Don’t know what questions to ask a music lawyer and we can almost guarantee that you’ll be wasting your time. Not to mention your hard earned £££.
Reason being that entertainment lawyers, just like any other professional in the music industry, treasure their time. In other words, they don’t come cheap! Therefore, by not arming yourself with the best questions to ask a music lawyer, all you’re really doing is throwing wonga in the bin. Take it from us – a consultation with a music lawyer is NOT a time where you can just ‘wing it’. To do so would be foolish!!
Take the time to prepare however (i.e. arm yourself with some of the best interview questions for music attorneys), and you should be considerably less dissatisfied with the result. In fact, you may even grab yourself a bargain, and even save some £££ in the process too. Exactly why to make the job of doing so a lot easier, we’ve compiled 21 questions that you need to be asking any music lawyer.
Simply on the hunt for our list of questispacerons? Or want to understand more about what a music lawyer does & why you need one? Use the menu below to get the answers you need…
DISCLAIMER: In NO way is this intended to be legal advice. Merely advice on how to get the best out of your music lawyer. We are NOT a finical institution & nor are we certified to give out legal advice.
What does a lawyer do in the music industry?
Music lawyers do much as they sound. They act to ensure that artists, music producers and other industry professionals make educated and informed decisions when it comes to their career or business. In short, that’s the reason you pay a music lawyer + the reason they demand so much, as while they don’t come cheap, hiring them can save you a financial headache down the line.
The typical music lawyer can be found doing everything from advising industry newbies on how to negotiate royalties and/ or a record label contract. Just as they may argue the side of a well known artist or label as part of a public legal case. So while they’re not the most ‘creative’ people in the industry, they are certainly some of the most valuable. And an individual that any artist needs as part of their network.
Thinking we’re joking? Some labels may even have their own in-house legal representative or have a lawyer contracted on a retainer! Yep – when lawsuits and copyright infringements have the ability to cripple a business overnight, a music lawyer really is THAT important!!
17 Questions to ask a music lawyer in 2023
So now that you’re aware why a music lawyer is such an essential part of any team, especially in todays “where there’s a blame, there’s a claim” type world, you now need to understand how to get the best out of your music lawyer. By that we mean, have a basic idea of what you should be asking in order to get the answers that you’re after as efficiently as possible.
Now, because you’re reading this article, we assume you’re relatively new to the industry. In which case, here’s 21 questions you should consider asking a music lawyer when you first meet…
Questions to ask a music lawyer about themselves
1: What’s your background in music? Have you been part of a band?
Ask us and this is one of the first questions you should ask any music lawyer. Why? Because the last thing you want is a music lawyer that doesn’t have a vested interest in music. If they’ve previously been part of the industry or performed in a band themselves, then they’re going to understand your situation far better.
Plus, if they’ve been in the same lane as you (i.e. artist/ producer) then chances are, any guidance they give you is going to be accurate. Heck, they could even be mentor material! But equally, if they’ve been on the other side of the fence, they could also provide you with an insight into the minds of the people that you’re negotiating with. Something worth noting.
2: How are you different from a manager/ agent?
For any newbie, this is something you must get your head around, before appointing a lawyer. Why? That’s because not all lawyers act in same way. Some deal purely in the legal side of things, whilst others leverage their contacts to help you get signed or gain recognition.
Sounds great, but just beware of what you’re signing up to. Should a lawyer ‘assist’ you in getting signed, they’re likely going to want some form of kickback – i.e. compensation. So while they could be a major piece in the puzzle for you, they could also turn out to be one of the biggest expenses.
You have been warned.
3: What sort of artists do you work with?
With entertainment lawyers, you want to establish 2 things. Firstly, where their interests lie, because someone who isn’t interested in what you do, is most likely not going to be the best of help when it come to your legal affairs. And secondly, conflict of interest. You see, having a lawyer who’s interested in what you do is great, but should they have similar artists that they also work for, then things could get a bit ‘tricky’.
This is exactly why you do NOT want the same lawyer as a rival artist, nor your music label. If this was the case & you went to court, you could find yourself playing out a lot of £££ just for your lawyer not to put up a fight. Think of it from their perspective. There’s you & the opposition both throwing money at the them to get them to swing the case in their favour… for them, either way is winning. So why fight your corner, when there’s no concrete incentive?
4: What’s your standard hourly rate?
Yet another question, which should be high up on your priority list. Why? Well, first of all, this will usually tell you 2 things (vaguely): how specialised the lawyer is in that area & whether you can even afford them. Wasting both yours & a lawyers time isn’t going to be beneficial. Plus, that’s not the only reason you should ask about costings…
You see, some lawyers don’t just charge a flat fee. Alongside an hourly rate, they may demand a percentage of royalties, especially if they’re help you negotiate a contract for a record deal. Also, do bear in mind that the first time you see a music lawyer may be the last time you see them for that price; a lot of music lawyers offer a cheap price first time round in order to get you ‘under their wing’.
