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Ways The Music Industry Can Change For The Better

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Categories: Articles, Music Industry, Music Publishing, Royalties, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By:  Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

This article was originally published on Forbes.com.

2016 saw a lot of lawsuits and lobbying in regards to changes in the music industry. Here are a few major issues that need to be resolved in 2017 and beyond to help sustain the music business.

Higher rates for streaming and YouTube views

The rates creators and rights owners earn from streaming and views are currently fractions of pennies. A songwriter or rights owner needs to see millions of streams/views to make any substantial income from this revenue stream. Streaming services and YouTube are the biggest platforms for consumers to listen to music, but those that make music are not able to make a sustainable living solely off income from those sources. The rates need to be higher so that those who create music for a living are actually able to earn a living.

Music publishers need to be paid more

In a similar vein, music publishers earn less than record labels from YouTube, Spotify, and other streaming and digital services. There is no music – and no recordings to be made of music — without the creation of a musical composition first. When music publishers are paid less than record labels, not only are music publishers earning less, but the songwriters signed to those companies are earning less. If songwriters cannot make a living writing songs, then songwriting will become a hobby instead of a career.

Even though labels are making more than music publishers, the amount that the artists make is still substantially small due to the contractual terms with the labels. Again, the artists bringing songs to life are not making sufficient money based on their performances and interpretations of songs, and they will not be able to sustain a career that is financially inadequate. Creators need to be properly compensated and this should be recognized by anyone who values music in their life.

Support for fractional licensing within the music industry

The music industry has always operated on a fractional licensing basis where each writer or that writer’s representative controls the respective shares of the songs that writer has written. This model was threatened in 2016 by the Department of Justice that mandated performance rights organizations ASCAP and BMI move to a 100% licensing model, thereby potentially making millions of songs unlicenseable. BMI sued the DOJ and won, but the DOJ has appealed the decision and the outcome is pending. An upheaval of the fractional licensing model would wreak havoc on the music industry and cause creators and creators’ representatives, both within the US and abroad, to be compensated even less than they are now, or make their works unlicensable. This is an unacceptable solution and would be a massive blow to not only creators, but to the music business as a whole.

Cooperation between the law and the internet

When the copyright law was last written in 1976, the internet was not used by the public let alone as a way to consume music. Therefore all user-generated content websites, including YouTube, etc. are operating in a way not contemplated by the law when it was first written. The law needs to be updated to address how works can be licensed in a way that cooperates with the digital world while fairly compensating those who create the works being used. There also needs to be a better way to deal with online infringements. Most online infringements are dealt with via DMCA (another area of law needing reform) takedown notices, although YouTube is now allowing content owners to share in revenue from infringing videos through their content management system. Again, the amount of money shared in this scenarios is so small that it is not a sustainable model and goes back to the need for increased rates.

Consumers need to learn to value music

On a daily basis I am confronted with people who want to use music but don’t want to pay for it. They argue that they should be able to use the music for free because the writer or artist will make money on the backend from sales or promotion. However, that backend money is usually never earned as promised and results in the artist or writer allowing the use of his/her music for free. Companies want to pay less and keep the lion’s share of income for themselves, which again creates a problem for creators trying to live off making music.

Internet companies and radio make millions and sometimes billions of dollars per year, and they continue to lobby to be able to use music freely or at least pay less for it, as well as to loosen copyright laws. Many of these platforms have built their business on using music as their main commodity; yet they don’t want to pay for the music that is the central product of their business model. All of the performance rights organizations (most recently GMR) have been fighting with radio and other services to command higher rates for their members and affiliates, but they consistently get pushback from licensees that don’t want to pay. This problem doesn’t stop at the digital realm, as film and television companies also regularly try to offer low fees to use music in their productions.

When one thinks back on their life, usually there are certain songs that evoke certain memories, that were important at a specific life event, or that got one through a hard time. Couples usually designate at least one song as “their song.” Certain scenes in films and television shows would not come to life without the use of a particular song being used in that scene. Certain artists and albums serve as the soundtracks of people’s lives. Imagine if all of those memories were taken away because artists and songwriters could no longer have careers making music because they were not paid enough to make a living. Most people wouldn’t go into a store a take a piece of clothing or a table without paying for it, yet those same people think it is okay to take music for free. Most people would not think to ask if they could pay their doctor fractions of his fee because they can, yet people keep offering lower payments for using music. Music has value. Those that use or consume music need to recognize that value, or watch the quality and prevalence of music disappear from their lives.

