TakeNote’s recent installment, Fight For Your Rights, featured four entertainment lawyers from a variety of backgrounds and a mosaic of industry experiences. This particular event drew a large crowd of music industry professionals and aspiring musicians who had questions about when it was necessary to contact a lawyer and why legal agreements are important to make. The panelists included:
- Coy Martin, Head of Business Affairs at New West Records
- Farrah Usmani, Senior Associate at Marcus & Colvin
- Jeff Colvin, Partner at Marcus & Colvin, and
- Kevin Thomson, Partner at Thomson Gabriele & Ollunga
Throughout the course of the night, two themes ran like undercurrents as the conversation unfolded; the importance of relationships and understanding legal agreements. When asked why it was important to have legal agreements in the music industry, all panelists agreed that regardless of the industry, agreements are important because you and another person are doing business and handling money. Coy Martin summed it up best when he said, “When you’re gonna take someone’s money to conduct business, you need to understand all of the issues involved in that. I’ve known amazingly creative people who have the ability to create a business, but don’t surround themselves with people who want to see that come to fruition. Things can eventually become messy.”
Monetizing your art is a necessary evil, especially when other people are involved. Farrah Usmani emphasized how, as an entertainment lawyer, she wants her clients to know their rights and how they relate to other creatives because, like marriage, it’s an intimate process. Knowing the basic terms and agreements for all parties involved saves future heartache, and allows room for more fun and creativity once those issues are discussed. For your convenience, SoundCorps made a band member contract template you can find here.
So we’ve determined that yes, legal agreements are important. They determine who gets credit for artistic contributions and define the pay split. But at what point do people need to start paying an attorney to create or negotiate these agreements? Kevin Thomson, who has experience (both formerly and currently) as a manager, producer, and attorney with Bad Boy Entertainment in New York City mentioned from his experience working with artists one–on–one that if you don’t entirely understand an agreement you’re given, you need to consult a professional. He has noticed that artists tend to focus on the specific numbers (especially related to money) in a contract but fail to read the vast majority of the words in the contract until it’s too late. Hiring an attorney will help you, because that’s what they’re paid to do: pay close attention to detail.
He also emphasized the importance of building relationships in this industry. Later that night, Kevin said, “This a relationship business. These relationships come into your life at different times and you won’t know when those will become important. What I’ve noticed with younger artists is that they want immediate results. It takes longer than that. My career as a lawyer has thrived because I’ve built it over the years. Every person you meet could impact your life significantly.” This echoes the message that Mike Dougher shared in his interview with SoundCorps in May; when you invest in people beyond what benefits they may bring you, your career becomes more personal and valuable.
The attorneys we brought in have had the experience of working with musicians at every stage of their careers and many TakeNote attendees made valuable connections that will hopefully pay off big for Chattanooga’s music scene. With the right amount of research and communication of your needs, you too can find a professional who fits your price range and helps solidify the legal details of your career.