I am a big fan of Moses Avalon, the former record producer, writer and teacher who wrote the influential book “Confessions of a Record Producer.” I like the book so much I put it on a recommended reading list at the university where I teach Music Business Law.
However, I must take issue with something Avalon said in a recent blog. In a post called “The New Team” (8/3/09), he basically advised new artists that they no longer needed lawyers as part of their “team.” I found this advice fairly short-sighted. While it is true that there are no longer the sheer number of record deals and publishing deals out there, there is no shortage of people with their hands out looking to make a buck off of young artists. These range from the traditional allies like managers and booking agents to a vast array of “new model” promoters, consultants, etc. Artists need lawyers to counsel them as to how to best work with and compensate these people. We are also called on to advise about all sorts of new “services” for artists; these seem to appear every day, and they range from brilliant technological developments to glorified pyramid schemes. Additionally, artists still have to deal with the basic issues of figuring out what the revenue sources are in the music business (i.e., how to get paid) and how to structure their internal agreements and protect their intellectual property.
With all that in mind, and hoping that I still had a place on the new “team,” I recently attended a Nashville Bar Association Continuing Legal Education Seminar entitled:
Challenges for the Entertainment Lawyer in a “Do It Yourself” World.
While I was pleased with the program in general, I was a bit disappointed that they did not address the topic raised by the title of the seminar, nor did they confront Moses Avalon’s assertions head-on. However, I was impressed by my friend Lynn Morrow’s presentation “Legal Challenges for the Indie Artist” during which she listed eighteen separate legal issues an independent artist should consider before releasing a record (I would reproduce the list here but Lynn wisely copyrighted her work).
One of the points Lynn made in her presentation is that now more than ever, if we as lawyers are advising independent artists, we are advising them as small business people and I think this is a really important mission. Years ago, I was on a panel myself with a number of well-known lawyers and judges, and one of the questions that came up was how do you prepare yourself to be an entertainment attorney. I said, among other things, that I found it helpful to develop a background in the general practice of law (e.g., knowing a little about business formation, divorce, collection law, bankruptcy, wills and estates, even landlord/tenant law – which comes up a lot more often than one might think). One of the lawyers on the panel (who shall remain nameless) blasted me because he thought that spending time on general practice basics was a waste of time in dealing with the entertainment industry. I disagreed with him then and I still do. Of course, if he has an endless supply of major label clients with the ability and willingness to pay him for the deals he negotiates for them, then I see his point, but it’s not really like that out here in the less rarified air of the real world. Plus, I know that as lawyers, we get a lot of satisfaction from helping clients set up and run their business the right way. This is one way I believe entertainment lawyers can remain relevant and part of the team as this new model of the entertainment industry develops. We are also the first person who gets called when the team falls apart.