A good, honest, knowledgeable music attorney
is an invaluable asset to an artist, and an important part
of his Pro Team. Music attorneys serve many functions, the
least of which is shopping tapes to the record companies.
And because nowadays the top attorneys in the business (you
know, the ones who charge $450 per hour), will work for a
fee of 5% of the artist's gross income—why, anyone can
afford them! Hold on a minute—I'm not being sarcastic.
Start Shopping Now
Just recently, this band that I know, decided it wanted to
release its own indie record and sell it at shows and on consignment
in local record stores. To do this, and get the necessary
UPC (Bar) Codes, seller's permit and resale number, the band
needed partnership papers and hours of time to fill out applications
for the State Board of Equalization, the Uniform Code Council
and other government-related offices. This would have cost
them thousands of dollars in attorney fees.
At the same time, the guys also decided to have someone shop
their CD in foreign countries, but that meant drafting a service
contract. More attorney time and charges. Fortunately, the
band signed on with a top-level music attorney who is now
working for a percentage of their income. After reviewing
their press package and listening to their music, the attorney
decided that this was a relatively safe gamble—that
sooner or later, this band would be signed and would be making
By doing this now, when the band is unsigned, both the artist
and the attorney have time to nurture a relationship. When
presented with a recording contract, the attorney is already
in place. The advance money received by the band will be commissioned
by the attorney, but the process will not be held up because
the band is poor.
The music business is abuzz with tasteless attorney jokes.
Many attorneys deserve to be ridiculed, but the many honest
ones (OK, OK, the handful of honest ones) deserve a lot of
credit for helping artists stay out of contract troubles.
Finding an attorney who is willing to work with an unsigned
artist will take some doing. Like doctors, you need to meet
with them in person and come away with a good feeling. But
before you waste your time, consider that 95% of the music
business attorneys today do not shop tapes to record companies.
They consider it a waste of time—not to mention an exercise
Now just you wait a second, Kerner. Are you trying to tell
me that managers won't work with unsigned talent because there's
only potential and no actual earnings, and now attorneys won't
shop tapes because it's a waste of time? How are we going
to get signed???
Slow down, buddy. There are many attorneys (the less expensive
ones) who specialize in tape shopping, but these guys usually
require a retainer (a fee, paid in advance, to cover their
services). Also, you must meet with them in person to find
out exactly how they go about their business of shopping.
Since they provide the same services for many other clients,
you want to be clear about not having your package thrown
in with those of other artists. You want your tape shopped
under separate cover—meaning, by itself!
What other clients does your potential attorney represent?
Is he aware of the contemporary music scene?
Does your potential attorney network and hang out or stay home, alone at night.
Have others heard of your attorney?
What has he done within the industry?
What are his strongest points?
How accessible is he?
What are his hourly rates?
Will he give you a client list?
Will the attorney work for a percentage of your income?
What won't he do for you?
How privy is he to "industry insider" information?
How well-connected is he/she with:
Here's another one of my famous checklists to help you in
the selection of a music business attorney:
Do you feel comfortable when speaking with him in person?
Most importantly: what's your gut feeling about him?
In the state of California, the law dictates that if you
are working with an attorney and his fee will exceed $1,000
for a particular project, he must provide you with a written
document itemizing and explaining his fee structure. If he's
working on a percentage basis, this does not apply. Good luck.
Excerpted from the book "Going Pro"
written by Kenny Kerner and published by Hal Leonard.