlikely that they will be the only one to do so. I guess what I’m saying is don’t sign a contract that’s wrong for you. Negotiate better terms or wait for another offer – you can!
The offer is being made on the basis of an informed calculation that money can be made from your talent! Others will draw the same conclusion. You have something unique and valuable that’s worth more than just money so make sure your lawyer, manager and record label have an incentive to nurture your work and that they have a genuine interest in what you do. Good relationships can avoid costly litigation.
Stephen Meachem, Solicitor