Tue | Oct 16, 2018

No lawyer, don't sign - Music business players reinforce legal precautions

Published:Sunday | May 27, 2018 | 12:00 AMShereita Grizzle
Michael Dawson

A recording contract from a big label is many an artiste's dream. That dream, however, can quickly turn into a nightmare when that contract becomes stifling for an artiste. It's a cry too often heard in the music business; artistes complaining of the lack of flexibility to maneouver the industry, their limited ability to work with any other label outside of the one they are signed to and the limited ability to earn from their music if they decide to up and leave a label because of an 'unfair' contract.

Music industry insiders encourage aspiring artistes to retain entertainment lawyers to go through any contract they are thinking of signing, before putting that all important signature on the dotted line. In an interview with The Sunday Gleaner Michael Dawson, CEO of Whirlwind Entertainment and businessman, stressed that legal advice isn't something entertainers should be seeking after they've already signed recording contracts, but something sought from the get-go. He lamented that even after hearing of the horror stories of veteran entertainers; he is surprised that the younger generation is still making similar mistakes as far as contracts are concerned.

"I think we've developed too much as an industry for artistes today to still be having issues with contracts but, sadly, we are. I know lawyer fees can sometimes be expensive and if you are an up-and-coming entertainer it can be difficult to secure the funds to retain one. But you have to look at this money that will be spent as an investment and a necessity. You are ultimately securing your future. It will be worth it, trust me," he said. "You can't trust that people are looking out for your best interest and you have to therefore look out for you. The same companies that they complain about have their lawyers retained and are securing their best interest. You must get legal advice and you must get it the minute you are offered a contract."

Entertainment lawyer Ronald Young said while the issues still haunt the industry, he believes they are lessening as more and more entertainers begin to view the music industry as a business and not just as a means to an end. "Things have been changing. I have personally seen the changes over the last seven or so years, where entertainers - new as well as veterans - are taking the entertainment business as a business and not just entertainment. They are getting themselves entertainment lawyers to help them set up their final structures, to ensure they are protected by contracts and to ensure contracts are reviewed before they sign them, so it's getting better," he said.

 

FIGHTING FOR WHAT'S THEIRS

 

"The truth is, though, that there are still entertainers (particularly veterans) who are still fighting to get what's rightfully theirs, because they may have signed bad agreements when they were young, before getting proper legal advice at the time. Those agreements were in perpetuity (not subject to termination), so they last for the life of copyright in music. They didn't realise that all of their music was owned by somebody else by virtue of their contract and they have no rights other than an advance that was paid to them."

Dawson, offering advice to up-and-coming entertainers, encouraged them not to rely on the input of family and friends when making big business decisions. He explained that the mistake many entertainers make is to have family and friends go through the contracts with them. He says this is a recipe for disaster, as oftentimes these persons only think about the perks that come with the contract and not the details outlined in the fine print.

"I might ruffle a few feathers when I say this, but I can't tell you how many times I've had to negotiate with an entertainer's babymother sister who knows a little something about law and they use these people because they don't have to pay them the amount of money they would pay a lawyer. But shortcut isn't the way to go. Oftentimes family and friends only care about the perks - the things an artiste will get when they sign - and I'm surprised sometimes that that's where most of their focus is and not the details that speak to their future," Dawson said.