Attorneys in the entertainment industry usually provide general
legal advice and negotiation skills – but this is only a small
part of what we do. An experienced and “connected” music
attorney can be a valuable member of your team, getting your
demo in front of the right pair of ears. A good entertainment
attorney should also have in their repertoire, the ability to be
your business advisor and your personal “rainmaker.” In addition
to bringing parties together for the purposes of creating new
deals, your entertainment attorney may also administer
copyrights and collect funds on your behalf. Of course, if
things go wrong regarding any deal transaction, then your
attorney can coordinate the ensuing litigation. See Sample
structures for entertainment attorneys can vary. First, see if
the attorney is charging you for the initial consultation. Once
that is settled, you need to determine which method of payment
is best for you – hourly rate vs. percentage vs. flat-fee
billing. Hourly rates vary based on geography and experience,
but generally you can expect to pay $250.00 to $450.00.
Alternatively, entertainment attorneys can also charge a
percentage of the deal transaction (usually 5%). But understand
that with percentages, you must also consider that the other
members of your team (i.e., agent, manager, business manager)
also take a percentage, thus further reducing what you
ultimately will take home. See Sample Situation #2.
Lastly, flat-fee billing is best used for smaller, but specific,
engagements such as incorporating or registering trademarks.
The best way to find an
entertainment attorney is via word of mouth. Ask other artists
and industry professionals for recommendations. In addition to
this, entertainment attorneys can often be found at
entertainment industry conferences. Attorneys often participate
at these events as panelists and usually stick around after the
event in order to network and answer questions. However, if you
prefer an approach that is less public in nature, then you can
contact various lawyer referral services or obtain a copy of the
most popular lawyer directory – Martindale-Hubbel, available at
your local library.
In all cases, you should
expect a written legal services agreement, as well as the
requirement to pay an upfront retainer deposit, which is
typically held in trust and applied against fees and costs as
they accrue. Costs, by the way, are usually billable and can
include messengers, fax, overnight mail, travel, long distance
phone calls, and photocopies.
Because of the limited
number of entertainment attorneys and companies, you should also
be aware of the potential for conflicts of interest. Attorneys
are ethically required to disclose conflicts of interest. Many
conflicts can be dealt with by disclosure and informed consent
of the parties. However, some require that the attorney step
aside and that the parties retain separate counsel.
Sample Situation #1:
A well known music label
decided not to release any more of a well known artist’s albums,
but that didn't mean that they would be releasing that artist.
The artist was not allowed to release their new material for the
label, nor allowed out of their contract to record for others.
Instead, the label asked the artist to “just” write songs for a
fellow label mate for the remaining three years of the contract.
Could you handle this
yourself, or do you think it would be best to send in your
“connected” entertainment attorney?
Sample Situation #2:
Typically, a new artist is
to receive what’s commonly referred to as a 10-point deal. In
other words, the artist is to receive 10% of the list retail
price of net sales of full price albums sold in the United
States . Ten percent of the retail list price isn’t bad! Right?
After all, today’s list price averages about $17.98, per CD. Do
the math. The artist believes (because they usually speak
English, and not legalese) they will be paid about $1.80 for
every CD sold. Sell a million records, become a millionaire.
Wrong (and you better
immediately hire an entertainment attorney!).
That one sentence giveth .
. . but the next 50 pages taketh away to such a point that the
artist will never actually receive anything close to $1.80 per
record. To start with, the producer gets a third of that. The
label only pays on 90% of sales, and deducts an additional 25%
for the wrappers. But, all of those numbers are reduced further
once the discounts necessary to actually induce the buyers are
put into effect, and if the actual technology used resembles
anything more advanced than Edison ’s phonograph. Furthermore,
as if there were not enough reductions, recording, production
and marketing costs come to the artist in the form of advances
against your net royalties. Thus, you will be paying the label
all of the costs associated with putting your record together
and getting the public to care about it. After all those
aforementioned deductions, your actual royalty rate will
probably be less than 50 cents per unit.
Look at it this way. If
you are advanced $100,000 from your label, you will likely have
to sell more than 200,000 CD’s before you ever get a single
penny from your work. But, at 200,000 of YOUR CD’s sold, about
$3,000,000 has moved through the system. Retail and distribution
companies have made about $2 million, and your label has made up
to $1 million. However, in Artist Royalties, you have not made
Perhaps you ought to
get an attorney to negotiate all of this. So, contact me at the