How Do I Hire a Lawyer to Shop My Band?

Question

I have a band, which has been off to a pretty decent start. Our songs have played on five local radio stations so far. A DJ advised us to speak with a well-known music lawyer in town. He thinks we need a lawyer who can represent us to big labels to get signed. We have a nice song demo that I can give him, but we do not have any capital to compensate his service. How do new bands find and work with lawyers?

Answer

For new musicians, working with a lawyer can be intimidating. Many artists do not know how to find, much less pay for, an attorney. Fortunately, you are not alone, and the use of an attorney in circumstances like yours is fairly common.

A lawyer can be very helpful for what is known in the industry as "label shopping," or the process of assisting your band in obtaining a record deal. These specialized lawyers, often former musicians themselves, use their industry connections to obtain deals for the band and are paid with a percentage of the band's income from the deal they secure.

There are several important variables when determining how much to pay a label shopper:

  • the size of the percentage of income the attorney will be entitled to receive
  • what deductions are made before the percentage is calculated (that is, overhead), and
  • whether there is a limit on how much the attorney receives, known as a "fee cap."

Shoppers traditionally receive 5% to 10% of the record deal, with most deals closer to 5%. Sometimes, a band can make certain deductions before the percentage is calculated, but they are likely to be limited. For example, if the label advances you $50,000 with which to make a video, the band should try to exclude such payments from the shopper's income.

The total amount to be paid to the shopper is also an important factor. Many shopping arrangements are for the length of the record deal. Therefore, if you sign a six-record contract, each time your band receives an advance, the person who shopped the tape would get a cut. For that reason, some bands attempt to limit the total payments by placing a limit or "cap" on the money paid to the shopper. For example, the attorney receives 5% of the income from the record deal up to $20,000; after that, the attorney receives squat.

Finally, you should be aware of common pitfalls when an attorney shops a demo tape.

The shopper might not take a personal interest in your band's career. Sometimes, an attorney who shops demo material does not use discretion. The attorney simply dumps demos with many record companies in the hopes that one of them connects.

The shopping attorney may have a conflicting interest with your band. Since the attorney is earning a percentage from the deal, his or her major concern may be the size of the advance. Your band may have other priorities such as obtaining a higher royalty rate, getting a guaranteed second record, or getting a good royalty rate for songs written by the band.

And last, you may overpay for the shopping services. The attorney may continue to earn a percentage of the band's income for years, even after the band breaks up. This sum may be disproportionate to the services he or she actually performs, but unless you give some forethought to the issue, you could be stuck.

Even with all of these concerns, a label shopper can be very useful. An attorney ends credibility to a nascent band, and his or her connections can prove invaluable to getting your foot in the door of record labels.

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