You may have heard other artists talk about media law and be wondering if this is something you too should look into.
When does a singer need a lawyer? Whether it be protecting your own interests or making sure you’re on the right side of copyright, it’s important to be aware of the legal implications of recording contracts, copyright and royalties.
In this article, we’ll give an overview of what they do and how the rules and regulations of music might affect you as an up and coming artist.
When does a singer need a lawyer?
What are the stages when musicians need legal help? There are many times during your career that you may need a lawyer or solicitor to help you with your music career. In essence, if an agreement is offered to you, you must get it checked out before signing. Later in the article we’ll outline some stages when you’ll need to seek legal advice. Make sure the solicitor is a music industry specialist and ideally comes recommended.
What do media lawyers do – and what does an entertainment lawyer do?
Media lawyers and entertainment lawyers do more or less the same thing and will overlap to a degree, in terms of the genres in which they work. These include television, music, sport, cinema, advertising, the internet, theatre and film. Some lawyers will specialise specifically in music. They don’t negotiate or draw up studio contracts, but they do read over them for you, to ensure everything is fair. They then explain what’s involved and what the terms mean, so you know exactly what you’re agreeing to.
Lawyers also tell you your rights and obligations. If you’re collaborating, they can draw up a contract to agree who gets what from the proceeds – much needed when money is involved.
What’s the difference between a solicitor and a lawyer?
‘Lawyer’ is a generic term for a specialist who gives legal advice. It encompasses solicitors, legal executives and barristers. A solicitor will work in litigation and bringing cases to court, while a barrister argues the case at the bar. In music, the term ‘lawyer’ tends to be used more frequently. This is because it’s more specialised, so if you did end up going to court (which is unlikely), they would be with you from the contract stage right through. But in general both titles as interchangeable.
Do I need a music lawyer?
So let’s dive into a little more detail about how and when you should consider approaching a legal specialist.
Before signing your agreement
Firstly if you’ve started writing songs, if this is a collaboration with other writers this is when you may need a solicitor. A solicitor will be able to help you decide who owns the copyright, who gets what percentage of royalties and who owns the stage name.
Having said that, with songwriting PRS and MCPS give guidelines based around splitting the song ownership – this may result in a cut as 50% melody and 50% written lyrics. So if this isn’t what you had in mind, get a legal agreement to agree on splits.
If one or more person has written and contributed to the melody and lyrics you will have to pro–rata the percentages. It would perhaps be a lot cheaper to agree on these guidelines and percentages without the need for a solicitor, but where agreement cannot be made the solicitor will be able to advise and draft agreements. If you do make private agreements, be aware that these may not be legally binding in any case. If you want to be sure, get it in writing.
Just be aware that you will need a different solicitor for each party i.e. everyone who contributed to the song. Otherwise, this could be seen as a conflict of interests. Of course, this will double or treble the solicitor fees, but your lawyer will not represent all of you in any case. This is because one solicitor could not represent all of you if you did end up falling out and taking each other to court.
When is the right time to have a solicitor as a singer?
Before signing a publisher
You’ve started writing songs and have been presented with a publishing agreement. This is the time to contact a solicitor. You’ll be looking for a publisher to help you find the best deal for your songs. A solicitor will help sift through the deal and see whether it’s appropriate to the songs you are writing.
Before signing a manager
You won’t need a manager until you’ve established yourself well in the music industry, but when that happens it’s likely you’ll be approached by a few management companies all at once. As soon as you get an offer, get a solicitor!
There have been times when not having a solicitor read over the contract has left an act poor even after they’ve left the manager. Be cautious and don’t rush into things just because you’re excited about the opportunity.
Before signing a record deal
You’ve been approached by a record label, the label wants you to sign a deal and has their own solicitor to work with the label and your act on the deal. But you must still get your own solicitor.
A lawyer will always work on behalf pf the party who has instructed them (and who is paying them). So your label’s solicitor will be drawing up contracts entirely in their interests, not yours. Your solicitor, on the other hand, will have your best interest in mind. Otherwise, you could agree to something that’s not good for you or your career.
Music and entertainment law in the UK
Having your own lawyer will mean that they argue on your behalf. If you’ve just been offered your big break with a label, you don’t want to be in there disagreeing with them. This is why you hire someone to do it. Your lawyer liaises with their lawyer, so you don’t have to deal with any of it personally. Your label will not be offended. In fact, it’s the opposite. You’ll come across as professional and savvy for having taken this step.
Music law in the UK
Any original music or recordings are covered by the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988. As such, copyright is a property right. That means you can get into a lot of trouble if you sing other people’s music publicly without permission (which usually involves a fee) and vice versa.
Find out how to copyright your songs here.
Music law firms
You can look for a music law firm to represent you, or if you are in the earlier stages of your a career, you can use the services of the Musicians’ Union – more on that later. Once you get into more complex contracts, it may well be better to have your own dedicated lawyer. We can’t recommend specific lawyers, but we have compiled a list of some well-known ones.
Music industry lawyer near me
Many of the top music lawyers are based in London, with some in the regions. Much advice is available by phone and email though.
Here are a few you might like to try:
- Bird & Bird
- Harbottle and Lewis
- Russell’s Solicitor
- Statham Gill Davies Solicitors
- Irwin Mitchell
Questions to ask a music lawyer
A good lawyer should proactively go over everything with you. But here are a few points to make sure you cover when asking questions…
- Splits of earnings and royalties
- Contract lengths
- Options to exit the contract
- Small print/terms and conditions of your contract
- Copywriting of music and your branding
How much does a music lawyer cost?
This, of course, is a vital question to find out from your prospective lawyer. Lawyers of any kind are not cheap. Hourly rates in London can be around £100 to £1000 for the very top ones. Some offer a set fee, like £1800 to cover your needs. But as with any service, there is a huge amount of variance, so you’ll need to research ones that are local to you.
Another option is the Musicians’ Union. They provide services including legal advice, representation, unpaid fee recovery, contract advice and negotiation, all as part of the membership fee. This is a great deal and well worth considering.
If you’re still unsure if you need a lawyer, then seek out some personalised advice – as everyone’s situation is different. Many legal professionals offer a no-obligation quote and chat (do check first, that you won’t be charged) and you can speak to your union if you have one.
- How can I get money for a lawyer?
Legal aid is available for those on a low income and in dire circumstances, but this is not applicable to the music industry. Some firms will let you pay in instalments, and some people use crowdfunding campaigns.
- How do I hire an artist manager?
You can find a manager via word of mouth, by asking at a reputable studio, speaking to your vocal coach, or by recommendations from other industry professionals. Find out more about artist management here.
Have you hired a music solicitor or media lawyer? Are you thinking about it? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.