This blog is contributed by AWAL. is Kobalt's unique alternative to the traditional music label, offering artists and independent labels a range of services without having to give up ownership or control. With local offices around the world, AWAL's services include global distribution, marketing and release management, A&R, funding, playlist promotion, radio & PR, YouTube monetisation, and access to real-time comprehensive music data and insights through the AWAL App.
If you’ve ever been presented with a piece of paper that requires your signature, you may have consulted a lawyer. As an independent artist, a music lawyer becomes your go-to for any legal situations, of course, but what you may not realize is he or she plays a much larger role in your team and career.
“Music lawyers are vital to all independent artists because artists are generally concerned with music and creative matters,” says Jim Arnay, US General Counsel, Kobalt Music. “Having an experienced lawyer can help the artist avoid the many pitfalls that can befall an artist who is not represented. It's like having a field guide in a jungle.”
A music lawyer, along with your manager and other key team members, can be instrumental in big-picture planning and advising you on moves that affect your career trajectory. While this certainly includes any legal advice you might need regarding those sometimes-intimidating contracts and documents, it extends far beyond that.
“There are so many different ways that music is being exploited now,” says Arnay, “that it's more important than ever that artists be aware of what those media are and how they can protect themselves to make sure that they’re fairly compensated in all those different areas.”
Regardless of whether or not you’ve had to consult a music lawyer thus far in your career, here are some things you need to know to find the best one for you.
What does a music lawyer do, exactly?
A good music lawyer should have your best interests at heart — no matter what. “There's a code of ethics that applies to lawyers,” says Arnay. “Lawyers are charged with representing the interests of their client. That's essential. The question is how do they go about discharging that obligation.”
Though it’s logical to assume the scope of a music lawyer’s duties fall solely inside the legal realm and mostly involve vetting contracts, their responsibilities actually are much more far-reaching. As Arnay says, “It's not just reviewing the piece of paper that's in front of you now, it's trying to figure out what piece of paper would you ideally like to have in front of you later.”
Generally, a typical music lawyer works with an artist or songwriter, usually in tandem with their , to help chart the hopeful course of aspirations and goals for their career. Then, the lawyer can offer the best advice as to what the short-, medium-, and long-term strategy and tactics should be to accomplish those goals.
Music lawyers also evaluate what opportunities are in front of an artist and help them make sense of any agreements — management, publishing, recording, etc. — they’re presented with. Then, the lawyer arms the artist with any knowledge or criteria that helps negotiate a specific agreement into the best deal possible according to those pre-determined unique goals. Ultimately, this helps artists gain more negotiating power over their own careers.
When is the right time to start looking for a music lawyer?
As a general rule of thumb, artists start looking for a music lawyer when they’re asked to sign something — no matter what that document might be. That initial consultation will start establishing the working relationship between artist and lawyer early on, and then the lawyer can help the artist plan for their career.
And unlike some other members of your team, you can onboard a lawyer before or after hiring a manager, publicist, etc. It’s worth noting, though, that lawyers can help advocate for your best interests when dealing with your team.
How do I choose a music lawyer?
First, and maybe most obviously, you’ll want to choose a music lawyer, not a generalized lawyer or one who’s focused on another area of law. An entertainment/music lawyer will be familiar with and qualified to give guidance on the music industry and the various agreements and situations you might encounter in your career.
As with many other members of your team, you might choose an lawyer based on a referral from a trusted source, fellow artist, or even another team member. Reading articles or researching lawyers that specialize in your area or genre of music might also help you in your search.
Above all, when choosing a music lawyer, it’s important to find someone you trust and who you feel is sufficiently attentive to and aware of your concerns. Depending on where a lawyer is in their career, they could have a large or small roster with ample or little time to devote to individual clients. “You want to make sure that you feel that your lawyer is listening to you and that you are a priority,” says Arnay.
Where do I start when I hire a music lawyer?
Your relationship with your music lawyer begins much like many other dealings in the biz: with a meeting. After selecting your prospective lawyer, it’s important to sit down and see if you’re comfortable with this person and the fee arrangement they’re proposing. It would also be up to the lawyer to decide whether they’d ultimately like to represent you.
This meeting may also kick off goal planning and career mapping. Ideally, at this initial meeting, the lawyer will evaluate your situation, current opportunities, and generally where you are as an artist.
Though it’s of the utmost importance to find a music lawyer who you trust to represent you thoroughly in all legal and business matters, remember that it’s crucial to find one who clicks with you as a member of your team.