Thursday, November 15, 2018

Aretha, Prince and the Simple Need for Estate Planning

I was not especially surprised to learn that Aretha Franklin died without a will. It's becoming a common occurrence and  I sort of expected the Queen of Soul to live forever .I bet she did too.  I knew that Aretha was divorced and had four sons, all adults – so the division of her assets seemed straightforward to me.  But then I read that one of her sons might have special needs and that Ms. Franklin had a long-term companion whom she apparently made no provision for.  
I hate to say it  but this is irresponsible.  An artist like Aretha Franklin, with a sizable estate and a royalty income stream that will carry on for years should have had an estate plan – at the very least a simple will and a special needs trust if one was warranted.  As the New York Timesnoted , she could have set up a revocable trust, avoided the probate process and accomplished an ideal distribution of her property.  I have been reading a great deal about the Prince estate – he also died without a will – and it seems like his income is going to  lawyers and the IRS instead of his heirs (perhaps not having a surviving spouse or a living child he didn't care – who knows?). 

I am constantly preaching the need for estate planning and this is especially true for artists, songwriters, princes and queens.  Don’t put this stuff off. 

Monday, November 5, 2018


To My Clients:

I wanted to thank you for your continued support as I enter my 35th year of practicing law. I still remember driving down to the Board of Law Examiners on Church Street with my friend Ken Levitan  when they used to post the names of those who passed the Bar Exam  on a certain October day.  I think we were both a little surprised and very relieved. This is a very different business than the one I entered back in 1983 but I continue to be intrigued by the practice and the opportunity to be of service to my clients.

As a way of trying to show gratitude for the past thirty five  years of practice, I am offering  a complimentary document review for any of my clients who might want to review older contracts such as old record deals or  publishing agreements, licenses, trademarks – you name it.   If you were wondering what an agreement meant but didn’t  want to spend the money to find out—this is your opportunity. If this is of interest to you, just let me know.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Bitcoin, blockchain and Is Code Law?

I probably  know  less than my dog about bitcoin and block chain technology.  Like Nick Paumgarten says in his recent New Yorkerarticle, "The Stuff Dreams are Made Of," "I'd ideally hoped I might be just old enough to make it to my deathbed without having to get up to speed."  But I really did want to try and understand blockchain technology and what the hell  everybody else in the world seemed to comprehend except me. For a primer, I read Paumgarten's article.  He does a good job of explaining the concepts and the players involved. 

However, the most interesting part of the article to me was his description of something called the Decentralized Autonomous Organization, defined as "A crowd sourced venture fund, a way of using smart contracts to cut out traditional venture capitalists, reduce fees, and give access to regular civilians who contribute 'ether' (i.e. cryptocurrency) and vote on which projects to invest in."  The author tells us that within weeks of launching,  the site was hacked and that investors lost their money - it simply vanished (literally into the ether). 

This set up an ethical debate: could or should the people behind the fund reverse the transactions to restore the investors to their funds - or would this be "a violation of the principle that blocks must remain immutable?" In the terrestrial  world this would be an obvious crime. 

Then the article gets really interesting:

            We were all wondering is code law?  What is code?  What is law? What is the covenant?    It was almost epistemological.  We were a bunch of computer geeks way out of our       depth.  

I thought about this for hours.  We really are witnessing the creation of a whole new society and a new set of laws to govern that society.  This is a world that exists without traditional concepts of jurisdiction.  It is easy to lump this into a discussion of the internet, social media , Russian hackers and all of the other inventions that have morphed into something we could not have comprehended.  But I really believe that this might be the beginning of something entirely unique and it does give us an opportunity to watch laws develop.

However, I still don’t get the allure of bitcoin. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Happy Birthday Blog

Today marks  the 10th Anniversary of my little blog. I have had a lot of fun researching and writing these posts over the past decade and I have had some really interesting interactions as a result of the blog. I do feel that  I have neglected the blog
recently due to the demands of my practice and life events but I intend to remedy that. I have a bunch of things that I want to write about.

Anyway..thanks for reading!

Trip Aldredge

Sawnie R. Aldredge
Aldredge Law
P.O. Box 120713
Nashville, Tennessee 37212

Photo by from Pexels

Tuesday, September 4, 2018


The Nashville Business Journal recently reported that Nashville has seen the greatest cost of living increase in the entire United States citing a study that showed that it takes a salary of $70,150.00 to live "comfortably" in the city.  At the same time, Rolling Stonemagazine just reported that the median U.S. musician earns less than $25,000.00 a year.  

None of this is news to a struggling musician or songwriter--or anyone who has had to pay for parking recently in downtown Nashville.

It does however drive home so many important points.  The people who have been spreading the gospel of the need for affordable housing in Nashville have been saying this for years.  How can a city which depends so heavily upon  its vibrant music scene continue to attract musicians and songwriters if they can't afford to live here? 

