Bulding up your music career Part 3: Finding a lawyer

So, you know what you want, you know you have it and did a lot of research. You already started, you have some gigs here and there, you make some money with music lessons, you work on your songs and they sound better, you started to have a positive feedback from your gigs… Now it’s time to make a plan and put together a strategy that you can use steady to further your career. Write the plan down. As a matter of fact, your plan has to address a few items:

-        Is there a “first thing” I need to do at this stage?

-        How can people find about you and what do you want them to know about it?

-        How can people listen and buy your music?

-        How can you communicate effectively with people, so you’re in control when building a fan base.

Some may argue that there isn’t a “first thing” you have to do. Don’t listen to them, listen to me, or later you’ll be sorry. The first thing to do is to get an attorney specialized in music business period. Try hard to find one that handles established artists playing your type of music. Ask around for referrals, check Music Business Directories like Recording Industry Sourcebook or National Association of Recording Industry Professionals, check if there any music business conferences in your area, usually you can find lawyers in the panels, do some online research. Make a short list, write down what your legal needs are – more about this further below – and contact them see which ones are willing to have an introductory meeting with you. Email or call, ask for a 15 min meeting, explain briefly who you are without hyping yourself.

At the meeting, do not expect them to go into details. You should ask a couple of things, like what percentage of his practice is music law, who else they represent, how many years they were in the business, what is their fee structure, how do they charge, on an hourly basis or percentage. An experienced lawyer will charge more, usually between 250 to 500 dollars per hour, however, this may be the cheaper avenue, as he dealt already with the issues many times, and you actually pay him to do the job instead of learning how to do it.

Be prepared to tell him that you will need his assistance in the following matters: before signing an agreement like your band agreement, before signing with a music publisher, before signing with a manager, before signing a record deal, before signing a licensing deal for your music or any royalties agreement. The word “before” is extremely important for your career, and, at the same time, the lawyer will understand that you’re serious about your career, that you understand how things are working and what are your expectations.

The right lawyer has a lot of connections, and can help you in your career. If you’re serious and talented and have a professional attitude, the right lawyer will be of great help. His communication skills are very important, as he will represent you, and you want him to do a good impression on people.

This first meeting is very important; like in any interview meeting you will or not like him, you will notice if he treats you like equal or talk you down, and ultimately, like in anything else, this is extremely important, to start on the right foot. It is of utmost importance to find out if the lawyer has what it takes to further your career: sometimes deals were sabotaged due to the lack of lawyer’s understanding that they have to move their client’s career ahead. An inexperienced lawyer in the music business may not know all the standard practices of the business, and that will cost you.

One thing to consider is smaller law firms versus large ones. They both have pros and cons. Usually the musicians prefer the smaller firms, they feel more comfortable with the atmosphere there. At the beginning of you career, a smaller firm is a better option; later, that may change, as larger law firms have a broad range of expertise (think about touring abroad, in countries where there are different visa requirements, or complicated financial issues, generated by licensing, royalties, taxes, etc).

Choosing a good lawyer is essential, as establishing a good working relation with him is. Take your time to do so, and be very careful; getting the right lawyer is a tremendous advantage, making your life – career and business ones - much easier.

Stay tuned,

Flo Fandango

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