This episode about rights, royalties and contracts was previously published on the Profitable Musician Show.
In this episode, Dave Ratner from Creative Law Network talks about rights, royalties and contracts, a bit of publishing, understanding all the different rights you have as a musician, and how to make sure that you claim all of them.
Before Dave started law works, he worked in music. He was a band manager, a tour manager and a roadie. He didn’t play music but he loved it so he worked in it. He worked for his favorite band as their tour manager, and eventually manager. Then he set up a management agency and managed other bands as well.
He enjoyed doing the business side so the artists can focus on their art. He also realized that whenever they have a contract, he needed to hire a lawyer and that he could do more for the bands if he was himself an attorney.
He attended law school and eventually put up his law firm, Creative Law Network, in 2012. They work with artists and creatives on all of the legal stuff, including revenue streams, controlling your rights and figuring out where the revenue is coming from. They work on contracts, licensing, copyrights and trademarks, and everything a musician or someone in the music industry needs to run their business.
Dave works with a lot of artists who are still in the early stage. They come to him when they need a management contract. They have not assembled a team yet — manager, agent and publicist. The language in a contract is hard to decipher and that is one of the main reasons people come for help to him with that stuff. Some contracts are written in a way that there is no negotiation possible like with Distrokid or CD Baby.
Rights, royalties and contracts
People need to buy license they can use, like EasySong, Harry Fox or one of those to get mechanicals taken care of before they put it even digitally distributed.
You could have Bree Noble Music as your company and your company could function as your label, your performing company for doing gigs, publishing comp, and merch company. As artists grow, we separate the merch company, the touring company, and the label. We start to do that but to start, a lot of times, we will put it all under one roof in the initial stages until we grow to a point where we want to break it out into separate companies.
Regarding copyrights, if you ever needed to file a lawsuit for infringement of your copyright. If somebody steals your work, you need to have a registration to file that lawsuit. To answer the question of my general feeling on it, it is when you will release the music. It is not likely someone is going to steal your music if no one has ever heard it. When we create any copyrighted work, whoever has contributed to its creation is a co-owner.
I tell my students to do in my Rock Your Next Release Course. I say, “As soon as you get your masters and before you start releasing your first single, it is time to send all of it in.” If they are doing an EP or a full album, “Send all of it in for copyright so you can feel fine about releasing your singles up to your full album release because you have got it all registered.” There are two kinds of copyright. There is the R and the W, the Written and the Recording. Another thing that I go over in my course and give them links to some contracts they can use because when you are new, I certainly did not know that.
Here is a valuable advise from Dave: What we have not talked about that is important to this conversation is some people ask you, “When do I do a copyright registration?” People ask me, “When do I hire a lawyer?” It is challenging because it can be expensive and prohibitive.
I will encourage folks to talk to an attorney if you think they might need that help. We will always do a free consultation for anybody. We do not expect anyone to pay us until they decide to hire us. Having the opportunity to go over these things like when you are offered a contract, you do feel like the band is gelled and we need a band agreement, or you do have questions about how to do a copyright registration.
It is very important to work with an attorney at that point. Contracts do not have to be confusing. I’m always going to encourage anyone to have a contract with the folks they are working with. When you are bringing people into the studio, have something in writing. It does not have to be long or full of legalese. It has to be clear, explicit, and unambiguous. You have to know what we agree to.
Honestly, in law school and your contrast course, you would learn that there was a case hundreds of years ago where people wrote out a contract on a bar napkin and that contract was enforceable. I’m not encouraging anyone to write contracts on bar napkins but you can do deal points like, “This is what we agreed to.” Have a split sheet when you are co-writing with people. Say the name of the song or the name of each co-writer, what are our percentages, and everybody signs.
Put things in writing because our memories fade or change. Oral agreements do not always go well. Do not be afraid of the legal stuff. Reach out to an attorney or write a simple contract and see what you can find online. Be careful what you find online but do not ignore this stuff. Do not try and sweep it under the rug. It is worth it to pay attention to it. It pays you back in the long run.
Our firm is Creative Law Network. It is CreativeLawNetwork.com. We are on all the socials but you can just reach out. What we do is help artists with the legal so they can focus on the art. Send me an email, give us a phone call, and send us a note on the website and through the socials. We will find a time to connect and answer any questions you have but Creative Law Network is the way to find me. I would love to hear from folks who have read this.