What do music lawyers do?

June 28, 2011

Dear Music Lawyer,

What services do music lawyers provide?


Dear Joel,

Music lawyers typically fall into one of two types - courtroom lawyers (litigators) and non-courtroom lawyers (transactional lawyers).

Litigators are needed when you are sued or when you want to sue someone. Most music litigators handle court cases involving copyright infringement or contract disputes.

Transactional lawyers, on the other hand, try to set things up to avoid disputes. It's the whole strategy of "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." A well-drafted agreement between parties will help you avoid the courtroom or protect you if you get sued.

When should you consider consulting a transactional lawyer?

  • you are a manager, booking agent or producer that needs a contract with an artist
  • you need to formalize your internal band agreement (e.g., expenses, song splits, voting rights)
  • you receive a contract for use of your song(s) in a film, commercial, videogame, app, etc.
  • you need to register your copyrights (songs, recordings) or trademarks (band name, logo)
  • you are a musician or band who wants to form a publishing company
  • you need help affiliating with ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, or SoundExchange
  • you find out someone is using the same band name
  • you discover that someone is using your song without permission
  • you want to cover someone else's song on your record
  • you want to get out of a bad deal
  • you need an exit agreement with a band member who is fired or quits
  • you have a record label interested in signing you and/or your band
  • you want to use someone else's music on your website
  • you want to use someone else's music in a video
  • you co-wrote a song and want to establish your rights to freely exploit the song
  • you teach music lessons and need a services contract with your students
  • you perform at weddings and need a performance contract
  • you are running a festival and need contracts with the performers
  • you want to have live music performed at a nontraditional venue
  • you commissioned artwork for your album cover or merch and need to make sure you have all the rights you need to use the artwork

Unfortunately, a lot of literature suggests that transactional music lawyers are most useful in getting bands signed to labels. While this may have been true 10+ years ago, most music lawyers I know do not offer general label-shopping services because labels are simply not signing as many bands these days.

TIP: I encourage you to be wary of any lawyer that promises you a record contract in exchange for a shopping fee. If the lawyer will "shop" any record from any band that pays him/her a fee, then chances are the record labels would not value that attorney's submissions very much.

—Amy E. Mitchell

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