16 Mar Artists: Stop Signing Deals Without A Lawyer! Here’s Why
As an entertainment lawyer, every week I get calls from artists asking if I can get them out of a bad deal, and every time I ask them the same question: “Why didn’t you call me before you signed?”
Just because you signed a bad deal or decided you no longer like the person on the other end of it, doesn’t automatically entitle you to walk away and recover your rights. It costs a lot more time, money and heartache to try to clean up a mess after-the-fact than to hire a lawyer to help prevent one in the first place.
I’ve heard every excuse as to why an artist didn’t hire a lawyer before they signed a deal, and today I’m going to debunk the most common ones.
“The other guy had a lawyer, so I didn’t think I needed one too.”
It’s very important to understand the other guy’s lawyer is not your lawyer! For example, consider when a record label offers an artist a record deal – the lawyer for the record label is not looking out for the artist’s best interests, but rather the best interests of the record label. Their lawyer’s job is also not to construct a “fair” deal (given that “fair” is a subjective term); instead, her job is to construct a deal that works best for her client. In fact, one strategy lawyers often employ is to skew an initial offer significantly in their client’s favor with the expectation that the deal points will be negotiated down. If an artist simply agrees to the first offer, he puts himself at an enormous disadvantage by waiving his right to legal counsel and failing to negotiate.
“The other guy and I were friends, so I never thought he’d try to screw me over.”
Altruism and capitalism rarely go together, and even though the entertainment industry has a “feel good” quality to it, the business side of it is no different than any other industry – everyone is out to get his or her own proverbial piece of the pie, to protect their own investments, and to secure the best position for themselves. No one is going to protect you except you and your lawyer! Unfortunately, it’s common for artists in particular to be misled by both well- and ill-intentioned people who convince the artists they can make their wildest dreams come true. My motto is always trust but verify, and one of the best ways to verify an offer is to hire a lawyer to scrutinize it for you.
“I couldn’t afford an attorney at the time.”
Consider the possibility that you can’t afford not to hire an attorney. If you think legal advice is expensive before signing a contract, wait until you see the price tag afterward when you’re trying to get out of it (assuming that’s even possible). There are many options for financing legal representation. For example, my firm offers monthly payment plans with a fifty percent down payment. Another approach is to ask the opposing party to cover your legal costs, and you can reimburse them from your future earnings under the deal. I also recommend all artists start a savings account as soon as possible for legal representation and other necessary costs of doing business. You have to spend money to make money, and legal advice is a good investment of your resources. Worst case scenario is you take out a loan or line of credit to finance legal advice, which may not be ideal, but it may be preferable to going it alone and risking your entire career.
“They told me the contract was standard and non-negotiable, and they needed an answer right away.”
Generally speaking, there’s no such thing as a standard or non-negotiable deal in the entertainment industry, nor should any contract ever be signed under pressure. Any contract worth entering into can wait for you to consult with an attorney first. Every contract I work on is carefully tailored to each individual client’s needs, so there’s really no “one size fits all.” If anyone ever tries to intimidate you into signing a deal quickly, or is unwilling to negotiate, that’s probably a sign you shouldn’t work with that person.
“I didn’t want to scare the other person by hiring a lawyer.”
Hiring an entertainment lawyer is never a bad thing – it’s a sign that you’re a professional to be taken seriously and not to be taken advantage of. Any respectable professional in the entertainment industry will not only not object to you hiring a lawyer, they will expect you to. And they’ll respect you for it. Also, chances are, if the other party offers you a contract, they probably hired a lawyer to draft it for them (hopefully they did!), so why shouldn’t you hire a lawyer to review it?
When it comes to contracts, an entertainment lawyer’s job is really two-fold: (1) to help the client understand the offer and (2) to help the client negotiate the offer. And sometimes it’s not just what’s in the contract you have to worry about, but what’s not in the contract! A lawyer who specializes in entertainment industry contracts will have the knowledge and experience to know what to look for and how to help an artist get the best deal possible.
Beth B. Moore, Esq. is an entertainment lawyer at The Beth B. Moore Law Firm based in Atlanta, Georgia. Beth specializes in copyrights, trademarks, contracts, and general business consultation for clients who work in music, film, television, theater, gaming, literature, web development and other creative arts industries. You can reach Attorney Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org.