Questions to ask an entertainment lawyer about you & your music
5: Should I trademark my artist name? And if so, under what trademark classes?
Your artist name is in essence the core of your brand, so especially if you’re in the UK, then the answer would be yes. Reason being that in comparison to the US, registering a trademark in the UK is pretty cheap. It can be as little as a couple £100.
If you can, try trademarking your artist name as a word, opposed to just a logo. That’s because while such a trademark will protect your logo, it doesn’t protect the use of your name in entirety. Trademark the word/ phrase however & you’ll be in a much stronger position, should any trademark infringements occur.
And while you could get a music lawyer to do this for you – we wouldn’t bother. These days there’s enough information online to be able to do it yourself in under 15 minutes. Plus, most lawyers will charge you a pretty packet in order for them to do so. Just a word of warning!
6: Should my videographer retain the intellectual property rights to any music videos?
Good question – and the answer in most cases, is yes.
As the sole creator of the film, your videographer will usually retain the Intellectual Property Rights to any music video filmed on your behalf. However, that’s not to say it has to remain that way.
You see, while in first instance most videographers will retain all Intellectual Rights (something they will not want to give up lightly), you can ask them to include a caveat in any agreement. Something called a buy-back clause. A clause, which much as it sounds, allows you (should you wish) to purchase the Intellectual Rights to your music videos.
Something you may wish to do if you want to edit it further (perhaps against the wishes of the videographer) or want to remove their credit from the finished film. Just bear in mind that in most cases, the videographer will demand ‘final creative control’, which in essence means that they have the final say over the edit, not you. So should you want to avoid taking your videographer to court, speak to a music lawyer & draw up a contract beforehand.
Sounds boring, but it could save you a LOT of headache.
7: I paid a photographer to take some PR shots. Are they my intellectual property?
Aha not so fast.
You see, just like with a videographer & music videos, any PR shots taken by a photographer are technically their Intellectual Property unless of course they sign these rights over to you. So just like with videography, get all these rights & their ownership clarified from the start. Some photographers work differently to others, so you may be able to find someone who’ll let you retain these rights. However, do bear in mind that this could be a sign that they’re new to photography & their portfolio may not be as reputable.
Although, from experience we’d say the best way to retain these rights would be to promise the photographer credit. This would mean that in any piece of PR/ publicity that they would be credited for taking the image, while you retain the rights to the photos. Usually photographers will be more open to deals like this than videographers, but really it’s all down to who you use.
Just whatever you do, don’t sweep technicalities like this under the carpet, as there’s a solid chance that they will come back to haunt you down the line. If in doubt, ask your music lawyer.
8: To avoid anything backfiring on me directly, should I set up a limited company?
Potentially – this is something to run past your lawyer & accountant, as there’s both legal & financial bonuses for doing so.
This is how Drake & Travis Scott avoided being held personally liable for the Astroworld tradgey back in 2021. Reason being that anyone who sued the rapper didn’t actually sue them personally – they sued their company. So all their personal possessions/ houses etc. were not affected. Something to ask an entertainment lawyer, if live performances are going to be a big part of your revenue stream.
9: I ghostwrite – do I need a contract for that? If so, how would I write it?
Yes – being the short answer.
This is another great question to pose to a music lawyer, as not receiving the correct songwriting credit could see you lose out on a lot of royalties. So while Ghostwriting is very much writing ‘incognito’, when agreeing to write for another artist, you both need to be clear on the fine print, especially your splits.
Fail to have this in writing & it’s almost impossible to prove that (A) you wrote the song & (B) are due to the songwriting credits that you deserve. In which case, you’ll most likely end up losing out, should the case go to court. Therefore, to consult a music lawyer when doing something as ‘under the radar’ as this, is just common sense.
10: Are there any common red flags when it comes to producer contracts? What should I watch out for?
Any music lawyer should know the answer to this. So really there isn’t much else to say on this question, apart from “ASK IT!”
11: What’s a ‘first right of refusal’?? And should I avoid it?
Heads up – this is a term that often crops up in many record contracts and distribution deals. And what it essentially means is that anyone with this ‘first right of refusal’ can have the final say over whether you as an artist go ahead with/ do certain things.
If you have ambitious plans, this may be something to avoid. Sign this right over to your label for instance, & they’ll have the lawful right to refuse any brand deals, PR opportunities etc. that you’re presented with. Some distributors even try and do this too.
Exactly why we think you should avoid United Masters as per this video below…
12: I’m starting to collaborate with other artists – do I need a co-writing contract?
