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Categotry Archives: Music Contracts

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Erin M. Jacobson Speaking at Taxi Road Rally

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

I will be speaking at the 2017 Taxi Road Rally, November 3-4, 2017!

Here is my schedule:

Friday, November 3, 2017 from 2:45-4:15 pm / La Guardia Room (Mezzanine Level / 2nd Floor)

Don’t Get Screwed! How to Protect Yourself as an Independent Musician with Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.  An explanation of the most common types of ways independent musicians and songwriters get screwed and how to protect yourself before it happens. This class will include real examples from artist’s careers, as well as a discussion on what contracts are necessary to prevent these scenarios, along with an opportunity for Q&A with music attorney Erin Jacobson.

(I will also participate in the mentor lunch on Friday.)

Saturday, November 4, 2017 from 4:30-6:00 pm /  La Guardia Room (Mezzanine Level / 2nd Floor)

Understanding Music Library Agreements with Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.  Music attorney, Erin M. Jacobson will talk about the types of deals offered and explain what contract terminology and certain clauses mean. You may bring printouts of particular clauses that have you stumped and Ms. Jacobson will read them and explain what they mean! This class could save you a world of hurt down the road. It’s a Do-Not-Miss session if you’re pitching to music libraries!

Looking forward to seeing you there!

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Sync Licenses Explained!

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Categories: Articles, Copyright, Film, Music Contracts, Music Industry, Music Publishing, Performance, Royalties, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By:  Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

A synchronization license is a license to use a composition in an audiovisual production. (A master use license is a synchronization license for the master recording.) A placement can be quite lucrative, but it’s important to understand how your music is being used. Here’s a basic overview of the main points in a synchronization license:

  1. Licensor

The licensor is the person who owns the music and giving permission for it to be used in the audiovisual project. The music publisher owns the composition and the record label owns the master recording. Independent musicians might own both.

The licensor’s information will also include the licensor’s ownership share of the composition or master that is the subject of the license. Also, the writers of the composition and their performance rights organization information will be listed.

  1. Licensee

This is the person receiving the permission to use the music in the audiovisual project. This is usually a production company, studio, or network.

  1. Timing

Timing is how much of the song will be used in the audiovisual project; for example, it could be thirty seconds or an entire song.

  1. Type of Use

This is basically how the music will be used. There are many different terms thrown around to designate the type of use, but without using a bunch of industry-specific terms, examples would be playing in the background, with or without people talking over it; a live performance; played on a radio; an opening or closing theme; or in the credits.

  1. Territory

The territory covers where in the world can the music be used within the audiovisual project. This might be worldwide, for a specific country, or even a local area.

  1. Term

The term is for how long can the music be used within the audiovisual project. This might be in perpetuity or only for a specific length of time.

  1. Media

This is a big talking point because it includes the types of media in which the music can be used as part of the audiovisual project. This can include TV (and what types of channels), theatrical (movie theatres), film festivals, the Internet, all of these, or only some of these. The rights section also includes language about whether the music can only be used in the specific project itself, or also whether it can be included in promotions for the projects and if so, what types of promotions.

  1. Money

Everyone’s favorite topic, i.e. the fee you are getting paid for the use of your music!  This is going to be a negotiated fee based on the type of use, popularity of the song, and other factors.

  1. Direct Performance

Direct performance rights are not present in every sync license, but are being seen more frequently. Basically, some licensees want to pay a buy-out fee of your performance royalties in an effort to move away from paying blanket license fees to the performance rights organizations (who would normally collect your performance royalties and pay those to you). One problem with this is that the licensees still have their blanket licenses with the performance rights organizations, so a buyout of performance royalties would leave you out of any income generated from performances over the amount of the buyout.

  1. Some legal language

This is for your attorney to handle!

 

One should always have an experienced attorney look over any license you receive. Contact me if you have a license you need reviewed.

 

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. 

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You’ve Inherited a Song Catalogue, Now What? (What Heirs Need to Know)

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

By: Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.


I see many spouses or children that inherit a song catalogue from a songwriter relative, and are not familiar with the music business or how to administer intellectual property rights of music.

Here is the first thing to do: Hire a music attorney experienced with managing catalogues and music publishing.

