“To Sign or Nah”: Pitfalls for the Independent Artist by Sherria Williams, Esq.

Sherria Williams, is an attorney located in Miami, Florida and has always been interested and fascinated with the complexitiesof the entertainment industry. Always seeking to help others “maneuver” through legal gibberish she has combined her interest in entertainment and her knowledge of the law to educate artists grinding to get sign that major deal. 

You are probably reading this article thinking, “How can I be the next big hit?” or “How can I sign with a major label and really start making money?” Sorry to disappoint you, but the answer to those questions isn’t as simple as it seems. But this article will help steer you in the right direction. As I have looked at Instagram pages, watched YouTube videos, and spoken to aspiring musicians, I’ve noticed that most artists don’t understand the obstacles that come when searching for that major record deal.

As an artist, you must remember that the music industry is a business. If the numbers don’t add up, then it doesn’t make sense. As an artist, always remember that your brand, yourimage, your sound, your songs, your records are a part of your BUSINESS. This is the most important, and often the most forgotten, fact.  

“#Hashtag Become a Brand” – Branding is more than just the creation of a Twitter page. “Branding” is how the public perceives you and the image you create. It is expected that by 2016, there will be more than 196 million smartphone users in the United States. As an artist, you have to find a way into the homes of 196 million consumers. Branding will help determine your market and your audience. There are levels to success in brand management. To begin, it is important for an artist should have a website; this is where your consumers can get to know you and connect to you and your product. An autobiography or “bio” is still important, as it is a snapshot of your life and shows where you have been and gives insight into who you are. Online radio has been growing, and for you as an artist, this is another avenue for connecting with your audience. You should always be thinking about building, growing, and expanding your brand.

“To Sign or Nah?” – Virtually all, if not all, major and independent labels are offering what the industry has coined as a “360 deal.” A 360 deal assists labels in collecting or recouping advances by receiving a percentage or all or most of an artist’s sources of income as they relate to the entertainment and music industries. The labels believe this is fair, as they are the machines funding and developing the artists into household names. On the other hand, most artists complain about these contracts being one-sided and unfair. In 360 deals, most fail to realize that the label is advancing money — without a record, without the artist having a brand, and based purely on belief in the artist. 360 deals can be negotiated, and if negotiated properly, will result in both parties WINNING.

“Money, Money, Money” – Most artists enter into “the game” with the goal of making millions. Unfortunately, if your brand isn’t built correctly, it may be “all work with NO pay.” You must know the ways you can make money. The proliferation of social media gives you, as an artist, the upper hand. The time is now! Find a way to make money! Although record sales have recently declined, do not be fooled, because consumers are still purchasing music. Apple reported in May 2013 that there were over 50 billion downloads from its App Store. As an artist, you must do your research to determine the best way to tap into the billion-dollar music industry. Make a way out of no way. I often educate my clients on the advantages of using online distribution sites like CD Baby, DistroKid, TuneCore, Ditto, and ReverbNation. These sites vary, based on your needs, but they offer packages that allow you to distribute your music to the masses. This is a key way for the independent artist, without the support of a label, to make money. Imagine selling 100,000 records on iTunes, Spotify, or Google Play without the backing of a major label – cha ching! 

“Your Business Is Your Brand” – As an artist, once you understand this phrase, you will not hesitate to make the moves necessary to exploit your brand. For example, in a seminar, I met an artist who spent thousands of dollars in the studio, created posters, and hired a street team to post over 300 posters on flagpoles around the city, using money and time to create his personal brand — and who almost lost it all after receiving a cease and desist letter for one of the names he used to promote his brand. Your brand is a commodity and must be protected. Through trademark law and copyright law, you can take the steps to ensure that you are properly protected. A valuable tip is to understand the laws that protect your name, image, and work. Artists often complain that the laws are too complex, but hiring an attorney or a consulting firm is important.

“Finders Keepers – Losers Weepers” – Put people on your team who will help you and keep your best interests first at all times. In the beginning, it may not be necessary to have a manager, an accountant, or even a lawyer on staff, but as your business grows, it will become a necessity. Most independent artists feel like lawyers are only important when it comes to shopping deals or looking over contracts. This is a misconception. Lawyers can be utilized to work on your trademarks, draft and create agreements, negotiate contacts, copyright your creative works, secure your right to publicity, and much more. Every artist should find a lawyer to make sure his or her brand is legally protected; this is just as true for you, even when you are just starting out.

It has always been my going to educate aspiring musicians on the obstacles that come when “Building Your Brand.” This article is not intended to constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon in lieu of speaking to an attorney.

Connect With Sherria Williams, Esq.

Website:  http://www.developsmallbusinesssolutions.com

Email:  Swilliams@Sherriawilliamslaw.com

Instagram: www.instagram.com/S_Williams_Law

Facebook: www.facebook.com/S WILLIAMS LAW, PLLC