*This article does not constitute legal advice.

Erin M. Jacobson is a music attorney whose clients include Grammy and Emmy Award winners, legacy clients and catalogues, songwriters, music publishers, record labels, and independent artists and companies. She is based in Los Angeles where she handles a wide variety of music agreements and negotiations, in addition to owning and overseeing all operations for Indie Artist Resource, the independent musician’s resource for legal and business protection.

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A Day at NAMM with Erin M. Jacobson

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Categories: Music, Music Industry, Speaking, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending and speaking at the annual National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) convention in Anaheim, CA (right by Disneyland!).  NAMM is a fantastic time to see incredible instruments, hang with musicians and industry folk, and conduct business.

Check out my video above where I take you behind the scenes at the convention, and here are some fun photos from the weekend below.

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Major Record Labels Under The Gun In Sales v. Licensing, Carpenters Case

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Categories: Articles, Digital Distribution, Legal Disputes, Music Contracts, Music Industry, Record Labels, Royalties, Streaming, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By:  Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

This article was originally published on Forbes.com.

The dispute between artists and labels over the income earned from digital downloads continues to rage.

Traditionally, record labels sold physical copies of music mediums, like CDs, and then would pay a royalty to the artist for each record sold. When iTunes came on the scene in 2001, the labels treated the sales of digital downloads the same as sales of physical CDs, and ever since have paid the artist a royalty on sales of those digital downloads. However, labels actually license the master recordings to digital distributors like iTunes and after a while artists began to make the argument that the income earned from digital downloads should be treated as licensing income and not sales income. The reason why artists want downloads to be treated as licensing income is because instead of getting a small percentage for a sales royalty (most commonly ranging from 11-20%, with an average of about 15% of the wholesale purchase price), licensing income is usually split 50-50 between the label and the artist. Therefore, artists stand to make a lot more money in royalties if a digital download is treated as a license rather than a sale.

This issue came to court starting in 2007 with the case FBT Productions v. Aftermath Records, a case involving royalties paid on Eminem recordings at the “sales” rate rather than the “licensing” rate. FBT won the lawsuit, establishing that income from digital downloads should be treated as licensing income rather than sales income, but Universal Music Group (owner of Aftermath Records) argued that this case should not set a precedent for all artist or record deals. Even though Universal tried not to set a precedent with this case, many artists renegotiated their deals behind closed doors to get better royalty rates for digital downloads than was originally provided for in their contracts.

Now the issue has once again arisen with classic group The Carpenters. Surviving member Richard Carpenter (fighting on behalf of his sister Karen Carpenter’s estate, as well) audited the band’s label, A&M Records/Universal Music. Artists often audit record label books to make sure that they are getting paid the proper royalties. Richard Carpenter’s audit showed that the label was under-reporting the number of downloads sold, was calculating the royalty on those downloads at a lower base price than they were supposed to, and that the label was paying a royalty on digital downloads at the sales rate instead of the licensing rate. Apparently, attempts to resolve the issue amicably were unsuccessful, and thus Richard Carpenter sued.

The Carpenters’ suit cites the FBT case as a precedent, and if the court follows FBT’s ruling then Carpenter has a good chance of success. Another case is currently pending between Sony Music and 19 Entertainment (the producers of American Idol) regarding how labels pay on digital streams. It’s the same argument as in the Carpenters’ case, but the position of a stream being treated as a license is even stronger than in the digital download scenario. However, it’s unclear at this point which way the court will side in both cases.

The labels make the argument that if they had to pay a 50-50 split on all digital download income, they would go out of business. However, the 50-50 split model is quite common with independent labels in the current marketplace and the indie labels are not necessarily going out of business. Both artists and labels often like the 50-50 split model because it creates more of a feeling of partnership between the label and the artist rather than an adversarial view of big company versus small artist.

What should be more of a concern to major labels’ fate than royalty rates is the fact that this digital age has made it much easier for artists to be independent and make a living off of making music without major label backing. Major labels can ensure their longevity by creating a new model that involves a deal that artists want to be a part of, that is advantageous to both the label and the artist, and provides for a long-standing working relationship, rather than one where artists are constantly concerned about being taken advantage of by the label. The tighter that major labels hold on to their traditional model, the more artists are going to look for alternative means of pursuing their musical careers — whether that be making direct relationships with distributors or other scenarios that benefit them financially and allow them to create a sustainable career off making music. This issue is not going away, especially with the growing popularity of streaming as a way of consuming music, and it’s time to adapt.

