Entertainment, Sports & Leisure Law

Legal Concerns for Music and Recording Artists

Key Takeaways:

  • Lawyers who represent musicians and performing artists have a duty to act in the best interests of their clients.
  • A lawyer can negotiate contracts and many other types of agreements for their clients. 
  • Lawyers for recording artists can take contract disputes to court to make sure musicians receive compensation.

It can take years of blood, sweat, and tears before finally making it big enough to get a recording contract as a musician. Unfortunately, a recording contract or performance agreement does not necessarily mean you will make much money. The music industry tries to maintain as much control and power over songwriters and their sound recordings.

Before entering into any contract, get legal advice if you have questions about legal issues involving musical works and record companies. A lawyer who represents music and recording artists can help you negotiate an artist agreement to protect your intellectual property and get compensation for your work.

What Do Music and Recording Artist Lawyers Do?

Music lawyers are generally active in transactional work or litigation. Transactional work in music generally means drafting and negotiating agreements and contracts. Musician agreements can involve any marketable aspects of an artist’s career, including:

  • Music
  • Recordings
  • Licensing
  • Live performances

Having a music lawyer represent you in negotiating contracts can help avoid problems down the line. This can ensure fair compensated for your work, even if the other party backs out. When there is a problem, your lawyer can take the legal dispute to court.

Music industry litigation involves resolving legal disputes in court. Litigation and dispute resolution in the music industry can include:

  • Breach of contracts
  • Violating licensing agreements
  • Intellectual property rights theft
  • Copyright infringement

Is a Music Lawyer Different From an Agent?

A music lawyer is different from an agent. An agent or music agency represents the artist to negotiate deals and performances. Part of the role of an agent is to act like an employment agency, acting as the front line to make deals on behalf of artists. In exchange, the agent gets a commission, usually a payment percentage.

A music lawyer can represent musicians in any legal dispute. This includes litigating breach of contract claims for endorsement deals, filing civil lawsuits for damages, or stopping other musicians from using protected recordings without making royalty payments. Entertainment lawyers can also give musicians legal advice, which an agent cannot do if they are not also a licensed attorney.

Music attorneys generally don’t take their attorney’s fees as a commission. Instead, music attorneys charge by hourly billing, retainer fees, or fixed-fee agreements.

Lawyers also have an ethical duty to their clients. Lawyers have a fiduciary duty and duty of confidentiality to their music industry clients. A lawyer must act in your best interests. An agent may act in their own interests to get the most money from a commission.

When Do Musicians Need an Entertainment Lawyer?

Some musicians only think of needing legal services once something goes wrong. But, a music lawyer can help plan and prepare music contracts and agreements, reducing the risk of legal disputes down the road. There are many types of issues you may have to consider, including:

  • Copyrighting your musical compositions
  • Merchandising agreements
  • Copyrighting sound recordings
  • Making distributor agreements
  • Negotiating mechanical license and mechanical royalties
  • Licensing your music for a movie

An attorney can help you understand the risks and benefits of contract terms and agreements. They can identify problems with contract agreements and tell you about your legal options if something goes wrong. For example, if a record label has exclusive rights to the master recordings, what happens if the record label goes out of business?

How Can a Recording Artist Attorney Help?

A music industry lawyer can ensure that you maintain control of your creative work, name, and brand. They understand how the laws of different states and countries can affect your rights. California entertainment laws are different than the laws in New York. If you have questions about how a music and entertainment lawyer can protect your rights as an artist, talk to an experienced music and recording artist attorney before signing anything.

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