Sooner or later, as a music artist, if you want to start partnering with legitimate people, companies, and opportunities, you’ll need a written agreement or contract. In fact, the absence of a written agreement when an opportunity to work with producers, managers, or other entities arises, can often be a big red flag. And unless you’re a lawyer, or you’re comfortable with the language and meaning of a contract you’re reading, then you may need one to review it.
But that’s when the trouble can begin.
Legal agreements and contracts are ultimately a good thing. But getting through one can be a dreadful process. In my experience, having an attorney can be a valuable asset in writing and reviewing these agreements. But by valuable, I mean necessary. Unfortunately, due to the very nature of their job, attorneys don’t always have your best interest at heart. So it’s up to you to make sure your attorney knows what your best interests are. They work for you- not the other way around.
Conflict Of Interest?
But here’s where it gets sticky. The job of your attorney is to protect you and give you legal advice. It’s a noble position and I have a lot of respect for that. Typically though, an attorney makes money by charging their clients hourly or by retainer. But the thing that keeps the meter running for any legal negotiation is conflict. So although an attorney will never come right out and admit that the more adversarial a negotiation is, the more money they’ll make, that’s the truth. This, ironically, can create a ‘conflict of interest’ between you and your attorney. The more conflict in your negotiation, the more your lawyer charges you.
Which leads me to my next observation. Attorneys tend to be deal killers, not deal makers. Making a deal or settling an agreement takes a certain level of trust. In fact, I like to believe that any written agreement is only as good as the level of trust between the two parties that enter into it. And trust requires a certain amount of risk. Attorneys don’t like risk. In fact, the whole premise of being an attorney is to mitigate risk and protect you as a client. But if you never take any risks then you will never be successful. Think about it; if you’re an attorney and you say ‘no’ to every possible opportunity, then you never have to risk being wrong, by advising in favor of an opportunity that might not work out up to your client’s expectations.
In defense of our fine legal friends, it’s not an easy job having to play devil’s advocate all of the time. Imagine always having to be the person that rains on someone’s parade when they’re excited about some new opportunity that could lead to, at least in the music business, the manifestation of their dreams. Certainly, having that mindset over the course of a legal career can create an attitude that can struggle to be the life of a party, let alone be the voice of empowerment and encouragement for an artist trying to navigate a difficult career path.
Advise Your Advisor
The takeaway here is to know the value of your legal advisors. They’re there to help you despite the dynamic involved. When I was a young artist, I used to think that my music business attorney was the best contact I had in the industry. But after a while, I realized that almost every attorney that I came across would take a negative position on opportunities. And the more successful creative people I met in the industry also shared a similar sentiment with me. To this day, I come across promising emerging talent that passes up the opportunity to have experienced partners on their team, because they’re surrounded with legal advisors that keep emphasizing the negative possibilities without equally addressing the positive ones. I even had an attorney once respond and say that they were going to “argue” a “typo” as some evidence of inconsistency with the negotiation. Ridiculous. It turns out that this lawyer was previously a criminal defense attorney that was now inexplicably also representing entertainment artists. You can’t make this stuff up. Needless to say, the artist lost out on an amazing opportunity to further their career because of a poor choice of counsel.
The truth is that no one succeeds alone. Trust your gut feeling about the people you’re thinking about working with. Do your homework. Talk to them. Do they have legitimate credits? Have they worked with artists you’ve heard of? Do they explain their process and intentions clearly. Ask questions.
Attorneys love to scare people with endless negative scenarios of, what I endearly refer to as “what ifs”. “What if this goes wrong?”.. Or “what if that goes wrong?” “What if something better is around the bend?”
My advice is to advise your attorney. Sometimes the thing that will help your attorney advise you best is when you advise them about how you feel about an opportunity. When my attorney asks “What if it goes wrong?”, I like to ask, “But what if it goes right?”