Songmine: What a Record Company Needs to Know – Part 6: Attorneys by John Braheny

A John Braheny Songmine column from the archives…

Songmine: What a Record Company Needs to Know - Part 5: The Professional Team by John Braheny

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Songmine: What a Record Company Needs to Know: Part 6: Attorneys
by John Braheny

In my assumed role as the record company, I will frequently be approached by attornies with pro-duct. This is happening more and more these days. Since attornies are negotiating many contracts with record companies, they have made good contacts at the labels and find themselves in a position to know if and when a company is looking for a certain type of act. Since they have an inside track, it’s easier for them to shop the product than, for exam-ple, an out manager or a new one who doesn’t know his/her way around yet,

From the record company’s point of view, I’d rather deal with an entertainment attorney,, in par-ticular a record business attorney. When he/she comes to me or my company to negotiate a deal, they MUST speak the language and have up to date knowledge of current record industry practices. If not, we will wind up engaged in hours of fruitless negotiations and will end up having to educate your attorney (at your expense). As an example, you’re presented with a production or record contract and you call your uncle, whose specialty is suing auto manufacturers, Right off the bat, he should refer you to an entertain-ment specialist but suppose„husi-ness is slow this month. He knows there are a lot of bucks in the music industry; he has visions of his nephew being a big rock star; he thinks it would be great to get involved in a more glamourous business and figures, “What the hell, how hard could it be to negotiate a record contract?”. He gets the contract and the first thing he objects to is the fact that this big record company wants all recording costs recouped off the top of your royalties. He thinks it’s a terrible idea and, not knowing that it’s a firmly established practice in the industry, decides he should try to negotiate that point, exposing his ignorance. The record company attornies will either refuse to nego-tiate with him at all or will eat him alive for breakfast.

Needless to say, none of this helps you at all, Entertainment law is very complex and just knowing the academics is not enough to make one a good attorney in that field, Personal experience, good contacts (politics) and a current knowledge of industry practices as well as a knowledge of the policies and contracts of specific record companies is equally important. As a record company, I want to deal with an attorney whose philosophy is that the best deal is the one that comes closest to being fair for both parties. Obviously, I’ll negotiate for my own advantage, but if that means that it’s unfair to you, I know I’m going to have problems with you later and that you won’t be happy with the deal.

Getting away from my record company role for a moment, let’s just talk about some situations that can arise in attorney/artist rela-tionships. Attornies in this field are expensive and fees range from $50 (not many) to $150 plus per hour. They’ll log all the time spent on your behalf on the telephone, in meetings with you, with the record company, or whatever, and bill you for just that time. There are attornies who, in lieu of an hourly rate, will offer to shop your tapes and negotiate your deal for, say, 10% of your income from that contract for the life of the deal. This may, on the surface, seem like a good deal, particularly if you’re broke. You should consider, how-ever, that maybe in a couple of months you’ll become, for whatever reasons, disenchanted with your relationship and want to get another attorney. That will mean you’ll then be paying two attornies, and that’s 10% of your income that you might have a better use for, partic-ularly if you acquire a manager who may take another 25%. I’m not saying that under no circumstances should you take a deal like that, only that it’s risky.

Attornies sometimes work on spec, or deferment, which means that they’ll defer payment until they’ve made a deal for you and collect’ their fees from the front money. They’re most likely to do this if a producer or record company has shown enough interest in you to present you with a contract, or if they have good ears and feel you’ve really got a good shot at a deal.

Previously in the Songmine Collection:

About Songmine and Music Connection Magazine:

John Braheny met Eric Bettelli and Michael Dolan right before they were going to publish Music Connection magazine. Eric and Michael wanted to get their publication out to as many songwriters as they could. They had already heard of the LA Songwriters Showcase, and of John and his partner, Len Chandler. John’s goal was to advertise the schedule of guest speakers and performers at the weekly Showcase… so they made a deal. 

They published John’s Songmine column (he had never before written a magazine article!) in their very first edition, in November 1977. Trading out the column for advertising, this arrangement continued for many years. Plus, Eric and Michael came to the Showcase each week and distributed free copies to the songwriters!

Those articles became so popular that (book agent and editor) Ronny Schiff offered John’s articles to F&W Media, where they became the backbone of John’s textbook, The Craft and Business of Songwriting. As a follow-up, Dan Kimpel (author, songwriter, teacher), who had also worked at LASS, took on the Songwriting column at Music Connection magazine which continues to this day! You can subscribe to get either hard copies or online.


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