The Golden Rule regarding lawyers: 'Never use anyone but an Entertainment Law attorney.' Don't use Uncle Bill, the real estate lawyer. Don't hire your next door neighbor who is a public defender. Don't hire an attorney who works in the medical profession.
Entertainment Law is a specialty field. Musicians are part of the entertainment industry and when you need a lawyer in this business, you need someone who knows the recording industry inside out.
Attorneys in the music business need to know about recording contracts and should be able to advise clients about the copyright laws. They are very much involved in structuring the deals that may come your way, and have a lot to say about shaping an artists' business life.
One major thing to look for is a lawyer's relationships in the industry. Lawyers have evolved into one of the most powerful groups in the music industry. They end up seeing more deals than anyone else, and have more knowledge of what's "going down" around town. Record companies, for instance, can't ignore phone calls from important lawyers, nor can they afford to treat them shabbily since they're going to be dealing with these lawyers again and again. A knowledgeable lawyer with good relationships will get your deals done quicker, and will get you the best deal that can legitimately be had. Here are some other aspects for you to consider when "shopping" for a lawyer:
Does he or she have expertise in the music business? Make sure that the lawyer you are hiring is an entertainment lawyer with at least some experience in the industry.
There are basically three ways attorneys in the music business charge their clients:
A retainer is a set monthly fee that is either credited against the ultimate fee or it's a flat fee covering all services. Value billing means that, when the deal is finished, the lawyer asks for a fee based on the size of the deal and his contribution to it. For instance, if the lawyer had very little to do with shaping the deal, and only wrote the contract, the band should expect a fee that is close to an hourly rate. On the other hand, if the lawyer came up with a clever concept or strategy that made the band substantial sums of money, or if the lawyer shaped or created the deal from scratch, he may ask for a much larger fee. If your lawyer does value bills, you should get some idea up front what it's going to be, so that there aren't any rude surprises.
Also, ask your attorney if - in addition to fees - there will be charges for any other costs such as long-distance phone calls, messengers, photocopies, faxes, etc.?
Ask the lawyer for references of artists at your level of experience, and check them out. Does he return phone calls? Do they get deals done in a reasonable period of time? (Reasonable in the music business is not going to be anywhere near the speed you would like. It's not uncommon for a record deal to take four or five months to negotiate, especially if you're a new artist and can't force the record company to turn out a draft quickly. Four to five months is a realistic time frame, but if it goes beyond that, someone isn't doing their job.)
Throughout his fprty year career in the music business, FourFront Media & Music's Christopher Knab has shared his experience at many industry conventions and conferences, including the New Music Seminar and the Northwest Area Music Business Conference.
Knab was owner of a San Francisco music store, co-owner of the 415 Records label, and station manager at KCMU Radio in Seattle.
He currently provides a unique consultation and education service for independent musicians and record labels. His new book is entitled "Music Is Your Business".
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