Hiring a lawyer doesn’t really seem like something you would want to do. However, as your career advances, it will become necessary. In fact, if you have to hire a lawyer, it’s usually a sign that things are going pretty well.
Before this happens to you, read this article. It’s important to be able to identify situations when a lawyer is required and be able to find one.
What Is A Musician’s Lawyer?
Generally there are two types of musician’s lawyers. There are litigators (or courtroom lawyers) and transactional lawyers (non-courtroom business-y lawyers).
Just like in other professions, litigators are used when (or hopefully if) you are being sued or if you are suing someone else. These lawyers typically specialize in contract disputes and copyright infringement, as these are the cases that make it to the courtroom.
Hopefully you won’t need to use a litigation lawyer, and if you’re looking to avoid a situation where you might need one, you’ll want to hire a great transactional lawyer.
Transactional lawyers try to set up arrangements so as to avoid disputes down the line. A well-crafted agreement between two parties will help avoid the courtroom and protect your interests if you’re being sued.
In the past, music lawyers used to do a lot of the work of a good manager: Shopping around to labels, networking, etc. This is not really the case anymore. It’s a lot harder to find lawyers that offer these services simply because there’s not a lot of money in it.
Beware of a lawyer that will shop just anyone around to labels for a fee. Often, this is a sign the labels wouldn’t value that submission very much.
When Should You Consider Hiring A Lawyer?
So when should you hire a lawyer? These are just a few examples when to look for a qualified professional, and my advice as a musician certainly does not replace the advice or services offered by a trained attorney.
1. Before Signing An Agreement Between Band Members
It’s never a bad idea to sign an agreement between band members regarding a few key issues. Principally, who owns the copyright on the songs, how royalties are distributed, and who owns the band name are the matters at stake.
You should also cover what happens if somebody wants to leave the group and other details such as personal vehicle use, etc.
Obviously, for something like this in the early stages of your group's career, it may not be necessary to spend money on a lawyer. However, if things are getting serious, it’s not a bad idea to make it official.
2. Before Signing An Agreement With A Manager
Never, ever, ever sign a management deal without having a lawyer go over it and explain it. The language is very dense and difficult to understand and most importantly, the clauses within them will affect your career for literally years.
Management deals have sunset clauses that give your manager assurance that they will be paid for their work for years to come. If you get into a bad deal it can literally make or break your career.
3. Before Signing An Agreement With A Label
It’s always smart to have your own lawyer when negotiating a label agreement. Sometimes, the label’s lawyer will represent both sides.
For obvious reasons, it’s worth considering hiring your own lawyer. Contracts are not places you want to find surprises.
4. Before Signing A Licensing Deal
If someone wants to license your song to use in an ad, movie, or other production, hire a lawyer.
This way you can be sure they’re not using your song in something you don’t want to be associated with. It also ensures you’ll be compensated fairly.
On the other hand, if it’s a lower-profile licensing deal without a whole lot of compensation, it may be worth just taking the money.
5. You Find Out Someone Is Infringing On Your Copyright
If somebody has stolen your song, is using your song without permission, has copied your band’s name or branding, you may want to go after them for copyright infringement.
These are court cases, so you’ll end up hiring a litigator. This can be a very lengthy and expensive process, so consult with your lawyer and think hard about whether or not it’s worth it before committing to the process.
6. You Want Out Of A Deal
If you’re stuck in a bad deal, you can’t really just leave. That’s the thing about contracts, they tie you down. You need to hire a lawyer to figure out the best way to get out of a deal without losing a ton of money and/or sleep.
These situations get sticky, fast. They are why it’s important to hire a great lawyer to guide you through the process of signing a deal.
7. You Want To Register A Trademark
Unfortunately, registering a trademark is pretty expensive. Without legal counsel it costs $275, but it’s strongly recommended you hire a lawyer. Again, there is a lot of legal jargon to sift through and it’s worth covering all your bases.
According to sources on the web, you can expect to pay at least $800 to register your trademark.
8. You’re Signing A Publishing Deal
Publishing deals are offered to extremely talented songwriters. Primarily, you’ll end up making money through royalties if your song gets cut on a record.
Like management deals, these deals are very dense and will remain important for the rest of your life. It’s absolutely worth hiring a professional to sift through the legal jargon and make sure that all of the details are explained clearly.
Where Can You Find A Lawyer?
The best way to find legal counsel is through a trusted musician friend who has worked with legal counsel before – hopefully extensively.
This is usually the best way to find any of these types of industry – accountants, lawyers, managers – if you can trust your friend’s opinion you’ll feel much more at ease.
You can also try Music Connection Magazine, Production Hub, Lawyers.com, or a simple Google search. If you find a lawyer through this means, do make sure you get a reference.