Entertainment lawyers are a significant part of an artist’s team. They are specialized in legal issues surrounding the music industry. It’s a niche job for there’s a law degree between someone and this career but a lot of the same principles in the music industry apply to this job as well. Though this is a job that requires going to law school and getting formal training, people who are interested in becoming an entertainment lawyer need to vibe with the people in the music industry; that’s how they can actually navigate through the industry and be good at the job is the price of admission.
If you think of a band as a brand, the manager is the CEO, and the lawyer is the general counsel. Entertainment lawyers deal with the contracts & negotiations and provide legal advice to musicians. Therefore, they act as a general counsel to music-based clients. Moreover, based on their experience, a lawyer might suggest other options as a right fit for the business instead of just doing the contracts and pushing papers. They might become almost a consultant on some levels.
Skills Required to be an Entertainment Lawyer
As mentioned above, first of all, having formal training in law school is a must. An entertainment lawyer needs to build relationships because ultimately there are a lot of people that can grind a contract etc., however, an entertainment lawyer needs to be determined in their job. They need to be able to call the owner or the label and get them to change the provision, if necessary, that’s where the relationships come into play above and beyond the lawyering. An entertainment lawyer also needs to be a trusted person by their clients so that they can best represent them. If the entertainment lawyer doesn’t understand their client’s brand fundamentally, they can’t represent their interests.
Working Relations with the Artists
Most of the clients don’t quite understand the lawyering part of the industry to the extent that a lawyer does, so that’s why they hire an entertainment lawyer into their team. What they do understand, however, is when something gets wrong. For the artists, the results are what matters; if something happens and it wasn’t what they expected or wasn’t what they bargained for, or they’re in a bad position, it affects everyone. – This can be mirrored in other parts of the music industry whether it’s a tour manager or someone else in their team. People don’t notice all the good things; they just notice the results of it. It is important, for anyone in the music industry, that they get everything done right.
To improve the relationship between their clients, other than doing the job, an entertainment lawyer needs to connect with them. The relationship between the artist and the entertainment lawyer can become more than an attorney-client relationship blending into friendships. Talking to the artists in person, going to their shows, taking them to dinner, listening to their records, and telling them your opinions, or if they require something, a little extra counseling and doing favors can help grow the relationships.
Entertainment Lawyer Explained
Intellectual Property Law
Intellectual property is assets – it’s the trademarks and copyrights and patents that people own. Trademark is branding; copyright is the songs, movies, books, etc. These are the right to own something and to be able to determine who gets to use it and how it gets to be used in that exclusivity. It is the legal base of the reason why you could charge for a song or a stream, etc. Understanding the rules around intellectual property and working with them, therefore, is the intellectual property law.
What Does an Entertainment Lawyer Do?
An entertainment lawyer takes the intellectual property and makes deals with it. Once someone has certain rights in something, they are able to have a say on how it can be used and for how long. An international property lawyer lobbies congress, works on legislation, deals with litigation, disputes resolution, or just simply values what is something worth; somebody who is an entertainment lawyer, on the other hand, goes out and tries to find ways to exploit that property and makes deals with it.
Let’s make an example:
An artist/band hires an entertainment lawyer. Then what happens?
First of all, they need to set up a company and they need some kind of structure to protect them from liability. They’re going to register a trademark for their brand. If it’s more than one person, they need some sort of agreement amongst themselves about how it’s going to work.
They also do deals with the manager – the terms are who is going to be the manager, for how long, how much they’re going to get paid, what they are going to do that covers their job description, etc.
When it’s time to record songs, they’re going to work with a music producer. There could be side musicians and maybe featured guests. Then they’re going to do a record deal or a distribution deal to get the content out to the various DSP platforms. There needs to be merchandise, so they are going to need someone to create designs.
It’s now time to take the show on the road. They are going to make deals with the touring crew (tour managers, photographers, etc.) Maybe right along the way someone slips on the stage and breaks their arm, they need to handle that situation.
In addition, there could be copyright infringement cases. Someone might say that they have written the song the band is playing years ago. The entertainment lawyer then gets musicologists involved and get into serious litigation about whether this chord progression is too similar to that core progression or this melody copies from this thing. Or someone might say that they can’t call their band name this or that, or maybe the band has the Instagram name that someone was already associating with their name… And by the time they are done with all these, it’s time to go make another record.
To sum up, the entertainment lawyer deals with everything and everyone that an artist or a band is involved in to make sure they are on the right terms. Hereupon, the biggest liability in an entertainment lawyer’s career is time. Time is the most valuable source for them, and time management is highly important.
How Do Contracts Work?
If you want to present a contract to somebody else and you wonder if it needs to be drafted up by a lawyer or if it is enough to simply write the terms, here’s how it goes:
First of all, a legally enforceable contract requires essentially three things: you make an offer, somebody accepts that offer and there’s a mutual exchange of consideration. As long as there’s no fraud and you both are in the capacity to understand one another, you both know what you are agreeing to. You can manifest an intent to be legally bound whether with a thumbprint, a sign on a paper, etc. However, the law requires certain things to be in written form, and that’s the evidence to prove that you actually did agree with those terms. Anybody can draw up a contract, but you can get help from law students, or legal aid clinics, and if none of those free options are available, the internet might be a good resource for it.
- A lot of what you do is just really understanding who you are dealing with, and what the context is. These are not taught in law school, it’s literally just experience and you learn from the mistakes.
- If you want to get better in your job in this industry, the better understanding you have of the big picture makes it easier to navigate and move forward.
- Just find whatever you are interested in and immerse yourself in that, be awesome at that. “Do what you love” might be a cliché but it is true.
- As a crew member, you might be wondering when you need a contract with people that you’re working with. A lot of times, an email is enough. However, if there’s a huge amount of money at stake, you might want to treat it differently.