 

*This article does not constitute legal advice.

Erin M. Jacobson is a music attorney whose clients include Grammy and Emmy Award winners, legacy clients and catalogues, songwriters, music publishers, record labels, and independent artists and companies. She is based in Los Angeles where she handles a wide variety of music agreements and negotiations, in addition to owning and overseeing all operations for Indie Artist Resource, the independent musician’s resource for legal and business protection.

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Erin M. Jacobson elected to AIMP Board

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Categories: Business, Copyright, Music, Music Industry, Music Publishing, Speaking, Tags: , , ,

I am thrilled to announce that I have been elected to the Board of Directors of the Association of Independent Music Publishers (AIMP).

wb-aimp-luncheon-global-industry-110216AIMP is an industry group focusing on independent music publishers and songwriters.  Members (aka my colleagues in the industry) vote for Board members, so I am honored to have been chosen.  Keep an eye on the AIMP website for future events and to become more involved with this great organization.

 

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Music Industry Cases to Watch in 2017

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Categories: Articles, Copyright, Infringement, Law, Legal Disputes, Legal Issues, Music Industry, Performance, Royalties, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

by:  Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

This article was previously published on Forbes.com.

Following are the top music legal cases to watch in 2017, what to expect, and how they could affect the industry as a whole.

Global Music Rights v. The Radio Music Licensing Commission (and The Radio Music Licensing Commission v. Global Music Rights)

Background: As explained here, The Radio Music Licensing Commission (“”RMLC”) sued performance rights organization Global Music Rights (“GMR”) on anti-trust grounds for creating an artificial monopoly over and charging “exorbitant” licensing fees for works in its repertoire. In a separate and non-retaliatory suit (and explained here), GMR sued the RMLC claiming that the RMLC’s committee of radio stations seeks to discourage competition amongst these stations with the common goal of keeping payments to songwriters and music publishers artificially low and using its collective power to do so.

What you might expect: The parties will probably settle, as the implementation of judicial rate supervision would significantly curb GMR’s objectives in negotiating higher rates for its writers. If GMR had to submit to judicial rate setting proceedings, it is probable Irving Azoff would find a way around the regulations to command higher compensation for GMR writers.

How it could affect the industry: If radio does not want to pay GMR’s rates, then radio stations can refuse to play works in the GMR repertoire. As a result, these artists would lose the promotion and performance income provided by radio airplay. It could also affect writers belonging to other performance rights organizations that have co-written songs with GMR writers or covered songs by GMR writers.  The band Anthrax has already issued an open letter to Irving Azoff seeking to have its name disassociated with GMR, as the band is not a GMR client but is listed in the GMR repertoire because Anthrax covered “Phantom Lord” by Metallica (a GMR client) early in Anthrax’s career. Anthrax is afraid this association could stop radio stations from playing all Anthrax songs.

However, the radio stations themselves would also suffer because it would harm stations’ popularity with listeners if stations cannot play the music their listeners want to hear, resulting in a significant loss of advertising revenue.

The Turtles v. SiriusXM

Background: Flo & Eddie of The Turtles sued SiriusXM for playing their sound recordings without paying royalties. In the United States, all sound recordings made after February 15, 1972 are protected by federal copyright law. Prior to that date, sound recordings only had protection under state laws. In 1995, sound recordings were granted a digital performance right to earn royalties when played on digital media like satellite radio or streamed online. This case raised the question as to whether all sound recordings were entitled to the performance right or only those recorded post-1972. Flo & Eddie have been successful in several states to champion the right to royalties for owners of older recordings, but a New York appeals court just ruled against themsaying that the pre-1972 recordings are only entitled to protection provided by state laws.

What you might expect:  The outcome could go either way here, but its definitely one to watch. A settlement might also be possible for those involved in the lawsuit, however, a settlement would not dictate the future of royalties for other pre-1972 recordings not included in this class action suit.

How it could affect the industry: If it is found that pre-1972 sound recordings are entitled to a digital performance royalty, then owners of these recordings and the artists who recorded them would be entitled to an income stream much needed for older catalogues that do not currently make much money in terms of sales or other uses. Satellite radio and other Internet services would have to pay an appropriate amount of royalties, which seems doable for a company like SiriusXM worth billions of dollars, but potentially less so for smaller providers. If the appeal is upheld, then satellite radio and Internet services would continue to play these early recordings without paying royalties to the owners and artists of these recordings and would further the financial hardships for older artists without current hits.

