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BLOG: Do These 3 Things Before Signing Your First Deal

By February 25, 2015February 15th, 2016Blog

My name is Mark Maxwell and I’m an entertainment attorney in Nashville. I represent many young creative people, artists, songwriters, producers, record labels, managers and authors — all different types of people in the entertainment industry. I am also an Adjunct Professor at Belmont University. Prior to my law practice, I worked in A&R for a major record label for a decade. Overall, I’ve been involved in the music and entertainment industry for 30 years.

What is your day-to-day life like as an entertainment attorney?

I don’t do any litigation so I don’t spend any time in court. All my work is transactional — so that means I’m working with contracts, drafting and negotiating agreements. I’m helping people form new relationships. It’s an exciting season in a young person’s life to see those creative partnerships and relationships come together. I love that. I also love the aspect of my job that is about counseling a client. I spend a lot of time just helping people think through the business of what they are doing with their music. Asking — “Does this contract make sense or is there a better relationship somewhere else for you?” I invest a great deal of time with people, thinking through legal issues and then trying to document and draft and capture those issues and business goals in an agreement.

1. First off, the important thing to ask yourself is: “Is this a real deal?” “Is this really a valid contract?”

A lot of young people get caught up in the dreams of signing their first agreement and don’t really ask the hard questions about the people they are going to be working with. Is this a company that has real financial backing? Is it a company that actually has qualified people who work there that are experienced in marketing and developing artists or songwriters? Are the people at this company honest and trustworthy? A lot of young people get excited about a contract, but they don’t perform the full level of research needed concerning that company. You want to ask a lot of questions. You want to meet other writers and artists who have been signed there and ask them about the company and their reputation. You can’t adequately rely on the gold records on an office wall or what they’ve told you about themselves. You really need to find out about the company and figure out if they can really help you get from point A to point B. I always say “the people are more important than the paper.”

2. Secondly, if you have received a contract, you always want to have someone with music business experience review it with you.

You must hire an experienced entertainment attorney. Not just any attorney will do. At a bare minimum you need someone who’s involved in the music industry and understands contracts to a great degree. Even if it’s a one-page agreement and they tell you it’s “standard” or “customary” – there’s no such thing as standard or customary. You always want to have someone coach, walk you through it and make sure you understand exactly what you are agreeing to before you enter into any contract. As an entertainment attorney, I’ve spent countless hours trying to get young creative people out of contracts that they should have never entered in the first place. They always say “I wish I would have called you back when I signed this!” They end up spending much more money and time (plus heartache) trying to get out of a contract than what it would have cost them on the front end.

3. It is vital to understand what is customary in the industry regarding this particular contract.

Being able to know what is reasonable to negotiate, you really need an advocate who understands what’s been done historically with other companies and what’s typical. Unfortunately, there are a lot of predators in the music industry who take advantage of young artists. “Music Predators” are those that maybe once had a “little bit” of success and they propose an overreaching agreement that’s beyond what would be normal in the industry or an agreement that this person or company really does not have the ability or resources to reasonably fulfill.

For young people just starting in the music business, the financial weight of hiring an attorney might seem overwhelming – what is your advice for these people?

If you’re in a city with an abundance of music attorneys you can find someone to represent you. I represent lots of artists who cannot afford to pay me. You can always find attorneys that are qualified that still want to invest in young creative people if they really believe in their talent and think they’re someone worth investing in. It’s always worth asking. Often a qualified attorney will work at a price well below their normal rate.

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