.....is actually music attorney JC Press, who has agreed to contribute some of his legal savvy to Li'l Hank's Guide For Songwriters in exchange for a box of Vanilla Wafers and a Frappaccino. If you are a singer/songwriter, musician, or are involved in any aspect of songwriting or the music business, this section should be in your bookmarks.
He has his own website where you can find
a goldmine of legal advice and copyright information that others would gladly
charge you hundreds if not thousands of dollars for. What's more, JC writes
in plain English, so if your extent of legal knowledge is , say, Judge Judy,
you can still understand what he's talking about!
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How should I choose my attorney? When should I choose my attorney?
Good question. Actually, there is no set way to choose an attorney. Everyone has their own opinions, and I will try to give you the many different opinions as I have heard. In the end, it is up to you to decide whether or not the attorney you choose is the right one for you.
First of all, you should ask yourself, "How much can I afford to pay for an attorney?" This is key. Attorneys in this field bill their clients at rates anywhere from $150 to $500 per hour. Where you are in your career will determine what you can or will pay for your attorney. New artists will probably only be able to pay the $150 per hour, if they can afford to pay even that much. If you are more established, maybe you can afford to pay the higher fees. In some instances, you will find attorneys who are flexible with how they bill (like us). If you qualify, there is Volunteer Lawyer's For The Arts (VLA), a volunteer organization that DOES NOT CHARGE for the legal services provided. VLA attorneys are attorneys who volunteer their time to handle cases for people who can't afford to pay normal legal fees. We also do work for VLA on an ongoing basis. Their phone number is (212) 319-2787.
Perhaps even before you get to the point where you can determine how much you can pay, what kind of services are you looking for? Tape shopping? Contract drafting? Contract review? It matters because if you are looking to shop a tape to record labels through an attorney, there are some attorneys (like us) who will not charge an up-front fee to shop tapes to labels. These attorneys will take a percentage of your advance when you get it. THEY GET PAID WHEN YOU GET PAID. Nice, huh? If someone truly believes in you, they may take their chance with you and hope to get paid on the back end. It's not unusual in the legal field. Personal injury attorneys do it all the time.
If you are looking for contract drafting or review or any other type of service, you may incur hourly fees. However, see if your attorney will give you a flat rate price quote. We do it sometimes. It makes life easier for everyone involved, and the client doesn't have to worry about not knowing how much his bill will be at the end of the matter. It also makes life easier for the attorney, because now we don't have to worry about keeping track of hours spent on the matter.
NOW, after you have this money thing handled, some other things you may want to consider: You may want to know who that attorney represents. If the attorney has no clients in the entertainment field, specifically the music field, you may want to think twice about hiring that attorney. On the other hand, if the attorney seems competent enough, just because he has no clients may not be a reason to pass him over. Hell, everyone has their first client at some point in time. Actually, we began working with Chuck D. after only being in business for about 3 months. He had the vision and insight to hire us, seeing that we were competent, confident, and aggressive enough to handle his workload.
Just because an attorney represents 18,000 artists in the business does NOT mean that he is a great attorney, or that he is the attorney for you. Feel him out. Will he give you the attention you need? If you are a new, unsigned artist, probably not. If you are a signed artist, maybe. Are you the "hot" artist right now for that attorney? This is important, because your legal matter may require attention that the big attorney may not be able to handle.
Now, remember that this industry is based on relationships. Attorneys in this business do NOT get where they are simply based on the quality of their legal services. Attorneys in this business get where they are because people referred clients to them. Artists don't know where to go to get an entertainment attorney. They may see an ad (keep an eye out for our ad), but most artists find their attorneys through referrals, either from other artists, or from label people. You want to be careful of who refers you to an attorney and how they do it.
What do I mean by that? If you get a referral from a label person, or your manager, or any other professional, make sure that they give you a list of several attorneys to choose from. DO NOT allow them to tell you that you have to use their attorney, or the attorney that they recommend. Beware of people that are adamant about you using the attorney they recommend. What this usually means is that that attorney may be influenced by the person making the recommendation, to the point that the attorney may act in the best interest of the referring person, rather than you. It's a cynical approach, but if they can't give you several attorneys to choose from (I would say at least 5), go look for your own attorney. The worst thing you can do is get into a bad deal, thinking that your attorney is looking out for you, when he is screwing you for what could be a large part of your career.