“Blurred Lines” v. “Got To Give It Up”

Background: Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke wrote and recorded a song (“Blurred Lines”) that they, as stated in interviews, wanted to sound like Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up.” The Estate of Marvin Gaye sued Thicke and Williams for copyright infringement and the closely followed trial yielded a jury verdict in favor of the Gaye family, with a judgment ultimately set at $5.3 million plus future royalties. The verdict inspired a string of similar lawsuits, including one challenging the originality of “Stairway to Heaven.”

A major issue within the trial was whether to consider only the lead sheet (musical notes) deposited with the Copyright Office (protocol at the time “Got to Give It Up” was registered) and not the recording of the song. Insiders of the music community debate the finding of infringement when many of the actual notes were not an exact match in both compositions versus looking at patterns and other music elements that were similar and repeated within both songs.

The case is now up for appeal. Thicke and Williams’ attorney claims that the trial court’s verdict will “chill” creativity. The attorney for the Gaye family argues in his appellate brief that the copyright for “Got to Give It Up” is not “thin,” and states a reminder that the
test for infringement is substantial
similarity and not virtual identity.

What you might expect: This case will once again be closely followed, but the verdict cannot be predicted at this time. A settlement is doubtful because the stakes have become too high for both sides.  This case has become much bigger than just the two songs involved.

How it could affect the industry: The impact of this decision could set an important precedent. If Thicke and Williams win, it would open the door to frequent usage of elements from older songs with little recourse for the copyright owners of the original songs. If the Gaye family wins, it would probably inspire even more lawsuits for infringement. Regardless of whichever party wins, this case may influence all future copyright infringement lawsuits involving music, as it may dictate which sources (lead sheets, recordings, etc.) can be considered in a copyright infringement suit and based on what is included in those sources, which elements of a composition can be protected and/or infringed.

The Department of Justice v. ASCAP and BMI

Background: Performance rights organizations ASCAP and BMI asked the Department of Justice (which oversees the consent decrees governing ASCAP and BMI) to reform the decrees based on today’s digital age. Music publishers asked for the ability to negotiate directly with companies licensing music for digital uses. The Department of Justice ruled against all that was asked for by the music community and decided to implement a model of 100% licensing, which mandates that a performance rights organization can only license rights to perform a work if the organization controls 100% of that work.

BMI appealed the decision and got an immediate verdict in BMI’s favor allowing the industry practice of fractional licensing to continue. The Department of Justice has appealed BMI’s victory and that appeal is currently pending.

What you might expect: This is going to be an ongoing fight to the bitter end.

How it could affect the industry: As explained in more detail here, a ruling in favor of the Department of Justice would force the entire music industry to completely change the way it does business, render hundreds of thousands of works to be unlicensable by ASCAP and BMI, place incredible burdens on composition owners to track performances, potentially require hundreds of thousands of contracts to be amended, and would also affect the music industry throughout the world due to the reciprocal agreements ASCAP and BMI have with performance rights societies in other countries.

*This article does not constitute legal advice.

Erin M. Jacobson is a music attorney whose clients include Grammy and Emmy Award winners, legacy clients and catalogues, songwriters, music publishers, record labels, and independent artists and companies. She is based in Los Angeles where she handles a wide variety of music agreements and negotiations, in addition to owning and overseeing all operations for Indie Artist Resource, the independent musician’s resource for legal and business protection.

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The Significance Of Irving Azoff Calling The Radio Industry A Cartel (Forbes.com)

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Categories: Articles, Business, Legal Disputes, Legal Issues, Music, Music Contracts, Music Industry, Performance, Royalties, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By:  Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

This article was originally published on Forbes.com.

Global Music Rights (“GMR”), a performance rights organization founded by music industry mogul Irving Azoff, sued the Radio Music Licensing Committee (“RMLC”) this week for antitrust violations, claiming that the RMLC’s committee of radio stations seeks to discourage competition amongst these stations with the common goal of keeping payments to songwriters and music publishers artificially low and using its collective power to do so.

As I explained in a previous article, the RMLC recently filed a lawsuit against GMR claiming that GMR has created an artificial monopoly over works in its repertoire since GMR can dictate license fees and deny licenses to perform the music it represents if music licensees are not willing to pay GMR’s fees. Azoff founded GMR to offer a more boutique experience for the writers in its repertoire and seek higher licensing fees than ASCAP and BMI who are subject to government consent decrees and judicially restricted rates. The RMLC argued that the license fees required by GMR are exorbitant and seeks to lower them by forcing GMR to submit to judicial rate-setting proceedings, which would require a judge to mandate the rates GMR can charge its licensees.