When I work with heirs on how to manage a catalogue they’ve inherited:

  • I assess the catalogue. I work with my client to know exactly what they have in the catalogue. I find out whether the heir owns the copyrights to the songs – either because the original writer never granted them away or recaptured them at a certain point before inheritance. If the heir doesn’t own the songs, I determine who does have ownership and the terms of the deals with those owners.
  • I review the old contracts and assess whether the current publisher or administrator is doing the best job for the catalogue or if the catalogue might be better at a new home.
  • I assist with inventory of all the titles, copyright years, and registration numbers (if possible); and determine all sources from which the heir receives statements and royalties. Keeping everything organized is essential to either managing or selling the catalogue.
  • I assess whether certain provisions of the copyright law apply so that an heir who doesn’t own the catalogue may be able to reclaim ownership of those copyrights, after which I can negotiate a new deal with the best publisher to manage the catalogue.
  • I coordinate a valuation appraisal of the catalogue for potential sale.

Selling the catalogue is a personal decision, it depends on whether one would rather receive royalty checks or instead receive a lump sum upfront in exchange for the catalogue. This depends the circumstances of each individual situation, both from a financial standpoint and whether the heir wants to have a continuing relationship to the catalogue.

Inherited catalogues are special for family legacy reasons, but also because they come with their own set of decisions. Many heirs have not had previous experience with the music publishing business, and either miss important milestones that would put the catalogue in a better position, or they rely on existing deals with companies that are no longer looking out for the best interests of the catalogue. Banks and other trustees often complicate matters, as well as representatives not experienced in music publishing and copyright management. Many of these personnel only look at the numbers. I personally love older music and understand the sentimental value of a catalogue beyond the income it brings in each year, as well as whether and how it can be profitable in today’s market.

Again, the first step in dealing with a catalogue you have inherited is hiring a music attorney experienced with music catalogues and who can make the right plan for your catalogue.

 

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. 

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Erin M. Jacobson, Esq. on TAXI TV

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Categories: Copyright, Law, Legal Issues, Music Contracts, Music Industry, Music Libraries, Music Publishing, Performance, Royalties, Streaming, Videos, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I appeared on TAXI TV yesterday discussing YouTube payments, royalty free music, cover records, and more!

Here’s the replay of the show:

 

Thanks to Michael Laskow of TAXI Music for having me on the show!

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How Influential Are You?: How Music Creators and Companies Can Leverage Branding and Online Influencing

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Categories: Articles, Business, Music Contracts, Music Industry, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By: Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

Today’s music industry is no longer about income from sales. Artists, writers, and the companies that represent them need to find innovative ways to generate additional income streams. In addition to sales, many on the music side have discovered the value of getting synchronization (sync) placements in TV and film. However, this discovery has led to the sync market being oversaturated, and in many cases, reduced fees for sync placements.

Another avenue for artists and rights’ owners involves the branding and influencing space.  Sponsorships and endorsements, as well as social media influencing, have become different strategies brands can use to market their products via influence from traditional celebrities or “ordinary” people with a substantial online following. Celebrity endorsements tend to focus on the celebrity status boosting the brand or using the celebrity’s image to make the brand relevant to a target demographic.   However, the celebrity’s career does not have to have anything to do with the type of product(s) they are endorsing. Influencers are more specialized—they will promote products within certain circles and related to their expertise. For example, a fashion blogger and influencer would promote fashion-related products.

Consumers today want transparency in advertising and recommendations to come from personalities they trust. However, much of the advertising they see appears more transparent than it really is. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued guidelines for social media and other advertising. In endorsement deals I have done for my clients, there are often provisions stipulating that social media posts promoting the brand are accompanied by certain hashtags to clarify that there is an agreement between the brand and the artist to promote that brand. However, as these guidelines are just that, they don’t seem to be heavily enforced and a lot of product promotions are posted without such notification leading the consumer to believe the recommendations are organic and without any connection to or financial backing from the company.

In addition to transparency in advertising, consumers and fans want personal connections to personalities they admire. They want to share in the commonalities, hobbies, and lifestyle as it makes them feel emotionally closer to the personality and feel like they are able to live a similar lifestyle to the personality. Lifestyle brands often stem from a specific image and way of life stemming from a certain individual and material they are creating, but as society moves toward touching the inner need of individuals to express themselves, artists like Lady Gaga are combining the traditional model of selling the lifestyle of the celebrity and using the celebrity’s values to promote the fan’s expression of individuality.

