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Q&A: Which do I find first, an attorney or a manager?
By Duman & Fiero - 07/20/2005 - 02:49 PM EDT


I am a songwriter/artist just getting into the music business and I have songs that I would like to sell. My questions are:

1. Do I need to retain an entertainment lawyer first or seek out a manager?

2. What is a ballpark figure for selling songs?

Thank You in Advance.

-CM Royce

Dear CM Royce:

Since you are just getting into the music business, we would advise that you first stop and take some time to educate yourself on how the music industry operates; especially music publishing, which is not only a topic of particular importance to songwriters, but one which novices typically find to be among the most difficult to understand.

For example, we recommend that you first learn about the basic rights that are inherent to copyright holders, and then tackle “music publishing” itself (which is a term we use to refer to the industry and process by which those rights are exploited).

As far as which should you retain first - a lawyer, or a manager – the immediate answer might be “neither’, depending on your level of development and comparative readiness to advance in the music industry. In other words, it’s unlikely that you will realistically require either of these professionals’ services until and unless you begin to consistently generate income from your professional activities.

With regard to managers in particular – who rely on a percentage of their artists’ income to make a living – most of the reputable ones will, in fact, decline to take on newer artists unless they have demonstrated actual money-making potential.

Attorneys are slightly less discriminating (since they tend to charge up front for their services); however, unless you have a genuine active need for legal assistance, your resources are likely more wisely spent developing your talent and your “profile.”

Assuming that you do get to the point where you genuinely require legal and/or managerial assistance with your career, the question of which professional to retain first will depend on what your overall objectives are.

For example, if your objective is to become a professional songwriter, the services of an experienced entertainment lawyer might be a higher priority, in order to address the negotiations and/or legal paperwork attendant to any publishing deal you may want to pursue as a means to that end.

An attorney can also help you set up a publishing company (should you elect to act as your own music publisher), and can assist in the legal aspects of administrating of your song catalog (assuming that your catalog is generating income).

Conversely, if you are primarily working towards success as a recording artist or musician, the need for a personal manager’s services becomes more immediate, in order to facilitate dealings with third parties and to otherwise assist in developing your commercial prospects along these lines (in much the same way, incidentally, that a music publisher represents and develops publishing prospects for a song).

Of course, the need for an attorney’s services may also quickly follow in any case, to the extent that you find yourself considering various contracts or other legal paperwork pertaining to managerial services and/or other Industry transactions.

With regard to a “ball park figure” for selling" your songs, they are ultimately worth whatever someone is willing to pay for them. While it is possible to “estimate” the value of certain songs which have a demonstrable “track record” (often expressed in multiples of the songs’ average annual income over time), industry professionals are left to consider less reliable variables in attempting to gauge the value of untested songs (including who wrote it, who plans to record it, what the current demand is for the song’s musical genre, etc.).

As you seek to assess the value of your music, the better question to ask is “who might be interested in your songs,” in other words, you may want to focus on looking for interested parties who want/need/value your songwriting skill and talent. Although this is something a music publisher can help you with, we also see more and more, songwriters pitching their own songwriting talents and songs directly to the artists and labels that they perceive may want to cover them. It should be noted, however, that this type of “song pitching” is more prevalent in certain niche genres, such as Country music.

Here are some links to help you better understand copyrights and publishing.

How stuff works (enter the words copyright and music publishing)

Copyright Org

U.S. Copyright Office


Good luck in your endeavors!


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