An entertainment attorney is a lawyer that specializes in the specific issues of the entertainment industry.
Just as you would not go to your family doctor to do brain surgery; you should not go to your regular family attorney to deal with entertainment issues. Your family attorney is probably a fine person, but they just simply have not had the training and experience necessary to deal with the intricacies of the entertainment industry.
Typically, entertainment lawyers specialize within their field. Think of it this way… you are a musician who specializes in Christian music. But, within Christian music you have specialized even further to your specific genre of music and target audience. You may be able to play music from other genres, but you are really best at only a few styles of music and instruments. Most entertainment attorneys are really great at only a few things.
Specializations for entertainment attorneys are broken down 2 ways:
• By the industry
• By the type of Law being practiced
Industry specializations include:
• TV and Radio
• Visual Arts
• Multimedia and Digital
There are two Types of Law specializations: transaction-based and litigation-based. Transaction-based law deals with setting up your business, drafting and negotiating contracts. Litigation-based law involves resolving disputes in court, though mediation, or arbitration.
If you decide to hire an entertainment attorney, you need one that specializes in the music industry. You will most likely want to start with an attorney who specializes in transaction based law, unless you are hiring them to defend yourself from a lawsuit. Fortunately, most entertainment lawyers work within a law firm. This means that a group of attorneys work together. You hire the firm and will most often work with the same transaction based lawyer. But when the need arises that attorney will either get help from or connect your to the most appropriate attorney within the firm.
The single most important job of your entertainment attorney is to avoid the aftermath of signing a bad deal.
We have all heard the horror stories. So, my #1 recommendation is: do not sign a contract with a label, management company, or national booking agent until an entertainment attorney has looked at it. Contracts are negotiable! The initial contract you are presented with is written in favor of the company or person presenting it. You do not have to accept it as written – negotiate more favorable terms for your ministry. An entertainment attorney can save you more money than he costs (not to mention heartache and headaches).
When should your Christian band hire an entertainment attorney?
The saying: “Listen to your gut but go with your brain” applies here. If you are uncomfortable with any legal situation you should probably consider hiring an attorney. That being said, here are some general guidelines to help think through the process:
Definitely Hire an Attorney:
• Whenever you are asked to sign a contract with a non-band member that lasts more than just a couple days. For example: I would not hire an attorney for a performance agreement with a concert promoter, but I would hire an attorney before signing a record label deal, booking agent agreement or contract with a management company.
• If anyone files a lawsuit against the band.
Maybe Hire an Attorney:
• To set up your bands business structure. Some people are very comfortable setting up a small business themselves, others are not. The book: “Music Law: Run Your Bands Business” is a must read if you are doing this yourself. Personally, I would set up the business (as a partnership) myself while the band exists on the local and regional level. Then, consult with an attorney to set up a corporation on the advice of my accountant.
• To draw up the bands blank performance agreement and contracts. Pretty much every form and contract you need is on the CD ROM that comes with the book: “Music Law: Run Your Bands Business”. They are generic but free. Until your band reached national status, I would be comfortable using them, making only minor changes to suit my bands situation.
• When hiring a non-professional band manager or booking agent. In other words – if the band hires a friend or college student for example to work part time as a booking agent, I would draw up my own agreement (modified from the book: “Music Law: Run Your Bands Business”). The likelihood of being sued is almost nonexistent as long as both parties agree and understand the terms of the contract. So, paying for an attorney seems unnecessary. But, not everyone feels this way.
Definitely Do Not Hire an Attorney:
• To check the details of every performance agreement. The cost of an attorney will far outweigh any extra money you might receive from better negotiations with concert promoters. Plus, most promoters will not work with you because of the extra wok and intimidation.
• To negotiate studio recording contracts unless the projected costs exceed $5,000.
• When registering song copyrights as an indie. Click Here for information on how you can easily learn to do this yourself.
How much do entertainment attorneys cost?
A lot… probably more than you have. Think about how much your family doctor makes, then consider how much a brain surgeon makes. You get the picture. Of course, when you need a brain surgeon you don’t necessarily want to find the cheapest guy and you don’t want to try to save a buck by hiring your family doctor to operate. In other words, it is more important to find the right person than it is to haggle about fees. Accept that you are going to pay for every service you receive. A REALLY inexpensive entertainment attorney will start at $150 per hour, some go as high as $400. But the per hour fee is not the only fee involved. Most likely the inexpensive per hour guy will have an abundance of extra costs such as fees for FAX’s, billing by the half hour (in other words a 10 minute phone call will be charged as 30 minutes) etc. Other attorneys work on a percentage of your gross, but usually you have to be making large amounts of money before this arrangement is offered. Whatever the fee structure is, ask about it during the initial interview. Make sure you understand where your money is going and why.
The best way to save money on your bands legal fees is to hire the attorney that best fits your needs then use your attorneys’ time wisely because you are paying for it. You need to find a balance between doing some of the work yourself, researching some of the answers to your questions yourself, and hiring quality assistance when you need it. Not hiring assistance when you need it can cost you more than paying for an attorney before the problems arise.
When dealing with Entertainment Law, where should you start?
I like to start with FREE! There are groups of entertainment attorneys around the country who volunteer their services to help artists. Here’s the link to a Wikipedia page with a complete list of their offices: Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts if you need help contact the office closest to you.
Here’s a description from the New York offices site about some of the benefits they provide to artists:
“VLA’s Legal Services program is the central focus of our activities and resources. The program includes a wide range of services including: the Art Law Line, a legal hotline; the VLA Legal Clinic for VLA members; in-house appointments with VLA staff attorneys; and pro bono placements for low-income artists and nonprofit arts organizations with one of over 1,200 volunteer attorneys. “
You can call the Art Law Line: 212-319-2787 x1
The Art Law Line is a “legal hotline staffed by law students and volunteer attorneys who field calls from artists, arts professionals, and arts organizations seeking assistance about their art-related legal questions. The hotline is staffed Monday to Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.”
Why do attorneys volunteer for VLA? There are more attorneys wanting to be an entertainment lawyers than there are positions open within the industry. So, to get promoted attorneys need experience, they need to build a reputation, they need to network. This provides a win-win situation for both you and the attorney.
Most likely, you will be able to meet your Christian band’s legal needs through a combination of Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts for specific questions and the book: “Music Law: Run Your Bands Business” while you are working on the local level. As you become more regional, you may need to hire an entertainment attorney for a few jobs. Before you sign any national agreements you will definitely want to seek out an entertainment attorney.
Here’s the book I have been referring to:
Music Law: How to Run Your Band’s Business
I highly recommend that you get a copy and read it before contacting an entertainment attorney. Attorneys usually cost more than $150 per hour and they bill you even for a 5 minute phone call. So, the less questions you have to spend time asking, the more money you can save. This book will give you a very solid understanding of every type of contract your Christian band might need. You may even find that you are comfortable doing some things yourself after reading this book.
CLICK HERE to read about shopping your demo (trying to get signed to a label)through your entertainment attorney.
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