 More to the point, I think that these statistics say volumes about the devaluation of music in general. 

I originally wrote this blog post with an ending that suggested several solutions-but honestly musicians and songwriters will figure it out. Scenes develop where the conditions are right, be that Liverpool, Austin, Texas, Athens, Georgia, Portland, Oregon or Memphis. However, as a city, Nashville will have to decide what it wants to be-long after the tall skinny houses collapse, Music Row becomes one large  condo/hotel development and the bridesmaids and pedal taverns leave town. 

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Civil Procedure: He Went To Jared's

Like many people I know I have been fixated upon the Trump Russia scandal, devouring the news in a way that I haven't done since I was a teenage paperboy during the Watergate era. I have become fascinated with some of the minutiae of the story.  I could spend hours reading up on Michael Cohen and Michael Avenatti and their respective law practices.   

            But the story that resonates with me this week involves the lawyers for the Democratic National Committee and their problems serving a summons on Jared Kushner in the case Democratic National Committee v. The Russian Federation et al..  While Kushner's lawyers say that he is "easy to find" (apparently since he works at the White House), DNC lawyers have stated in court that they have tried to serve the summons three times at Kushner's New York apartment, that the Secret Service has rebuked their attempts to serve him in Washington (what issues does that raise?) and that their attempts to serve him by certified mail have literally been returned.  

            I think that this was interesting enough to go back and review the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and see what they say about service of process of a summons in a lawsuit:

FRCP 4(e) SERVING AN INDIVIDUAL WITHIN A JUDICIAL DISTRICT OF THE UNITED STATES. Unless federal law provides otherwise, an individual—other than a minor, an incompetent person, or a person whose waiver has been filed—may be served in a judicial district of the United States by: 
(1) following state law for serving a summons in an action brought in courts of general jurisdiction in the state where the district court is located or where service is made; or 
(2) doing any of the following:
(A) delivering a copy of the summons and of the complaint to the individual personally;
(B) leaving a copy of each at the individual’s dwelling or usual place of abode with someone of suitable age and discretion who resides there; or 
 (C) delivering a copy of each to an agent authorized by appointment or by law to receive service of process.

 All lawyers have war stories about the occasional difficulties of getting a summons or subpoena served.  It is one of the many things they don't tell you about in law school. It's a small but important detail that can derail an entire lawsuit.  I have had to come up with ingenious ways to get people served on numerous occasions.  

It does seem strange that an individual as high profiled as Jared Kushner would go to such great lengths to avoid getting served with process was surprised that the Judge did not give the DNC  some relief if in fact the allegations they made regarding service is true. The Judge denied the motion to allow service of proves by first class mail (at least for now) stating “ Service (of process) is not intended to be a game for the serving party or the party to be served” adding “the Court is confident that the DNC’s counsel can contact Kushner’s counsel; and arrange a mutually convenient mans to effectuate service”. Given what we have seen so far, this will be interesting. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Coming Attractions

I was recently in Havana, Cuba. A friend pointed out this poster for an upcoming gig by the Baquestri-Bois. I started thinking about all of the trademark implications until I remembered, oh're in Cuba.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Heinz Geissler

I wanted to write something about my friend Heinz Geissler, who passed away in January.  I first met Heinz through Townes and Jeanene Van Zandt and soon began helping him with a small record company that he and John Kunz ran in Austin, Texas:  Watermelon Records.  Within a few years I was handling agreements for an amazing roster of artists ranging from Alejandro Escovedo, Julian Dawson, the Austin Lounge Lizards and the Asylum Street Spankers,  Omar and the Howlers, the Derailers, Bob Neuwirth, Doug Sahm, the great Don Walser, Steve Young and many, many more.  I also worked on a deal to get Watermelon to release two of my favorite Webb Wilder album "Town and Country" and "Acres of Suede". Heinz and John built a great record company.

Working with Watermelon I had  an opportunity to learn the inner workings of independent labels – the good and the bad.  I got to work on a multifaceted distribution agreement with a major label  (while in Russia adopting my daughter). I enjoyed some of the best meals of my life in Austin . I also learned more than I ever wanted to know about bankruptcy law.   