GMR has been in negotiations with the RMLC since its inception, but still have not reached a deal because GMR will not agree to judicial rate-setting proceedings. GMR’s complaint states that its lawsuit is not in response to the RMLC’s previously filed antitrust suit against GMR, but rather “the group’s illegal conduct including price fixing, information sharing and threats of group boycotting.” GMR, who did reach a deal with two individual radio stations, argues that all stations should compete for the music they play, rather than banding together to force the music industry to succumb to low rates in order for music to be played. According to a press release from GMR, radio stations currently pay only about 4% of their revenue to songwriters and music publishers. To further put things into perspective, the RMLC represents over 10,000 radio stations that collectively bring in about $16 billion in advertising revenue annually, whereas GMR is an independent performance rights organization representing 70 songwriters and earns under $100 million per year.

As also explained in my prior article, radio stations rely on music for their content. Radio stations and other music content platforms repeatedly seek to reduce compensation to the songwriters and music rights owners that create the very music that establishes their listenership and drives their revenues. Although the stations behavior makes sense from a profit margin standpoint, it is still surprising that radio would seek to so significantly undervalue the music that comprises the foundation of its product.

The parties are at a standoff because if radio does not want to pay GMR’s rates, then radio stations can refuse to play works in the GMR repertoire. This is unfortunate for the artists in the GMR repertoire because they would lose the promotion and performance income provided by radio airplay. However, the radio stations themselves would also suffer because it would harm stations’ popularity with listeners if stations cannot play a requested new single by a GMR writer like Drake or Pharrell Williams, or even classic compositions by John Lennon or The Eagles. If radio listeners stop listening to stations because they do not play the music their listeners want to hear, then advertisers will stop buying advertising on those stations and move on to whatever other platforms their target markets have adopted. The RMLC is banking on being successful with this lawsuit as they were in their recent and very similar fight with performance rights organization SESAC. However, if the RMLC is unsuccessful at forcing GMR to submit to judicial rate proceedings, then radio stations will have the choice of either paying higher license fees for GMR artists or losing advertising revenue, a dilemma in which it would probably be to the stations’ advantage to pay the higher license fees requested by GMR than losing its advertisers.

Azoff said, “I will not stop the fight for fairness to artists and songwriters,” and he is not alone in his principles. Both creators and professionals within the music industry have seen rates steadily decline and are tired of accepting undervalued rates. Simultaneous to GMR’s battle for higher rates, songwriters and performance rights organizations have been combatting the United States Department of Justice amid other restrictions on music licensing. While the music industry is not dead yet, many within the industry are concerned about the viability of music as a career because without proper payment to songwriters and music publishers, the creation of music may be relegated to a hobby if the majority of creators cannot make a living from creating music.

*This article does not constitute legal advice.

Erin M. Jacobson is a music attorney whose clients include Grammy and Emmy Award winners, legacy clients and catalogues, songwriters, music publishers, record labels, and independent artists and companies. She is based in Los Angeles where she handles a wide variety of music agreements and negotiations, in addition to owning and overseeing all operations for Indie Artist Resource, the independent musician’s resource for legal and business protection.

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Radio Seeks to Pay Songwriters Lower Rates — Again (Forbes.com)

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Categories: Articles, Business, Legal Disputes, Legal Issues, Music, Music Industry, Music Industry Interviews, Performance, Royalties, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Radio Seeks to Pay Songwriters Lower Rates — Again

By:  Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

This article was originally published on Forbes.com.

A committee representing roughly 10,000 commercial radio stations has sued performance rights organization Global Music Rights (“GMR”) in an effort to further reduce the amount radio stations pay to music composition creators and rights owners for performances of their works. This committee is the Radio Music Licensing Committee (“RMLC”) and it claims that GMR has created an artificial monopoly over works in its repertoire.

Performance rights organizations (“PRO’s”) are organizations that track and collect performance royalties on behalf of songwriters and music publishers. In the United States, there are four PRO’s: ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, and GMR. ASCAP and BMI are the two largest U.S. PRO’s and are also non-profit organizations. Since 1941, ASCAP and BMI have been subject to consent decrees issued by the Department of Justice. These consent decrees are agreements that allow the government to regulate ASCAP and BMI’s license fees and how they operate in order to prevent monopolization and encourage competition. SESAC and GMR are both independent, privately owned companies that operate on a for-profit basis and are not subject to consent decrees.