This is where having a music lawyer is a wise idea, as instances where you have 3 or more artists on a track, can get confusing in terms of contracts. especially on the matter of royalty splits and who owns the master recording etc. Hence why we’d say that if you’re the person piecing the song together, you’d be best making yourself the we’d suggest making yourself the main name of the song – i.e. only approaching other artists for features on songs you’ve written.
13: You deal with artists in my niche – what’s a good royalty split when it comes to producers?
Music lawyers deal with artists every day.
Much of which will be to do with negotiating contracts and royalty splits, so if you’re new to the industry and not sure what a ‘good’ royalty split is, ask the lawyer. And while they won’t give be able to disclose any personal details regarding any other clients (the 4 letters GDPR make sure of that), they should be able to give you a good idea of what to look for in a royalty split 7 potentially even some tips on how to sway it in your favour.
14: If you’re part of a band, do you all have to agree before signing anything? Is there any way around that?
You’d be wise to pose this question to a music lawyer at the beginning of your career. Why? Well, let’s just say, who wants to be signed up to a contract that they don’t agree with? Not exactly ideal, especially in the case of a record/ distribution deal. A scenario that could be the reason behind a band breaking up.
Hence why asking a music lawyer of (A) what to do in this situation & (B) how to prevent it from happening would be a wise idea. Do so & you could say you’re almost future-proofing your chances. And don’t be afraid to talk about it either. Bring it up & it’s likely most band members will respect you for doing so, as some probably don’t even know about it.
15: A record label’s offered me a deal – what should I not give them rights to?
Really, that’s not up for us to say.
Nevertheless it’s a great question to ask any music lawyer. As you ideally want to keep rights to as much of your work as possible, & they’re the people who can help you do that. Although with that being said, we’d say a must for any artist is to not share any of your non-recording income. By that we mean money from sponsorships, merch, live performances etc.
The only exception would be if doing so sees them give you a significant financial investment. Be that towards the promotion of an album, live shows or just your career as a whole. Remember: you are the talent & what you’re essentially negotiating is a business deal. So stick ton your guns & know your worth!
16: Is there a difference between mechanical, performance & sync royalties?
Another great question to as a music or entertainment lawyer because (A) if you don’t known then they’ll be able to fill you in on the legal definition & (B) if they stumble or can’t seem to answer this question, you know to walk away. Just a heads up, while royalties do go a lot deeprr than this, the general sense is that…
- Performance royalties = money earned through public performances, radioplay or time aired on TV.
- Mechanical royalties = any money earned via digital streaming or the sale of physical reproductions, for instance CDs and records.
- Micro-sync royalties – payments accrued through use in videos – for instance, music played during a movie scene, trailer or TV programme. And any music used as part of commercials or advertisments, be they radio, TV or online.
17: I’ve been offered a management contract – what should I look out for?
Ask a music lawyer this & you’ll likely get a complex answer, as there’s a LOT of artist who’ve seen large chunks of their money disappear due to bad management deals. In many cases (especially nowadays), the lawyer is likely to question whether you even need a manager, unless of course you’re a major act. Someone like Adele, Skepta or Post Malone. So posing this question to a lawyer before signing on any dotted lines would be a wise idea.
What to look for in a music lawyer…
Now, as you’ve probably gathered, a music lawyer is a major part of any artist’s team. So much so that picking the right entertainment lawyer can be essential to your success! With that we’ll waste no time about it. Here’s 3 things to look for in a music lawyer…
- Experience – Just like when hiring anyone, one major priority is experience. Exactly why it’s important not to judge a music lawyer by their price. Yes, price is important, but if it’s cheap because they’re the new kid on the block or don’t have the best reputation, then you’re probably best-off steering clear. Put it this way, 1 hour with an experienced legal expert is worth much more than 5 with someone who’s clueless.
- A down to earth persona – If you’re going to be dealing with a music lawyer on the regular, then they need to be someone you get along & understand. Long story short, if you don’t ‘get’ each other it’ll show & could even be used against you in court. For any case to be convincing, the artist & lawyer both need to be on the same level.
- Someone who gets you – Sounds a bit fluffy, but this is arguably one of ‘the’ most important characteristic of any music lawyer. Why? Well, that’s because at the end of the day, they’re going to be representing you & your brand. So if they don’t really understand what you’re about or relate to your music, then how are they going to do so to the best of their ability? They’re not. The only thing they’re going to look is unsure – and we all know what an unsure lawyer means… (head in hands)
Enjoy this review of questions to ask a music lawyer & eager for more? Don’t miss out on all our latest Music Industry Advice, especially that on Labels & Deals. Recently, we also wote an article on Using Type Beats + another on Signing To Music Labels. which may also be good read.
Or if you’re still curious about music & entertainment lawyers, keep reading & we’ll answer even more of your burning questions…