Music lawyers are as important to artists as they are mysterious. Thankfully, we’ve got Ryan Kairalla in our corner. Host of the Break The Business podcast and champion of the indie artist, I got the chance to ask him to dispute these common myths about entertainment lawyers, what they do, and when to call one.
MYTH #1 “Entertainment lawyers only work with indie artists on record deals.”
Record deals are just one of many things that entertainment lawyers can work on for indie artists. Today’s indie artists have a wide range of legal needs beyond the typical “record deal.”
Indies need companies formed and copyrights and trademarks filed and managed. They need licensing agreements, production agreements, live performance agreements, sponsorship agreements, management agreements, and more. There are so many interesting projects that my clients bring to me.
But my least favorite project are the recording agreements. All of the other projects I work on for my clients on usually serve to empower my artists. Record deals almost always take some of that power away.
MYTH#2 “My music lawyer will negotiate a record deal in my favour.”
For most independent musicians, there is only so much that entertainment lawyers can do to make a record deal more favorable for the artist.
There are two reasons for this.
First, most indie artists negotiating against a label do not have a lot of leverage. The label is big and the artist is small. Your lawyer might be able to nibble away at a couple bad terms in a negotiation, but it won’t be enough to make most record deals acceptable.
Second, most record deals at exploitative to artists at their core, and no amount of skilled negotiating by your lawyer can change that. Traditional record deals are not bad for artists because of a few nasty terms here and there. They are bad for artists because they are fundamentally designed to be that way. The principal components of a traditional record deal (the artist does not own their masters; the label controls how, when, how often, and with whom the artist records; the exploitative royalty structures; the 360 provisions) are rotten for indie creators, and are almost always non-negotiable unless you are a superstar artist.
MYTH#3 “Entertainment lawyers are extravagantly expensive, and not worth the investment.”
Entertainment lawyers can be quite affordable if you get them involved early. If you have a skilled entertainment lawyer involved on the ground floor to set up your companies effectively, manage your intellectual property, and review your contracts before you sign them, you can wind up saving a lot of money (and ultimately your career) in the long run. Getting an entertainment lawyer involved in your career early is like getting regular checkups from your doctor versus waiting until your health problems get worse and needing expensive surgery.
Lawyers like me wind up being a lot cheaper than the lawyers you will need if you get involved in a lawsuit. You should always budget legal fees as part of any music project you do. And if your finances are really tight and you simply cannot afford a lawyer, there are lots of pro bono options out there for independent creators.