One way to avoid that pitfall is to ask other artists who they use for their attorneys. This is a safer route, because the artists are generally not acting in their own self-interest, because they are not involved in the transaction at all or in your career. This is not always fool-proof, though, so keep your eyes open.
Another way to check up on your attorney is to check with the Bar Association of the state in which the attorney is practicing. See if there are any complaints on file. This may not be a rock solid method, because most people don't know that they can register complaints or where to do so. I would recommend asking the attorney for at LEAST three (3) references that you can check on.
Your best bet is to educate yourself about your industry. Ask around. People talk. Reputations are discussed. Find out for yourself. And don't be fooled by gold and platinum records on the walls. It is relatively easy to get your hands on these things, even when you don't represent the artist whose album gets the honor.
I would recommend that you check out some books on the music industry, such as Donald Passman's book, All You Need to Know About the Music Business There are also MANY other resources listed at the ASCAP web site, so check it out.
In the end, it is EXTREMELY important that your attorney understand you and what it is that you want from your career. You don't want an attorney that tries to dictate the direction that your career should go and have that influence how he negotiates your agreements. Remember, and be sure to remind your attorney, if need be, that your attorney works FOR YOU. It is not the other way around. If you feel your attorney is not doing right by you, nix him. We pick up clients whose big complaint is their former attorney did not serve them. There is some kind of complex that most attorneys have in this business that they are gods and that they are invincible. BULLSHIT! If your attorney is not receptive to your requests and needs, get rid of the guy. There are plenty of others out there who would be glad to take your money. We have picked up clients even AFTER they have signed their recording agreements. Hell, we get a lot of artists coming to us after they have signed agreements when they realize that they should not have signed the agreement. By then it may be too late.
Basic recommendation: Educate yourself, interview different attorneys, ask around, get references, and just see if your attorney seems receptive and responsive to your needs. It's never too late to change attorneys. But it's definitely easier if you choose the right attorney from the start.
When you choose your attorney is up to you. If you are shopping your tape and you don't yet have a deal, you may want the attorney involved early on in your career. If you or someone else is shopping your tape, you don't need the attorney just yet. Just remember, though, that when you approach an attorney with your tape, you want it to be the BEST representation of you or your band. Don't come with some basement recording when you know you can do better. Of course, if your material is that good, and you can't afford anything better, bring it in, but it's hard to shop a demo tape of poor quality. Labels expect a lot these days, because of the relative ease and low cost of recording a decent quality demo. Now, you don't have to go the Hit Factory, but I have heard some incredible recordings made only with a four track. Always put your best foot forward.
Of course, if you have an actual legal issue, like a contract, get your ass to an attorney right away. If I've said it once, I've said it a hundred times: DO NOT SIGN ANY PIECE OF PAPER UNTIL YOU HAVE AN ATTORNEY LOOK IT OVER. This doesn't mean your boy who is in law school. No. An attorney. An actual attorney. Go to VLA if you can't afford one. Beg and plead if you have to. Get someone to look it over. I'm not saying this just so that I create more business for my brothers and sisters in this field. I HATE hearing the sob stories of people who signed contracts without consulting an attorney first. I think I touched on this subject in an earlier topic, but anyone who tells you that you must sign now and that there is no time to have an attorney look the contract over or that if you see an attorney then the deal is off is a CROOK. Legitimate people know that it takes time to review a contract. No one legit expects you to sign the first draft of a contract. Anyone who tells you differently is a CROOK. Am I making my point? I think I've said enough on this subject.
As always, feedback is always welcome.
Page created by: Joel Press
Are You In A Band? Be sure to read JC PRess on "Band Agreements"
Changes last made on: Fri May 2 16:46:06 1997
Visit JC's website for a wealth of information, tips and opinion's by Li'l Hank's favorite Law Man,