Articles Posted in Entertainment Law

The cost of an attorney can be prohibitive for young musicians or bands starting out. I understand that in the early stages a band is so excited for an opportunity that they will sign whatever contract comes to them in hopes of making it big. I have also heard a lot of artists say that “the contract seems pretty straightforward.” I ensure you that in the music industry nothing is “pretty straightforward”. If it were not drafted in lengthy “lawyer speak” it would not take a 12 page contract to license one song from a band. Do not make the mistake of assuming that you understand every provision in the contract.

As an attorney who has reviewed hundred of recording, publishing, licensing, and management contracts, I must tell you that you absolutely must have an experienced entertainment lawyer review the contract. If you take your music and your band seriously, you can not afford to blindly enter into contracts that you do not understand. I have seen contracts that tie up the artist for several years without a chance to exit. I have seen contracts that grant the record company or manager power of attorney. I have also seen contracts that wrongfully take all the rights to music created and recorded by you. Furthermore, many of these contracts offer nothing in return. There is often no financial advance, no intellectual support, and no promise to promote the band or your music.

I can review most contracts and provide a detailed opinion letter as to its strengths and weaknesses for much less than you might expect. I will make it absolutely clear if it is a contract you need to avoid. In most cases, I will have the response to you within a week. It is an incredibly small price to pay for a service that may save your bands career and save you hundreds of thousands of dollars if the song becomes a hit.

Broadcast Music, Inc, better known as “BMI” and one of the two major music royalty collection agencies, has launched a new program, simply titled “BMI Live” to help collect performance royalties for performers at any stage in their career.

Artists who have an account with BMI and register their music with them will now be able to input their live performances online. Once logged in to your online account, performers will have to input the day, time, and location of the venue for the concert along with the setlist performed. BMI will collect royalties for the live performance and issue quarterly payments to the songwriters, performers, and publishers.

Since this is a new program, the obvious question is: How will performance royalty rates be calculated. Here is the answer from their website:

Music producers are the unsung heroes of the music industry… the creative and talented force that transforms a group of musicians in studio into a platinum album. If you are a music producer, or an artist preparing to work with a music producer, here are a number of things that you need to know before entering into a recording or production contract.

At the most basic level, a music producer is paid per hour or a flat fee for studio time in which he or she records a bands music. At the highest level, a superstar producer writes beats, harmonies, contributes lyrics and is as well known as the artist singing. If you are paying a fee to a producer who contributes nothing to the music and is not looking for any payment more than his per hour, then this article is irrelevant. If you are that type of producer, or are working with that type of producer, enjoy your time together because the relationship ends when the recording is done.

But what about the well established producers who contribute to a song? Are they entitled to royalties? If so, how much? After all, more and more record labels are allowing producers to find and cultivate talent and then buying out the contracts or purchasing songs for publishing. This has allowed talented producers a great opportunity to hit it big. Do it right and protect yourself by having an experienced music lawyer draft and review your contracts.

A Federal Court in California has ruled in favor of Eminem, by stating that digital downloads from iTunes.com do not qualify as purchases, but are rather “licensed” by the “buyer”. The import of this decision is that there is a dramatic difference between record sale royalties and license agreement royalties.

A recording contract generally pays royalties between 7% and 20% to an artist, depending on their popularity and ability to generate sales, for each album and/or single sold. The same recording contract might allow for 50% of royalties for the licensing of a song, such as to a TV show, commercial, or movie.

As a result of this ruling, artists such as Eminem, will now receive the much higher licensing royalty percentage than the lower record sales royalty. It could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars for artists as popular as Eminem. Even for much smaller artists this is a major decision since iTunes is becoming the leader in music sales while CDs begin to disappear.

A band manager hears a song on the internet or catches your act at a local club and approaches you promising recording contracts and headline performances in front of 15000 screaming fans… it’s a seductive offer and you consider giving a percentage of your earnings to this person. Is it an offer you can’t refuse or an offer you should run from?

