Listen – Speak – Revolt

Being a musician can often times be a disheartening line of work. Not only is the industry ultra competitive from a musical perspective, talent runs deep from the United States all the way to the Ukraine so emerging from a pack of other talented individuals can be downright mindboggling. In order to break away from the masses, music has to be treated as a profession not a hobby. Becoming a professional in the industry (whether that be a label/band/artist/writer/or manage) means you generate livelihood from the craft not dabble in it part time. So how is this accomplished? That answer is way to complex and vague to be addressed in an informal blog post so I’ll give the quick and dirty answer- know when to listen, speak, and revolt. Meaning, bands should know when to integrate certain professionals into their career, how to locate the ideal team members, and how to identify the warning signs that something may be out of whack.

Frequent readers may accuse this article of being biased because it will soon address the critical need to have an entertainment attorney. “Yes” I’m an entertainment attorney and “yes” this article will be biased so take what you want from it. However, I do encourage every reader to pay attention to the moving and sometimes conflicting pieces at play throughout a band’s career progression. It’s these elements that are meant to be the crux of discussion. In its most simplistic and traditional form, music professionals will eventually integrate the following components as careers venture out of the hobby stage and into the professional realm: entertainment attorney, agent, label, management, public relations rep, and business manager/accountant/bookkeeper. Obviously in today’s DIY industry, bands can provide some services themselves, others they can’t. The ideal situation is to find a multitude of people all working towards one common objective – your career advancement. How to begin building this team deserves a deeper look.

1. Listen
Listening can be one of the best tools in a business toolkit. Here, let’s refer to this aspect as the “gathering stage.” Listen to what’s going on in the industry, gather information as to who are the effective labels, how do they position artists, who appears to be the competent management firms working on the top albums, who are the top attorneys, etc. This should be an easy process but somehow people make it complicated by allowing others to steer direction. Most bands I come across start backwards. Instead of gathering information and determining what the band needs to progress, bands sometimes let others infiltrate their progression process and ultimately dictate what they need. Unless your dealing with an industry professional you’ve determined needs to be on your creative dream team, never adapt simply because someone claims things will progress faster if you work with them. If it’s too good to be true, it is. Instead, listen and gather information. Determine who needs to be on the bands creative dream team, begin researching the relevant parties, obtain contact information the best you can and then organize the information from a “best case scenario, second best, third best, etc..”

2. Speak
Once information has been gathered, it’s time to approach the dream team. This topic can be another blog within a blog, so I’ll again give the quick approach, which will scream bloody bias. The choices are twofold: (1) begin approaching managers, agents, and labels on behalf of the band, which is almost guaranteed to be a waste of time and money, or (2) begin, approaching entertainment attorneys first. All will be hard to get a hold of, all will be too busy, all will be assholes, and all of them will be disinterested (initially). Here’s the difference, by connecting with a competent and respected entertainment attorney on the front end, you’ve essentially paved your route to other industry professionals. Good firms work with labels, managers, agents, PR, etc. on a daily basis. When you find that special dream team attorney component, speak up and tell them everything you’re looking for. It’s important to first see if there’s a creative fit. Remember firms are like hospitals – they can’t reveal information on particular clients (this includes who their clients are) unless granted permission to do so. That’s why it’s important to do research about the firm (or attorney) prior to communication, and why conversations should be based upon the creative energy. How does the attorney bill, what legal components need to be in place, what the attorney’s approach for progression, etc. You’ll know right out of the gate if there’s a good creative match involved but ultimately it’s your time to speak up, explain what you’re looking for, communicate who’s ideal management, who’s the ideal label, what you need from investors, and so on. Just speak speak speak speak. The alternative to the attorney approach is to spend money, time, demos, and creative juices approaching managers and labels. This is an option, but remember you’ll need an attorney to eventually monitor those contracts and in addition, consider the fact you should never sign a management, label, publisher, or agency contract without an attorney’s viewing. Otherwise your eventual legal retainer will be allocated to clean up an almost certain mess as opposed to allowing your attorney to focus on advancement. Best to acquire legal on the front, not the back.

3. Revolt
Attorneys can see problem areas emerge miles before they actually take place. If you don’t have an attorney let me communicate some instant tips for when it’s time for a band to step up and revolt. One, if you sign with a label and the label partners you with management and/or an attorney – REVOLT. The label has just pushed you upon two parties which will have the labels interest at heart, not yours. Whenever there’s a likelihood of conflicting interest, always bring in a third party to evaluate. I wish I could speak positively about all my fellow entertainment attorneys, but reality is some can focus on their best interest, not the client’s. These are situations to avoid especially if you see them teamed up with a label. Two, management suggest a particular attorney to represent the group – REVOLT. Unfortunately the common tiff lies between management and legal so if you see a situation where management has a buddy who’s an attorney and they recommend him, question the circumstances. Why? Legal is hired to protect their client. This means calling bullsh** when they see it, developing crafty contracts to eliminate unfavorable situations, and conflicting with parties who don’t progress their clients career. Sometimes this even means negotiating more favorable contractual terms for long term growth as opposed to a quick drop in the bucket which may benefit the manager more in the immediate. Managers typically sell the moon and then grab you with a contract, which solidifies none of the expectations previously presented. This isn’t every manager and management firm (there excellent ones amongst the masses), however when a manager recommends a particular attorney, REVOLT, and ask why they were recommended and what’s the history between the two. It may be a glowing recommendation (acceptable), or it may be an unforeseen partnership (not acceptable).

The supreme situation is to find a creative team that works well together. The nucleus of a creative team should revolve around the band’s interest and goals. When a situation can be created which clearly outlines everyone’s responsibility, specific approach for achieving those goals, and the accountability involved – a quality situation has been formed. A band’s creative team should compliment one another. Should management struggle with contacting the relevant labels, legal should use their resources to assist. Should an agent have run into troubles with a particular venue, maybe management can help. In short, never settle. Never settle on a manager just because you think you need one. Never select an attorney just because you thought they could help. Never sign with an agency because they promised you lots of dates. All decisions must be strategic and have a purpose. Once you find that creative team, trust the process and let them all perform.

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