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Music Industry, the DIY Version: Part 4 — Legal

We’re back! If the last instalment in this series was boring to you, this one won’t be much more exciting — but, again, it will be important. Musicians tend to like the law about as much as they like numbers, but they have to deal with it.

What Does a Lawyer Do?

The law will be involved with your music career every step of the way, whether you sign to a record label or not. However, you (hopefully) won’t see the inside of the courtroom too often. Your legal team will not look the same as TIs or Meek Mills. This is the realm we often visualize lawyers in, but in reality that’s only a small subset.

The lawyer you’ll be looking for is a contract lawyer, an entertainment lawyer, or a music industry lawyer. Yes, the music industry is complicated enough that they have their own brand of lawyer.

A music industry lawyer is there to keep contracts straight, and to keep people honest. If you’ve ever seen a typical record label contract, you know why a lawyer needs to be involved. The language used is often intentionally vague, draconian, and generally suicide inducing. A lawyer has been educated in breaking this language down, and making sure the deals you make are as good for you as they can get.

Lawyers are also much more important in advancing your career than you might think. Lawyers are often well connected, or official enough to be able to create connections. It’s in their best interest to ensure your success, so they’ll often be happy to get you meetings you couldn’t have otherwise gotten. When a record label’s website says “no unsolicited submissions,” you, personally, don’t have a way to get a demo to them. Your lawyer, however, can.

A lawyer is in charge of negotiating your career, essentially.

How Much Will a Lawyer Cost?

Lawyers most often charge per hour. A new lawyer will charge something like $250 per hour, and the top level will charge around $700 per hour. You can occasionally strike a percentage deal with a lawyer, which will see them taking 5% (generally, anything within the range of 5 to 10 is acceptable) of your gross profits on any deal they broker. Some lawyers also do value billing, which is mildly confusing, but you don’t need a lawyer to explain it to you. A value billing deal allows the lawyer to work on your behalf, and then negotiate a fee when the deal is done. Often, the fee will come close to their hourly rate, and be billed against a retainer. A retainer is a guaranteed sum of money paid each month, or other agreed upon time period.

When Should I Get a Lawyer?

Right now. A lawyer should be the first part of your team, without question. Without a lawyer, your deals with other parts of the team can easily sour. If you have a law degree or experience as a music lawyer, you can maybe hold off. Otherwise, hire a lawyer as soon as possible.

How Do I Get a Lawyer?

You’ll find a lawyer through the internet, referrals, or some combination of the two. Most cities have at least a handful of music industry lawyers (or aspiring music industry lawyers) in them, and there’s very few downsides to hiring one remotely. If you start sending out emails or taking meetings, it shouldn’t take you long to find someone to represent you. In the event that you talk to a lawyer who chooses not to represent you, ask them if they know anyone who would be interested in representing you. They’ll normally be happy to send you to a friend, and the warmed up prospect is much more likely to accept you.

You can also get referrals from other musicians of your caliber. If they’re happy with their lawyer, you likely will be, too.

What Does a Good Lawyer Look Like?

A good lawyer is within your budget, first of all. Second, they should have some sort of experience in the music industry, or with similar deals. Of course, if you’re not looking to spend a lot of money you might have to settle for less. A good lawyer will also present you with a written contract, because duh. If they’re not okay with you having the agreement reviewed by another lawyer (which you should do), that’s a giant red flag.

Another red flag is conflicts of interest. A conflict of interest occurs whenever a lawyer represents, or might represent, two sides of the same deal. You’re most likely to deal with this situation with a record label, who will ask you to be represented by their own lawyer. Do not do this, ever. There are conflicts of interest that are acceptable, but it’s hard to generalize those.

Finally, your lawyer should be someone you trust, and someone you like, in that order. If you don’t trust that your lawyer is looking out for you, than the relationship will not function. You also need to trust that they will put the necessary pressure on people you do business with, or they aren’t doing their job well. It helps a lot if you have personal chemistry with them, as communication is key in the lawyer-client relationship.

How Can I Be My Own Lawyer?

There’s no secrets, here. To be your own lawyer, study contract law, and negotiation. You can skirt by the law for a little while, but eventually you’ll reach a point that requires expertise. Until then, read this book.

I said it, Pat said it, a ton of Amazon customers said it. Just read it.