Whether you’re a songwriter, performer or producer, there will be a plethora of reasons why you should look to hire a music lawyer. It may be to protect your materials from intellectual vultures who make money from your property unlawfully or to make sure that you’re not entering into the wrong partnership with a label, or simply that you’re not blindsided in a collaboration. In this article, we’ll explain the role of a music lawyer, when you need to hire a music lawyer, and what to look out for when hiring a music lawyer.
Who is a music lawyer?
Typically, lawyers for musicians are a contract specialist who represents artists, brokers and record labels, and negotiates their deals for them with third parties like labels (or distributors), publishers (or administrators), managers, agents (live, sync, brand), merchandisers, brands/sponsors, and sometimes platforms like YouTube or Spotify. They focus on issues like trademark disputes, copyright violations, and even recording contract signing.
Furthermore, professional music lawyers possess a deep understanding of the ins and outs of the music business. This is because lawyers for musicians must be able to defend their clients against industry-specific disputes that other lawyers may not have knowledge of. They also assist artists in understanding the myriad concepts that drive the music business, conceiving strategies designed to procure the best deal possible.
In the past, music lawyers also did a lot of the work that music managers do today — networking, show management, shopping around to record labels, etc. This isn’t really the case anymore. Still, they help in maintaining connections, acting as confidants and basically having your back throughout your music career.
They should be your first point of contact when building a team as they are the linchpin that will bring it all together. They are the first line of defense and consultation when it comes to various career-related matters. Your lawyer will present you with all the information you need to make an informed choice when a deal comes up.
Key reasons why you should hire a music lawyer
You could be under the impression that just because you’re in show business, you don’t have anything to do with lawyers. That’s a big fallacy considering the many times we’ve seen cases of bad deals in the industry which could have been avoided if the concerned parties had lawyers by their sides.
Lawyers are indispensable in the entertainment industry. you will absolutely need professional music lawyers to protect yourself from people who are looking to rip you. Everyone out here is after their own interests and you have to be careful about your rights.
Here are some of the reasons why lawyers for musicians are mandatory in the music industry.
1. Protect your brand
One of the first things you’ll do in your music career would be to create a stage name (or a production tag and logo). This will be your brand— an address you’ll be associated with throughout your career. Learn more about building a brand as an artist.
How would you stop someone from stealing your name and making money with it? And have you considered protecting the rights to use your logo?
Here’s where a professional music lawyer comes in. Generally, lawyers for musicians present two options to protect your name and logo. You can trademark your name or rely on the law of passing off. While the first option is the best and more expensive, the second option isn’t. Which option you ultimately go for will depend on the circumstances you face.
2. Protect your intellectual property
Each track that you create will include several copyrights. For instance, whenever a song is produced, there would be credit and ownership for the writing of the lyrics, performing the song and the production of the song. If the musician is a solo artist who has written the entire song, this is relatively straightforward. However, if there is a collaboration of artists, things can get more complicated because each contributor would own their rights in your track. Here you’ll need documents like a split sheet or collaboration agreement which might be complicated.
Check out this article on why collaboration is important in the music industry.
A music lawyer will make sense of the complications, draft an agreement document and advise you on the best industry practice. Ultimately, you’ll get paid for your work and nobody else will be able to claim ownership – or use your work without permission.
3. Setting your relationship with your manager right
A management contract will be one of the most important and personal contracts that you’ll ever sign in your entire career. Usually, artist managers have the best interests of their artists at heart. But some may not be honest. Therefore, when hiring an artist manager, you need to have a clear and binding contract written up to prevent them from taking advantage of you.
Professional music lawyers help protect your interests by making sure that you’re not paying your music manager more than you need to and that the limits on their authority to act on your behalf are set out.
4. Clearing samples
A sample is a snippet of somebody else’s song which is then reused in a new song, often remixed. Sampling songs is a popular practice nowadays. Hence, it has become more important than ever to make sure that you’re legally allowed to use a music sample by clearing it correctly. Remember Burna Boy’s sampling issue with Toni Braxton? Consulting with a professional music lawyer could have prevented that.
There are many other cases of improper use of samples. Often, such disputes are amicably with a hefty payment to the artists whose sample has been used. The worst-case scenario will involve a bitter court case that could cost thousands of dollars (millions of naira) and weeks of legal battle.
Navigating the world sampling and clearing a sample can be complicated as music sampling of any kind is actually an infringement of copyright unless you’ve obtained permission from the copyright holder. A music lawyer will help you navigate the complex landscape and strike a favourable deal with the rights holder.
5. Closing out deals
It’s a common occurrence to find out that several artists get into bad record deals because they thought the other party wouldn’t cheat them. Or basically because they stood to gain the kind of exposure and benefits they haven’t gained before.
Learn more about how to get the best out of a record deal.
Before signing a record deal, sponsorship deal or ambassadorial deal, whether a written contract is present or not, whether it is a big deal or a small deal, you need to seek professional legal advice.
It’s a dream come through to be invited by a record label, publishing company, or a big brand. But remember, it’s a legal agreement. Music is your passion and your biggest hobby, but it is also your life and source of income. You shouldn’t sign away your life straight away without negotiating.
Other reasons why you should hire a music lawyer:
- Entertainment lawyers can also help you to enforce your rights in other ways like protecting yourself from slander, false stories and much more besides.
- They can also protect your assets by making sure that a spouse is not able to claim an unfair amount when you’re going through a divorce.
- Protect your website from fake versions.
- Lawyers for musicians also help with sync licensing and booking agreements.
Where can you find a music lawyer?
The best way to find music lawyers is to tap into your trusted contacts in the music industry who have worked with legal advisors in the past. This is typically the best way to find any professional in the music industry – lawyers, managers, accountants, etc. If you trust your contact’s judgment and opinion, then you’ll likely have faith in their recommendations.
You can also do a simple Google search or social media search for music lawyers in Nigeria and read reviews about the personalities you find before calling them.
Things to look out for before you hire a music lawyer
- Their track record – how successful have they been in the past? What do people say about them? If they’re relatively new to the industry, what makes them think they can help you navigate the complexities of the industry?
- Fees and billing – professional music lawyers are expensive, but their fees are also negotiable. Ensure you evaluate their quote with your budget and clarify the intervals of their payments and percentages.
- Interpersonal relationship skills – do they seem like someone you’re willing to work with? Do they share your vision? Do they understand your concerns? Sometimes, vibe is all that matters.
Essentially, hiring a music lawyer to be a part of your team means you have some someone advising you on legal issues and help guide the business aspects of your career in collaboration with other key members of your team such as the accountant, managers, promoters and more.
The music industry is constantly evolving. There are new opportunities and deals to get into, including a sea of rights and income stream deals in live performance, merchandising, writing, recording, and endorsements. With a professional music lawyer, you have somebody on your side who knows the music industry inside out. They’ll know exactly what steps need to be taken to make sure that nobody else can benefit from all of your creativity and hard work.