While artists can tap into commonalities in the lifestyles of fans, doing so for rights’ holders like music publishers and record labels is slightly more difficult. Rights’ holders can seek these opportunities for their artists or writers to involve them as the “face” of a campaign, but in the case of a writer, this plan doesn’t work if the writer is not also a performer. However, in these situations, rights’ holders can seek to use the music as the “soundtrack” of a particular brand by using the sound, feel, and what the music represents to showcase a brand or lifestyle that appeals to consumers. This can be a symbiotic relationship where a more established brand can help break or boost a newer musical talent, but also where more established music can help to break or boost an up-and-coming brand. In most cases, sync rights will be involved in these campaigns, but the relationship can be extended for more than just a single placement. Taking it a step further, having the music or artists involved in events, stores, and activities in which the demographic participates and then having product to monetize at these venues can help to bring the campaign full circle. Both artists and companies like labels may be able to leverage online influencers by having them attend and post about the artist’s concerts or other events.

Opportunities on the Internet continue to expand, as social media now incorporates music and short videos and audio clips in addition to photographs. While some of the monetization of the use of the music in these posts can be questionable, short clips of audio and video can be the gateway to monetizing other avenues with more substantial revenue like concert tickets, merchandise, sales, and other participation that leads to larger opportunities.

In summation, today’s means of reaching consumers extends beyond traditional demographic analyses. Today’s marketing and ancillary income relies on finding ways to emotionally connect artists and music with consumers in an authentic way and enabling consumers to feel like they are able to express themselves and their ideal lifestyle through their association with the artists and music they consume.

Click here to contact Erin to review and negotiate one of these agreements on your behalf, or counsel you on your specific situation.

 

 

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. 

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The Most Common Music Publishing Agreements Explained!

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

All music starts with a composition, which is one of the reasons why I love the area of music publishing. Despite the low streaming rates, there is still a lot of activity and money to be made on the publishing side of music. Whether you are a writer signing with a music publisher, or you self-publish your own music, here are the some typical music publishing contracts:

Songwriter Agreement

A Songwriter Agreement usually involves a writer transferring 100% of the copyrights to the song(s) in your catalogue and/or written during the term to a music publisher and a 50/50 income split between the publisher and the writer. While these were some of the most common agreements 60 years ago and are still used today, they aren’t entered into as often because many writers value owning their content more in today’s music market.

Co-Publishing Agreement

A Co-Publishing Agreement is very common today and involves a writer transferring 50% of the copyrights to the song(s) to the music publishers and an income split of 75/25 where 75% goes to the writer and 25% goes to the publisher.

Administration Agreement

An Administration Agreement is also very popular today and involves no copyright transfer—the publisher administers (handles licenses, tracks royalties, etc.) without owning copyright. This agreement includes a 90/10 income split where 90% goes to the writer and 10% goes to the publisher as a fee for doing the administration.

Songwriter Split Agreement

A Songwriter Split Agreement is something that always needs to be completed when co-writing songs with others. It is essential to minimize disputes between co-writers, but is also usually required by publishing companies, whether you are your own publisher, administer for co-writers or other unrelated writers, or are signed as a writer to a music publishing company.  A Songwriter Split Agreement can be custom drafted, or one can use a template from Indie Artist Resource.

Licensing/Placement Agreement

Many “placement houses” or “pitching companies” that have traditionally just focused on pitching music for placement in TV and film are now getting into the publishing game. The copyright transfer and income splits tend to vary on these deals, and I have seen a lot of them called “Co-Publishing Agreements” that really do not follow the traditional co-publishing model. These can get tricky because of term variations as well as retitling and other practices.

 

Music publishing is one of the most complicated areas of the music business and as you may have gleaned from this article, the associated agreements and principles can get extremely complicated. Any artists/writers should have an experienced music attorney draft their music publishing agreements agreements for them if they are administering their own publishing or publishing for others. An experienced music attorney is also invaluable to review and negotiate any publishing agreements or licenses presented writers, as an experienced music attorney knows what the terms and custom and practice should be, as well as has the training to catch problems or unfair clauses that writers may miss.

I regularly draft, review, and negotiate all of these types of agreements, so please don’t hesitate to contact me if I can handle one or more of these agreements on your behalf.

Protecting and Profiting from Your Original Music - Erin M. Jacobson, Esq. (Indie Artist Resource)

If you are interested in starting your own music publishing company and administering your own publishing or publishing for other writers, download Erin’s video on Protecting and Profiting from Your Original Music where she explains:

  • how to set-up your own music publishing company for your original music
  • the basics of running your publishing company
  • the different royalty streams and publishing contracts you need to know
  • what agreements you NEED to have in place
  • how to protect your music the RIGHT way
  • requirements for collecting your royalty payments
  • the different ways of exploiting your music to earn money from it

Click here to download the video now.

 

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.

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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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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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Erin M. Jacobson featured on Forbes.com

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Categories: Articles, Business, Music Contracts, Music Industry, Record Labels, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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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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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