Do I need a music lawyer?

September 17, 2018, By

To be successful in the music industry, you need to surround yourself with good people. This doesn’t only include talented musicians and engineers – if you want to make a living from music, as soon as your career starts to pick up, you will need the support of professional advisers.

These advisers are there to help you with the business side of your career, and will advise and assist with issues you may be unfamiliar with, to ensure that your interests are always protected.

For example, you may want a lawyer to review or negotiate a contract you have been asked to sign, an accountant to make sure your finances are in order, and a manager to negotiate your engagements and fees.

In this series of short blogs, I will answer some common questions and explain some basic points which need to be on your radar when you are building your team of advisers, starting with lawyers (for obvious reasons!).

The role of a music lawyer

Whatever your role within the music industry, you will usually be looking to your lawyer for three things: advice on contracts, litigation, and general advice and support.

Advising on contracts

A lawyer will be able to review a contract you have been asked to sign (by a record label or publishing company for example) and explain each clause of the agreement to ensure you understand them. Your lawyer will also let you know if the terms of the contract are industry standard, or if there is anything unusually restrictive which you would need to negotiate down.

Getting this independent legal advice is important. Whether you are signing a record deal, a publishing deal, or allowing a company to use your music in their latest marketing campaign, you will be giving away some rights in your music in exchange for payment. As a manager or agent, you may be taking on some contractual duties and obligations which can carry heavy consequences.

Each time you enter such a deal, it is vital that you fully understand the terms of the agreement. For example, as an artist, you need to know whether you are assigning copyright (definitively giving away the rights to your work) or merely granting a licence (allowing someone to use your work for a limited purpose and for a set time). Both are valid options in certain situations, but you need to understand what you are signing away.

This is particularly important because if you don’t understand what you are agreeing to, this makes it difficult to determine whether you are being paid fairly, amongst other things.

Litigation

Unfortunately, at some stage in your career, you may find yourself in a situation where it all hits the fan – someone may be holding off payment for some work you did, your relationship with your manager/artist may have broken down, or you may have received an aggressive letter from lawyers acting another person.

Your lawyer will be able to review the situation, tell you what your options are, and give you a clear picture of your position. They will often be able to draw on their experience to give you a broad overview of how these disputes usually play out, whether it is worth pursuing, what the likely consequences would be, and what all this will cost you.

Once you have a clearer picture of where you stand and what the next steps would be, your lawyer will assist in moving the dispute forward on your behalf, whether this means writing a strong letter, or starting a procedure in the court.

Some lawyers carry out a mix of contentious and non-contentious work – this means that your lawyer will be able to handle the dispute for you personally. Many music lawyers specialise in non-contentious work, meaning that they will refer you to a colleague with more experience in litigation.

General advice and support

Having a generally good relationship with your lawyer can prove very useful, as they tend to be a good source for honest, independent advice on a range of issues. In an industry in which people often tell you what you want to hear, having a lawyer in your corner telling you what you need to know can prove invaluable.

Some established lawyers will also have a network of industry contacts which you may be able to benefit from. And even if your lawyer doesn’t actively introduce you to A&R people, they may have some knowledge and experience, which can help you make an informed decision about who to work with – whether it’s a manager, producer or record label.

It is also generally good to have the contact details of a lawyer somewhere in your files (even if it’s just on social media!), as you will sometimes need to act quickly on a deal and it will save you time if you already know a lawyer who specialises in the right area.

Payment

Many lawyers are happy to have an initial free chat with you, and give you some basic advice. Some will do this as a casual chat, others offer a formal free half hour consultation (although it is always best to confirm this beforehand!). You usually only start being charged once there is work which requires a lawyer’s attention, and the cost will have been explained to you.

Traditionally, lawyers have tended to charge clients on an hourly basis. This means the lawyer has a set hourly rate, and sends you an invoice at the end of the month for the number of hours they have spent working on your case. Hourly rates in London can be anything between £180 for very junior lawyers, to over £850 for the heavy hitting household names. I have included VAT in these rates, but sometimes lawyers will set out their fees without VAT, which adds another 20% on top.

Thankfully, this approach is getting quite outdated, especially for smaller deals. More and more lawyers tend to offer fixed fees for certain work. This means that a lawyer might charge you a fixed £1,800 fee to prepare and advise on a management agreement for example. This fee will stay the same regardless of the amount of time spent on it – you only pay for the end result.

If you would like to speak with a lawyer or have any questions about the above, please get in touch!

Joshua Schuermann
Solicitor

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