Music industry mogul Irving Azoff founded GMR in 2013 in order to provide a more boutique experience for managing performance rights licensing and potentially command higher rates for the performances of works in its repertoire, which includes compositions written and/or performed by artists such as Adele, The Beatles, Pharrell Williams, Katy Perry, Madonna, and many more.

Because GMR is not subject to a consent decree, it can deny a license to perform the works in its repertoire and can also negotiate license rates as it sees fit. The RMLC argues that the license fees required by GMR are exorbitant and seeks to lower them by forcing GMR to submit to judicial rate-setting proceedings, which would require a judge to mandate the rates GMR can charge its licensees. This is similar to procedures mandated for ASCAP and BMI, but without subjecting GMR to a full consent decree. The RMLC previously filed a similar suit against SESAC and reached a settlement in the RMLC’s favor.

Terrestrial radio makes its money on advertising revenue, and while radio is far from dead, it no longer holds the status of its heyday. Terrestrial radio and other broadcasters regularly fight to reduce license fees, as terrestrial radio lobbyists were also part of the group in favor of the Department of Justice’s crackdown on ASCAP and BMI’s licensing platforms, the outcome of which is still pending.

Most observers of this situation usually fail to mention that the public perception of radio’s purpose is music promotion. Without music driving the listenership of certain stations, those particular stations would not earn the ad revenue from advertisers who want to reach those stations’ listeners. However, the stations repeatedly seek to reduce compensation to the songwriters and music rights owners that create the very music that establishes their listenership and drives their revenues.

Terrestrial radio isn’t the only industry trying to reduce payments to music creators and rights’ owners. Those of us who regularly handle music licenses know that attempts to undervalue music also come from Internet and digital companies, as well as small bars and restaurants. Visual productions seeking synchronization and master use licenses also regularly try to lowball license fees or request gratis uses.

It is up to music creators and rights’ owners to value music (#valuemusic) and require proper payment for uses of their music, and to those that use music to recognize the value that music brings to their project or business.

*This article does not constitute legal advice.

Erin M. Jacobson is a music attorney whose clients include Grammy and Emmy Award winners, legacy clients and catalogues, songwriters, music publishers, record labels, and independent artists and companies. She is based in Los Angeles where she handles a wide variety of music agreements and negotiations, in addition to owning and overseeing all operations for Indie Artist Resource, the independent musician’s resource for legal and business protection.

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Erin M. Jacobson featured on Forbes.com

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I am honored announce I am published on Forbes.com.  My first article for Forbes discusses Frank Ocean’s decision to go independent after his split from Def Jam.

Below is the text of the article and stay tuned as more will be published!

Checkmate:  Frank Ocean Goes Independent

By:  Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

Originally published at Forbes.com.  Also reposted at Hypebot.com.

Frank Ocean has chosen the road less travelled for major label artists. He recently split with Def Jam, independently released his latest album, Blonde to chart success, and has refused to submit the album for Grammy voting consideration. While a major label deal was once the holy grail of industry success, what does it mean for artists in today’s industry?

Def Jam released Ocean from his deal in September 2016, a relationship described as “a bad marriage” by Spin magazine who also reported that Ocean’s release from his deal was negotiated. A condition of the split allowed Def Jam to distribute Ocean’s album Endless, while then freeing Ocean to release Blonde under his own imprint. In a recent interview for the New York Times, Ocean described his deal with Def Jam as “a seven-year chess game” and used his own money to buy himself out of his contract and reclaim his master recordings.

Ocean’s “seven-year chess game” refers to the seven-album deal structure typical for major labels. Major labels will sign an artist to a seven-album deal, meaning that the artist is obligated (often subject to pick-up options exercisable only by the label) to release seven albums with the label. This concept can be deceiving to those who don’t understand the structure because the length of the contract is tied to the number of albums released rather than a term of years. Fifty years ago the industry moved at a pace where an artist could release at least one album per year and then be done with the contract in seven years. However, artists today often take more than one year to write and record a new album, often not getting back in the studio until being on the road for almost a year after a prior album’s release. The reality of this schedule means that it often takes two years or more before a follow-up release and thus locks the artist into the contract for as long as it takes to complete the seven albums.

What is more unique about this situation is that Ocean not only bought himself out of the contract, but bought out the rights to his recordings as well. Major label (and most independent label) recording agreements stipulate that the label will own the artist’s recordings, as the label is usually fronting the money to make the recordings. Recording agreements don’t automatically come with the right to buy back masters; that clause is usually included via a good music attorney that knows to negotiate for it. However, many artists that have buy-back rights included in the contract don’t get to exercise those rights due to lack of funds. Ocean was in a privileged position in that he was able to accumulate enough of his own money to meet what was probably a hefty price for his freedom.

