We ordinarily turn to attorneys only after we have fallen into a legal quagmire. As Christian musicians we serve Christ, but there are definitely secular rules to the game.
Yes, attorneys are expensive. However, if you are writing music which could get you recognition and income, you better have a plan. Many artists fail to address simple issues, which if addressed up front and in writing, can avoid litigation over a successful endeavor. An attorney can help fill in the blanks and solidify each songwriter or band member’s position and expectations.
Some common issues include:
· Who owns the name of the band?
· Is the name protected by trademark?
· What is the percentage of ownership for each song?
· How are future payment and royalties divided, and does it change if a member leaves the band?
· What about merchandising?
· If you have a manager, do you really want to sign that contract without legal consultation?
The two biggest mistakes musicians make are spending too little protecting themselves legally and not knowing where to go, according to James Randolph (Randy) Smith, a Nashville attorney.
Last week I discussed opportunities with TAXI , a company which finds musicians opportunities in the music, film and television industry.
I asked Smith about copyrights, specifically about the “Poor Man’s Copyright.” It’s a method which an artist records a song and mails it to themselves. They keep it sealed, and reply upon the postmark to validate an estimated time of conception.
Smith said a song is protected by copyright at the point of creation or completion. Registration is voluntary. However, you lose certain rights of protection if you do not file the proper paperwork. Each song should be individually protected. You should file a Form PA on the song and lyrics, and Form SR on the sound recording for a finished CD or song when it’s ready for market.
Smith further stated he believes that the copyright office is the most helpful of any federal agency. They are experts willing to guide you through the paperwork. They can assist you with all the forms and explain the correct form needed for your situation. However, the paperwork is only part of the process. They will not provide legal advice.
If you are seeking a music attorney, you do not need to look locally. Many artists and managers use attorneys who have location and contacts. Smith said he has clients from all over the country, not just Nashville.
Smith also works frequently with band managers. A manager will usually work to get an artist a recording contract. Most managers’ contracts are short term, usually 12 to 18 months long. The good news, Smith said, is that even though the manager has sought the services of an attorney, the attorney represents the artist, regardless of the agreement between the artist and manager. Therefore, Smith said, anytime you have a manager working with an attorney, he is representing your best interest.
It is important to research a manager before signing a contract, to know their specific plan and their attorney.
Editor’s note: This is the fourth installment of Abbie Stancato’s series “So You Wanna Be a Star?” looking at the inner workings of the music business. Next week Abbie will discuss when it’s a good time to find a manager and what can you expect.