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Q&A: Is this manager trying to use my relative?
By Duman & Fiero - 03/10/2005 - 06:50 PM EST

Dear Jon & Gian:

I have a relative who was a songwriter/performer in a successful, but short-lived band.

When it broke up he was approached by a guy who managed some big bands and a few songwriters in the 80s and early 90s.

This Manager made him all kinds of promises - none of which came through in the year they have been working together.

He wants my relative to sign what looks like a deal which will give him about $20,000 for all the songs he's ever written, as well as the ones he's going to write for the next year.

My relative keeps saying we don't know anything about the music business, but I know a bad deal when I see one.

My question is:

Do you think this manager is trying to use my relative?
Can you give me some advice that I can pass on to him?

Your views are appreciated.

Thanks very much, Kerry.

Dear Kerry:

The fact that you are writing to us on his (your relative's) behalf doesn't speak well to his level of concern about this matter...but we'll do this for you and the apparent concern that you have for his welfare.

We can't say for certain if the manager is trying to "use" your relative (especially in the negative context in which you present it), but we can tell you (as you seem to know already) that the nature of the business is predatory. In order to reduce the likelihood of becoming prey to a slick manager with elusive intentions, try to persuade your relative to connect with an experienced music business lawyer before signing any agreement; particularly one which purports to transfer ownership or control of your relative’s songs.

Just from the limited facts you provide, there are a few points of concern which should affect your relative’s decision whether or not to formalize his relationship with this individual.

First of all, a “personal manager” within the music industry is someone who traditionally represents recording artists, musicians and performers, in developing career opportunities and income streams for their clients as professional entertainers and media personalities. Your description of someone who has “managed songwriters” implies a role that we usually associate with a music publisher; that is, a professional who administers the publishing rights to songs, including the development of income opportunities for the owners of those publishing rights (collectively called the copyright).

Simply put, a personal manager represents people, whereas a music publisher represents songs.

While nothing actually prohibits one person from assuming both of these roles, they each, in fact, require vastly different knowledge, experience and connections within the music industry, and are therefore not typically taken on by the same individual.

Our best advice in considering a candidate for either role is to locate and talk to other artists and/or songwriters who have used this individual’s services (or other professionals who have had dealings with him), and obtain specific feedback regarding his track record, as well as his general trustworthiness, reliability and effectiveness (as discussed in article we have posted on this site, "Dealing With Industry Professionals"). Other than that, your relative should pay attention to any personal misgivings he has regarding this person, as our intuition about people tends to be more reliable than not.

Secondly, any agreement that purports to offer a lump-sum payment of $20,000 in exchange for complete ownership of your relative’s songs should be closely scrutinized. This individual’s willingness, up front, to pay such an amount (though modest by some standards), suggests the possibility that the market value of the songs is much greater than $20,000. Moreover, if the commercial potential for the songs warrants this type of offer, most songwriter advocates would advise your relative to license the publishing rights to his songs (which is akin to “renting” them out), while retaining his ownership of the songs.

Either way, an experienced attorney or other qualified music industry professional can educate and help your relative determine if the deal is truly worth it from a financial standpoint - if he chooses to consult with one.

-Jon & Gian

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