Ocean’s move towards independence echoes the increasing trend within the industry to control one’s own destiny and retain ownership of one’s work, a view shared by the majority of my artist clients. Today’s artists relish being independent, but the challenge is remembering that a music career is not only creative, it is also a business and needs to be run as such. Ocean seems to have that mentality. “I know exactly what the numbers are,” Ocean states. “I need to know how many records I’ve sold, how many album equivalents from streaming, which territories are playing my music more than others, because it helps me in conversations about where we’re gonna be playing shows, or where I might open a retail location, like a pop-up store or something.” This level of attention to detail is essential for independent artists looking to build a lasting career.

Ocean’s fame earned while he was backed by a major label puts him in an advantageous position because he has already accumulated a fanbase whose continued support will earn him a lucrative living as an independent artist. Artists in this position no longer need major labels because they have enough fame, opportunities, customer loyalty, and cash flow to finance their future efforts. It is much more difficult for artists still building their followings to achieve the same level of success outright, but many independent artists now look more towards making a living off of their music rather than superstardom. In today’s market, ownership and control of one’s work coupled with keeping a majority of the profits entice artists more than a major label’s deep pockets. As Ocean said:

It started to weigh on me that I was responsible for the moves that had made me successful, but I wasn’t reaping the lion’s share of the profits, and that was problematic for me.”

*This article does not constitute legal advice.

Erin M. Jacobson is a music attorney whose clients include Grammy and Emmy Award winners, legacy clients and catalogues, songwriters, music publishers, record labels, and independent artists and companies. She is based in Los Angeles where she handles a wide variety of music agreements and negotiations, in addition to owning and overseeing all operations for Indie Artist Resource, the independent musician’s resource for legal and business protection.

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Ask a Music Lawyer: How to Actually Hire a Lawyer

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Categories: Articles, Music, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By:  Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

This article was originally published on Sonicbids.com.

I’ve previously discussed what to consider when hiring an attorney and how to find the right attorney for you. Some questions have been asked about what the hiring process actually looks like once you have found the attorney with whom you want to work. Overall it’s fairly simple, however, the process can be filled with uncertainty if you’ve never hired an attorney before. Procedures vary slightly between attorneys, but here’s an idea based on the general landscape and my own personal experience.

1. Speak with lawyer about fees, how those fees are paid, and make sure you are able to pay those fees

As I discussed in a prior article, attorney fees typically range from $250 to $1,000 per hour. When you pay an attorney hourly, you’re paying for that attorney’s time and skill provided during the time spent on your matter, which usually includes phone calls, correspondence, and advising you, in addition to drafting or reviewing an actual document. The attorney will usually use a timer or other program to keep track of the exact time spent on your matter.

Some attorneys will charge certain tasks on a flat fee or charge on an overall percentage basis. While hours are not tracked under these models, the principles of paying for the attorney’s skills are the same. Percentage clients are usually those making sizable incomes and receiving large advances, as otherwise the attorney would be putting in a lot of time in exchange for pennies.

Hourly and flat-fee models will often require an upfront retainer, which is an advance payment of fees by the client. The attorney will then consider the funds “earned” after completing the work covered within that month’s billing cycle.

If there are still funds left in the retainer, those can be carried over to future work or refunded to the client. Some attorneys do still allow for payment after the work has been done, but that has become rare. Attorneys working on a percentage are usually paid by the client’s business manager.

2. Sign the engagement letter and complete any attorney paperwork

When you’ve communicated to the attorney that you would like to hire him or her, the attorney will most likely require you to sign an engagement letter or fee agreement.

This letter is an agreement between the client and the attorney and is there for the client’s protection. The letter usually explains what services the client is hiring the attorney to perform, the agreed-upon fee, an explanation of billing practices and other charges, as well as office policies. You have the right to have this letter reviewed by another attorney.

Other attorneys require some other forms as well, such as information forms to keep a client’s contact and other relevant information on file for convenience. The attorney will let you know what forms are required and how you should submit them.

3. Send contracts/agreements

Once you’ve officially hired the attorney, you can then send whatever contracts or other information you need the attorney to review. The attorney can also start making phone calls or otherwise acting on your behalf.

The exact actions will vary based on your matter, but the gist is that the attorney cannot do any work for you or act as your representative until officially hired by you.

