This article on music attorneys will discuss principles that apply whether you are a recording artist, songwriter, music producer, manager, independent record label or music publisher.
1. What do music attorneys do?
Music attorneys generally fall into two categories: litigators or transactional attorneys. Litigators are hired to represent individuals and companies involved in the music business in court, arbitration and mediation. For instance, if you are owed money on a contract or you have a copyright infringement case.
Transactional attorneys prepare and negotiate music industry contracts. Some examples: recording, music publishing and songwriter contracts, management or music producer agreements, and touring and merchandising agreements. Some music lawyers do both litigation and transaction work, but most are one or the other.
A few music attorneys may be willing to “shop” an artist, meaning they will look for a recording or music publishing agreement for you and, if they are successful, they will take a percentage of what you get (generally five percent). In my experience, it is very difficult to find a music lawyer willing to do this if you are a new artist.
2. Do you need a music attorney?
How do you know if you need a music lawyer? If you are sued or someone is threatening to sue you or you need to sue someone to collect money, then you will need a music litigator. And you would need one if you are going to be involved in an arbitration or mediation. You would retain a transactional music lawyer to give you legal advice or to prepare and/or negotiate a music industry contract.
3. What to look for in a music attorney
Let’s say you are a new up-and-coming artist. You have built a nice social networking presence; you are doing bigger and bigger shows and have even started licensing your music for film and TV. You have finally been offered a deal with an independent record label. What type of experience and qualifications would you look for in a music attorney? First of all, you need to find someone who has recent experience in negotiating the type of deal you are being offered. Secondly, find someone you are comfortable with and feel you can trust and communicate with. Thirdly, research the background of the lawyer: How long has he or she has been a music lawyer, who has he or she represented, has he or she spoken at music industry conferences, etc. And you should look into the lawyer’s reputation for honesty and integrity.
4. How do you find one?
Most of the music attorneys are in New York and Los Angeles, but you can also find them in places like San Francisco, Nashville, Miami, Chicago, Minneapolis and Toronto. One of the best ways to find a music lawyer is by referrals from friends and relatives or from people you trust in the music business. You can also research music attorneys online. Check out Music Connection’s Directory of Music Attorneys.
5. Attorney fee agreements
Entering into a written attorney/client fee agreement is important. In fact, in California it is required if the anticipated legal fees are over $1,000 or if the matter will be taken by the attorney on a contingency (percentage) basis. The fee agreement will spell out what the attorney will be working on, how the fees are calculated and what will be expected of you i.e., cooperation, communication.
Music attorneys are paid in several different ways:
A. By the hour: Under this arrangement, the attorney will bill you by the hour (or part of an hour), with an upfront deposit (retainer).
B. Flat fee: This would be, for example, where the attorney bills you a flat fee of $5,000 to negotiate a recording agreement with a major label.
C. Percentage: Music lawyers generally charge 5% when they are willing to work on a percentage. It is more likely an attorney will agree to this with an established artist or producer. Or if a new artist has a deal on the table that looks like it will close and substantial money will be due when the deal closes. But if for any reason the deal does not close, the attorney is paid nothing! This may be a good deal for the artist who does not have the money to pay the lawyer up front.
6. Working with a music attorney
Once you find a music lawyer you should try and give him all the information and documents he or she needs. This means giving your lawyer the good as well as the bad news about your matter. And you should decide how you will communicate. Nowadays, most of the communication is by email, text and telephone. You can agree that you will be copied on all communications sent and received by the attorney on your case.
7. Terminating a music attorney
When you have retained an attorney you may generally fire him or her whenever you want. You can terminate your music attorney for a good reason, a bad reason or no reason. But you will be liable for the attorney fees up to the date of discharge. If you decide on termination you should do it in writing and make arrangements to pick up your file.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to be specific legal advice for any particular situation. You should retain an experienced music attorney to advise you about any specific matter.
GLENN LITWAK is a veteran music and entertainment attorney based in Santa Monica, CA. He has represented platinum-selling recording artists, Grammy-winning music producers and hit songwriters as well as management and production companies, managers, music publishers and independent record labels. Litwak is also a frequent speaker at music industry conferences around the country such as South by Southwest and the Billboard Music in Film and TV Conference. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or see glennlitwak.com.