If you are part of a newcomer band, it can be hard to make industry connections. Your band might make great music and have lots of practical musical skills. But you might lack knowledge of the music business. How do you get your records produced? How do you sell CDs to big stores? How do you get your music distributed on the radio? Music lawyers can often do that heavy lifting. Some entertainment attorneys shop the band’s music to record labels and music publishers, and advise bands on their strategy.
These attorneys, sometimes called "shoppers" or "music lawyers," use their industry connections to obtain deals for the band. They often make introductions and pass along recommendations to producers, much as literary agents pass along book manuscripts to publishers.
Typically, these music lawyers are paid with a percentage of the band’s income from the deal (commonly 5% to 10%, though these numbers can vary). This is referred to as a label-shopping deal, and the income may continue for the life of the deal, or for a limited period of time, depending on the specific arrangement with the attorney.
For example, an attorney may shop your band’s music around and draft your contract in return for a percentage of the band’s income from that deal. The attorney may charge $5,000 plus 5% of your record deal. Every time your band receives a payment from the record deal, the attorney would receive 5%. Your band may be required to continue paying this percentage even after you switch attorneys.
You may wonder why attorneys shop music. After all, this is not a task that requires a legal education—managers and bands themselves often perform the same function.
The reason is that attorneys have assumed a unique position of power in the music business. They are often at the center of many important transactions and introductions. As a result, having the right music lawyer can be very helpful in professionalizing your band and taking it to the next level.
For more information on managing a band, check out Nolo's Music Law: How to Run Your Band's Business, by Richard Stim.