4. Introduce the attorney to other team members

If you have a manager, agent, or other team members you work with and they haven’t already been introduced to your attorney or know that you have hired a particular attorney, they should be notified and introduced to your attorney. Ideally, this would have already occurred so you could have made sure everyone on the team would work well together.

5. Be respectful of the attorney’s time and business practices

Most attorneys keep fairly regular business hours, and in the music business that usually means about 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. Be respectful of your attorney’s time and don’t expect him or her to return your phone calls or emails outside of these hours unless you know that your attorney keeps a different schedule or is on-call 24/7.

Also remember that you’re not the attorney’s only client, so allow a reasonable amount of time for the attorney to respond to you before following up. Also, don’t assume the attorney’s phone number is a cell phone, so don’t text your attorney unless you know it’s okay to do so.

In addition to being respectful of the attorney’s time, be respectful of your attorney’s payment policies. For example, if the attorney requires a retainer, don’t fight to pay only after work has been completed.

Also, be mindful of how you are being billed (hourly, percentage, flat fee) and what you are being billed for (phone calls, emails, drafting, hourly minimums) so there are no surprises later.

6. Be professional.

Your relationship with your attorney is a professional one, so act accordingly. Attorneys are allowed to be friends and socialize with clients, but don’t make sexual advances towards your attorney, call your attorney names, telephone your attorney when intoxicated (unless you need to be bailed out), or exhibit other non-professional behavior.

Be organized and make sure the attorney has the information needed to do the work for you. Not only does it make the work flow smoother, but it cuts your costs because the attorney doesn’t have to spend his or her time chasing you for information.

Remember, information you give your attorney is confidential. It is important to be honest about all information with your attorney, as your attorney cannot adequately represent you or handle a situation for you if you withhold information.

If you don’t know how your attorney wishes to handle something, what your attorney’s particular policies are, or if there’s something else you don’t understand – ask! As in all relationships in life, honesty and communication are the best policies.

7. Value your attorney and the contribution he or she makes to your career

Your attorney has had years of rigorous scholastic training and experience in the real world. In the case of the music industry, attorneys needs to have a deep understanding of a very complex set of laws (intellectual property, contracts, etc.) in addition to the business and intricate payment practices of a very unique industry.

When you hire an attorney, you’re getting the benefit of the attorney’s vast amount of knowledge and experience. You’re not just paying for a physical product like a contract, you’re paying for the attorney’s expertise and the ability to handle a complex issue effectively and efficiently.

If there’s a legitimate problem with the work or a bill, then by all means address it, but don’t ask your attorney to handle a matter and then complain about what it cost, as it’s insulting to the attorney and the service he or she provides to you.

Overall, just use common sense and be respectful. Your attorney is there to look out for your best interests and is one of the most important relationships of your career.

 

Disclaimer: This article is for educational and informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. The content contained in this article is not legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific matter or matters. This article does not constitute or create an attorney-client relationship between Erin M. Jacobson, Esq. and you or any other user. The law may vary based on the facts or particular circumstances or the law in your state. You should not rely on, act, or fail to act, upon this information without seeking the professional counsel of an attorney licensed in your state.

If this article is considered an advertisement, it is general in nature and not directed towards any particular person or entity.

 

Erin M. Jacobson is a practicing music attorney, experienced deal negotiator, and seasoned advisor of intellectual property rights. She protects clients ranging from Grammy and Emmy Award winners to independent artists, record labels, music publishers, and production companies. Ms. Jacobson also owns and oversees all operations for Indie Artist Resource, the independent musician’s resource for legal and business protection offering template contracts, consultations, and other services designed to meet the unique needs of independent musicians.

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Erin to Speak at TAXI Road Rally Convention, November 4-5, 2016

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Categories: Music Contracts, Music Industry, Speaking, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Erin will speak at the TAXI Road Rally on November 4-5, 2016.

Here is Erin’s presentation schedule:

Friday, November 4, 2016, 2:45pm-4:15pm

Don’t Get Screwed! How to Protect Yourself as an Independent Musician
with Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

Saturday, November 5, 2016, 4:30pm-6:00pm

Understanding Music Library Agreements
with Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

(in this session, you can bring actual library agreements and ask questions about the language in those agreements)

Both sessions with have ample opportunity for Q&A.

The TAXI Road Rally is for TAXI Members and will be held at the Westin LAX.  For more information on the Road Rally, including schedule and entrance information, visit TAXI.com.

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