(This guest post is written by Jo-Ná A. Williams, Esq., a former vocalist and attorney with her own firm in New York, J.A. Williams Law – The Artist Empowerment Firm. Her Firm empowers musicians, helping them create successful careers by merging their art and their business.)
Need to Know When to Bring Out the Legal Guns?
When it comes to running a successful music career, good legal assistance can be one of the most important tools in your arsenal. I know you’re probably thinking, “Well you’re biased. You’re a lawyer. You’re supposed to say that!”
Well, I wasn’t always a lawyer. I was an artist for the first half of my life and I became a lawyer to help end the exploitation of other artists, the way it happened to me.
Think of a young, naive, 17 year-old girl who performed in ensembles most of her life finally going out on a limb and becoming a background vocalist for up emerging Hip-Hop acts in Atlanta. Yep, that was me. I sang on their recordings and even wrote lyrics to their songs. As of today, I have not received a dime or credit next to any song to which I’ve contributed. I want to make sure that never happens to you or any other artist, but I am not blind to the fact that as an indie artist you may have more talent than money.
In the interest of saving you the heartache I went through, here are the top 5 instances where it’s imperative that you hire a music lawyer:
1) Before signing your band agreement – You’ve started a band with your friends and you love what you do and whom you’re doing it with. Awesome. The “honeymoon” phase of starting a band doesn’t have to end as long as you iron out all the “sticky” details. There is a range of issues to negotiate, such as who owns the copyright to the songs, how royalties are distributed, who owns the band name, etc.
I highly recommend you have a music lawyer look at the details of this agreement before you sign. For more information on how to get started, see my other CD Baby article, “Want Long-Term Success, Create Your Band Agreement TODAY.”
2) Before signing with a publisher – If you’re an incredible songwriter, one of the best avenues to break into the music industry is through getting a publishing deal. This includes money from the royalties you receive when your songs are placed in films, TV shows, etc. Also, these deals can help you gain some much needed exposure. These agreements can be complicated and lengthy so it’s best to pay a lawyer to sift through the jargon and make sure you have the RIGHT deal for your songs.
3) Before signing with a manager – Although you won’t need a manager until you’re farther along in your career, NEVER sign an agreement without having your lawyer review it first. These agreements can mean monetary life or death in your career (a.k.a. deals that you can’t get out of for years after you’ve left the manager). Be savvy and cautious.
4) Before signing a record deal –Often in the music industry the label’s lawyer will sit on both sides of the table as the artist’s rep and the label’s rep. I do NOT recommend this as a rule of thumb. When negotiating a record deal, always have your OWN lawyer, no matter what. You’ll thank me for this one.
5) Before signing a licensing deal for one of your songs – If you publish your own songs and someone wants to license your songs for use in a production, have a lawyer review what you’re signing. How awful would it be if your song was used in a way you don’t approve (some aspiring celebrity’s new sex tape perhaps)? Save yourself the hassle, hire a lawyer and preserve your rep.
The music industry is a tricky place and one clause can change the entire course of your career if drafted incorrectly. If this scares you, good. It should. The law can be a friend or foe. Make sure it’s on your side by hiring a fierce advocate dedicated to ensuring your rights. I want you to be prepared for the rocky terrain known as the music industry and it starts with being protected by the law. You NEED a set of trained legal eyes for any major music ventures. Time to get on it! Let’s go!
Jo-Ná A. Williams, Esq. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter. For a FREE copy of her guide “Blueprint: The Insider’s Guide to Empowering Your Career as an Artist and Ditching your 9-5 for Good” Sign up here: http://eepurl.com/iOqe1.
(Legal stuff: this article is for information purposes only. It does NOT replace the advice administered by a licensed attorney in YOUR state based on your specific situation. I know you wouldn’t assume I was your lawyer cause your mama “didn’t raise no fool.” But mine didn’t either, hence the disclaimer!)
[“Law” image from Shutterstock.]