At the end of the day, I just remember how much I enjoyed my nearly daily phone calls with Heinz.  We would deal with whatever business was going on that day and then invariably start talking about music – and Heinz was the world's biggest fan – from talking about the Stones (he loved the Mick Taylor era) Paul Kossoff, Neil Young bootlegs, Jackson Browne – the guy was an authority.  To this day I remember him saying in his thick German accent "that's really cool". More than anything, I will miss his enthusiasm.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Attack of the Holograms

"When Maria Callas appeared on stage . . . on Sunday night, she looked a little pale, a little spectral."  That is how Anthony Tommasin (writing in the New York Times) described witnessing a hologram performance of the diva at Lincoln Center.  The real Callas has been dead since 1977.  It used to be that the only hologram we had to contend with was Princess Leia seeking help from Obi-Wan Kenobi.  There is now a new phenomena to utilize this technology to create concert performances of deceased stars.  To date there have been hologram performances from Tupac Shakur, Michael Jackson, Ronnie James Dio and now Maria Callas.  Mojo reports that a hologram Roy Orbison is about to tour the United Kingdom and that the Frank Zappa estate is about to send Frank out on tour with some of his old band members performing live.
            I find this really creepy for the most part.  It is interesting that Tommasin does not completely dismiss the Callas experience stating "it was amazing yet also absurd, strangely captivating, yet also gimmicky and ridiculous," going on to state that opera fans tend to dwell in the past thus indicating that this sort of performance might appeal to them more than other audiences.  My worry is that as our contemporary heroes age and die off will the hologram industry rise to fill the void.  Could Paul McCartney be preparing a hologram version of himself to send out on tour?   - - - Probably.  Will the hologram develop artificial intelligence (wait that's another blog).

            All of this made me begin to wonder about the rights that artists traditionally give up when signing record contracts.  Usually there is some limited assignment of name, image and likeness rights and the rights to control video recordings made during the term but could this be considered to be a grant of rights that would encompass holographic images of the artist long after the term (and the artist) expires?  Obviously the artists who have leverage don't need to be concerned with these boilerplate clauses necessarily but this is something that is certainly going to be on my radar going forward.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Steely Dan: Can't Buy/Sell a Thrill

In my last blog post, I wrote about the sad developments which led to Donald Everly being in litigation with the Estate of his late brother Phil Everly.  No less depressing is the recent California lawsuit:  Steely Dan, Inc. and Donald Fagen v. the Estate of Walter Becker.  This case filed in November 2017 is interesting because it shows the complex interworkings of corporate law, probate law and band dynamics. 

All musical groups function as a business entity and music lawyers are always trying to get their clients to recognize this and take steps to organize themselves properly, be it as a partnership, corporation or limited liability company.  Apparently the original members of Steely Dan recognized this back in 1972 when they signed their first record contract.  At that time they formed a corporation, Steely Dan, Inc. with five shareholders (Fagan, Becker, James Hodder, Dennis Dias and Jeff Baxter).  The individual shareholders also entered into a Buy/Sell agreement which provided that upon the death or termination of the corporation's employment of a shareholder, the corporation would be entitled to purchase that shareholder's shares of stock in the corporation at book value (as opposed to fair market value)/  The Buy/Sell agreement is a widely used tool in closely-held business corporations used to maintain control amongst the original shareholders and avoid outsiders becoming shareholders. It allows the original shareholders the ability to purchase the interests from the estate of a deceased or terminated shareholder so that the business can continue without having to necessarily deal with relatives of former members.  The Buy/Sell agreement is a widely used tool for musical groups because it lays out a procedure to follow when a band member quits the band.  Departures can be contentious and it is helpful to have a procedure in place to navigate the split.  Clearly the Steely Dan Buy/Sell agreement was fairly successful in that it stayed in place for 45 years and weathered all of the various personnel changes resulting in  Becker and Fagen being the only remaining original members.  But few groups become as successful as Steely Dan.  The graver issue (but one which will sadly become more commonplace) is that more and more band members of these iconic bands of the 1960s and 1970s will die – triggering various corporate mechanisms designed to protect the entities but not necessarily designed to deal with dead rock stars and their estates. 

Daniel Scott,  writing in Forbes pointed out the problems with using the traditional corporate devices to deal with the unique situations of musical groups and their "legacy plans".  He states: 

While this may work for more traditional businesses, Buy/Sell agreements do not work well in a band setting.  First there is the issue of value.  Ordinarily a Buy/Sell agreement applies a formula to determine the fair market value of the deceased owner's interests.  The problem is, valuing what a band is worth is hardly a science and has been the subject of much debate in recent years, particularly when it comes to the value of rights such as likeness and image (as opposed to just sound recordings and publishing.)  This could result in a significant undervaluing of the deceased member's interests. 

Purely as an equitable  matter,  it would seem that Becker’s estate  would be entitled to something for the 45 years of work he put into the band (that is, in addition to record royalties and publishing royalties which we assume are not part of this agreement. On the other  hand, there was and is a good reason to create these kind of documents to deal with the mercurial natures of rock and roll bands.

I doubt that this case will go all the way to trial but I bet that one major result of the dispute will be to cause those who advise musical groups, especially those with long track records, to reevaluate their governing documents.