Friday, December 14, 2012

Selling Zappa

            As anyone who has read my little blog over the past few years knows, I have a real interest in alternate methods of music distribution.  I also have a professional interest in crowd-sourced funding, since many clients of mine have experimented with it to various degrees.  Finally, I am a huge fan of Frank Zappa, for many different reasons.

            So, I was fascinated with the recent announcement from Frank’s widow, Gail Zappa of a new distribution concept intended to raise approximately $1,000,000.00 needed to complete a video release of Frank’s 1973 concerts at the Roxy Theater in Los Angeles.  Apparently these shows were professionally filmed as well as recorded (Zappa fans know the original album “Roxy and Elsewhere”).

            Gail has asked “1,000 highly motivated sensitive and discerning individuals” to become distributors of the audio soundtrack of the concert.  According to Gail’s press release those individuals who contribute $1,000.00 to the Zappa Family Trust have the right to distribute the recording of the concert however they see fit, except that these so‑called distributors have to pay the trust mechanical royalties and report their sales to them.

            This concept is interesting but fatally flawed.  In this environment of internet piracy free‑for‑all (probably imagined by Frank at some point) there is no way that the patrons of this cause are going to make any actual money selling the recordings and if they do, the average fan is going to be ill-equipped to know how to go about reporting and paying mechanical royalties.  Hell, it’s difficult enough to get record companies to do this. What happens if they don’t pay? Does the Zappa trust sue them?

            I may be wrong, there may be 1,000 Zappa fans worldwide who will pay $1,000.00 for the privilege of being an exclusive Zappa distributor and if so this is the apex of the crowd funded money raising model but I don’t think that will be the case.

            Still kudos to Gail Zappa for trying something new.  It’s nice to see that Frank’s legacy as an iconoclast lives on.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Advice for (Truly) Independent Artists

survival guide for indie rockers.  Catchy idea.  I did a lot of preparatory work on the subject but for some reason could not pull it off.  After a lot of thought, I have decided to analyze why the concept was flawed.

            The reality was that I was trying to promote myself as an attorney to artists in an environment where the traditional record deal and publishing deal was rapidly changing. In essence, I was saying to artists, “even though you’re doing everything on your own, you still need a lawyer.”

            It’s a problem of classification. It’s hard to know how to define an independent artist these days. From what I see, artists who are signed to what we once called “independent labels” have the same problems as any artists who signs a record deal – except that the money is smaller these days and the terms more potentially more draconian.  .  What drove the point home to me was a recent article about the band Grizzly Bear in New York magazine.  This piece showed in dry economic terms what the business of being a moderately successful artist in 2012 is like. It’s really worth searching out.  So, of course, artists like this need lawyers; the game is the same.

            So what about artists who are not tied to one particular company or who are truly releasing everything on their own?  What do artists like these need from a legal standpoint.  I have come up with several ideas:

            1.         If you are in a band you need a band partnership agreement.  I have said it before and young bands hate to deal with these things – but they are extremely important in avoiding problems and potential lawsuits down the road.

            2.         You need to register with BMI, ASCAP or SECAC.

            3.         If you are touring it is a good idea to incorporate (and investigate umbrella insurance).

            4.         If you’re a band, trademark your name.

            5.         Don’t sign anything without having a lawyer review it.  These days I have seen that even the simplest agreements are taking on crazy unnecessary dimensions.  Spend a little money to educate and protect yourself.

            6.         Register with Sound Exchange

            7.         If you are working with outside producers and musicians, make sure you get an agreement or at least a release from each of them.

            8.         Listen to the Rolling Stones (I threw that in but it’s still a good idea).

Monday, November 26, 2012

Marvin Gaye's Contributions to Domestic Relations Law

Music and law often interact in interesting ways.  Lately, I have been thinking about a record that for whatever reason had a big impact on me thirty years ago – Marvin Gaye's Here My Dear a double-album released at the end of 1978.

                What I had nearly forgotten was the fact that the album was designed by Gaye and his attorney as part of a divorce settlement with his first wife (Berry Gordy's sister) Anna.  Ostensibly, because Marvin could not afford to pay alimony or child support he and his attorney came up with the concept of assigning the royalties from his next album  to his former spouse – and like the great artist he was, Marvin took the concept and ran with it.  Many artists have done "break-up" albums (David Allen Coe, Bob Dylan and Bryan Ferry come to mind) but Marvin Gaye traces the entire course of a relationship from beginning to painful end.  All of this is contained in one of the most over-the-top sleeve designs of the '70's.  The album also contains one of the great romantic couplets of all time:  "Somebody tell me please, why do I have to pay attorney's fees?".

                Marvin Gaye was a troubled soul but a genius whose career was tragically cut short.   His contributions to music are legendary; it is nice to be able to note his singular contribution to family law.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving Blog

I just looked up and realized that I have been back in my solo practice for 10 years this month. This follows 4 years where I was associated with a firm, 9 years before that when I was first in solo practice and about 6 years when I was in my first partnership with my friend Ken Levitan.  The last ten years have gone by in a blink of an eye. Seriously. It’s shocking to me that I have been in practice for 29 years. I have gone from being one of the young lawyers to being one of the old guys.

These last 10 years have been interesting, challenging and ultimately rewarding-although I don’t always acknowledge it.  A lot of the things that worked during my first years of solo practice no longer work. A lot of things work better. The traditional models of the entertainment world are gone. For a lot of artists, that’s a good thing. For everybody else, I think they are still feeling their way through this period of immense change; but it all feels really positive.

So, in the season of Thanksgiving I would like to sincerely give thanks to my clients, friends, family and other attorneys, all of whom have supported me while I try to continue the mission of this law practice—to help people deal with complicated issues both in and around the music business.  I want to get  better and smarter at doing this and I look forward to another 29 years.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Steve Weaver's Negotiating Exclusive Songwriting Agreements

I have been meaning for some time to write about my friend Steve Weaver’s book Negotiating Exclusive Songwriting Agreements.  This is not really meant to be a review because I am biased.  I reviewed Steve’s manuscript and was honored to write a blurb for the back of the book.

                What I said in my blurb is true.  There are so many worthless books on the music business and precious few books that tell you exactly what stuff means and how it works.  Steve’s book is a step-by-step analysis of an exclusive songwriting agreement,  meaning he analyzes each paragraph of the agreement from both the writer’s perspective and the publisher’s perspective and explains why each party asks for certain things and resists certain things.  This is really important information for anyone who is trying to get a handle on how these agreements are supposed to work.  One of the other things I said in my endorsement was that I wish this book had been available at the beginning of my career.   As a young lawyer, it really can be difficult figuring out how certain entertainment contracts are supposed to work and it can be difficult to know when you are asking for too much or too little. However, this book is not just for attorneys.  Anyone with more than a passing interest in music publishing can benefit from this book. The only other book that I have found as helpful as this is Randy Poe’s A Songwriter’s Guide to Music Publishing and I don’t know if it’s still in print.

                Steve has indicated that he hopes to write other books in this series “Entertainment Law Mentor” and I think he could do a great service  for the industry if he does write similar books on such topics as  recording agreements, producer agreements, manager agreements, etc.

                As Webb Wilder says “pick up on it.”. It’s available here as a Kindle edition: as well as in a physical format.