I have reviewed countless management contracts and, interestingly, they all vary quite a bit. I am more than happy to review any management contract before you sign and I will give my fair unbiased opinion. In the meantime, here are a few important things to look for.

Obtain the manager’s resume and credentials

I speak with musicians and artists almost every day to try and help them along the path to rock and pop stardom, but the fact is that many up and coming artists are struggling to make it and, therefore, can not afford legal fees of an entertainment lawyer. I always keep my fees as low as possible to help people gain access to the legal help they need, but it is not always enough.

If you are a band, singer, or musician, on the brink of stardom, you should know that I can be retained on a contingency fee basis. You may be familiar with contingency fees in personal injury cases. The attorney will not paid or compensated until you are compensated. In the case of personal injury the compensation comes from a settlement or jury verdict, in the case of entertainment law, the compensation comes from advances on recording agreements, or other contractual payments. The percentage is lower than that typically used in personal injury cases. Under such an agreement, I will review all contracts, negotiate favorable terms, use my contacts to help further your career, and ensure that your best interest is protected.

If you have been offered a recording contract, production agreement, licensing agreement, or any other contract in the music industry, it is imperative that you have an entertainment attorney review any document before you sign. Just this morning I spent an hour speaking to a client who asked me to review a recording contract only to find that there were a number of problems and unjust provisions. No matter how badly you want to make it big, you absolutely can not blindly sign a contract. The music industry is extremely complex and record labels and producers are not looking out for your best interest. An experienced entertainment lawyer, such as myself, familiar with the complex language of the music industry is your best option.

The Black Eyed Peas insanely infectious song “I Gotta Feeling” has become the most downloaded song in history topping 5 and a half million legal downloads. I would venture to guess that the number of illegal downloads would bring the total number to well over ten million.

itunes has also recently reported that it has sold ten billion downloads from its site. That lucky track belonged to Mr. Johnny Cash. These numbers, only a few years after MP3 became a household term, confirms that the music industry is forever changed. Think about it – 10 Billion downloads!

I came across an important article in the Tennessean which pointed out the importance of registering with an organization that collects royalties for digital music, such as SoundExchange.com. With the emerging popularity of online radio and programs such as Pandora, it is absolutely imperative to have proper registration with a company entrusted to collect online royalties.

The difference between online play and traditional radio play, is that terrestrial radio is not required to pay royalties to musicians and artists who appear on a particular recording. Groups like BMI and ASCAP only collect and disperse royalties to copyright holders and publishers.

Recording artists sensing the dawn of a new musical venue were quick to ensure that they would be paid for online and digital play of their recordings. So while the bass player from a 1960’s protest song may not have received royalties in twenty years, he may now find that the same song is now worth several thousand dollars in online royalties.

General Larry Platt could never have imagined that when he auditioned for American Idol in Atlanta to sing a funny song of his own writing that he would create a phenomenon. Platt is the next in the long line of viral videos and entertainers to emerge from American Idol auditions…William Hung, anyone? The video of his performance, shown here, has already received several million views on YouTube, spawned several re-mixes and found it’s way into politics and the pop mainstream.

I’ll admit that I laughed the first time that I heard the song. Today, it takes a step further into the world of entertainment law and that is where I become really interested. The song is being played everywhere and other artists are re-mixing it to their taste, yet General Platt has not received any money.

The music industry continues to be a hotbed for litigation. It’s penchant for controversy is sometimes staggering. What’s happening just this week:

A court today reduced the “monstrous and shocking” (Judge Davis’ words, not mine) $2 million dollar fine imposed on Jammie Thomas-Rasset for illegally downloading 24 songs on the internet. Now the mother of 4 will only have to come up with a mere $54,000.00 or $2250 per song. Ms. Thomas-Rasset, unable to pay anywhere near 50 thousand, plans to continue her appeal.

Universal Music Group has filed a lawsuit against the website Grooveshark. Grooveshark already settled a similar lawsuit with EMI, but now face the wrath of Universal who claims that grooveshark is hosting illegal copies of their songs for the public to hear. Universal claims that grooveshark is paying nothing to provide online access to their songs.

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