Learn the Business – Not Just the Law

I know there are a lot of lawyers, solo and big law attorneys alike, who would like to add entertainment law to their existing practice areas.  I know this because they call and email me.  The first thing I now tell them is “Entertainment attorneys should learn about the business of entertainment.”

A few years ago a member of an entertainment law listserv to which I subscribed asked me to mentor him.  At the time he was a new solo, having spent a number of years in-house at technology firms.  He had aspirations of becoming an entertainment attorney.  While willing to help when I could I did not feel that I had the time to formally train someone in entertainment law.  Refusing to accept “no” for an answer the new solo finally offered to pay me my attorney hourly rate for some mentoring sessions.  I decided to give it a try.  Doing some consulting/coaching might fit in nicely with my goal of publishing “how-to” entertainment law books and articles

I enjoyed my sessions with this attorney and we have become friends.  And I hope the consulting was of some benefit to him.  However, it quickly became apparent that the attorney lacked more than entertainment law knowledge.  He lacked a basic understanding of how the entertainment industry works.  I found that I spent at least as much teaching the basics of the business, such as what a music publisher does, how the money flows in record deals, the difference in a personal manager and a business manager, etc., as I did teaching entertainment law.

If you want to be an entertainment attorney then I recommend that you learn something about how the entertainment industry works.  There are a lot of good books on the subject and even entire degree programs at universities around the country.  When I was a law student and young lawyer the book to read for over-all industry knowledge of the music business was This Business of Music.  At the time the book was authored by Krasilovsky and Shemel.  The latest edition is Krasilovsky, Shemel, Gross and Feinstein, all of whom are (or at one time were) entertainment and intellectual property attorneys.

A more recent and very popular overview of the music industry book is All You Need To Know About The Music Business by Donald S. Passman, also an entertainment attorney.  Based on my personal experience, the Passman book is probably an easier read for someone hoping to get a broad overview of the music industry.  I am sure there are likely equally good resources for types of entertainment other than music (film, TV, etc.).  You just need to search them out.

However you learn about the workings of the entertainment industry, it will greatly benefit your ability to understand entertainment agreements and deals if you first learn something about the business you are serving.


  1. Well,I can say you did a good job on focusing on what he really does lack,it is important to study the basics before going to the real deal.It is important to understand what people are talking about rather than being on the same boat as the professionals who did effort entirely from step 1 to present.Thank you for sharing this.

  2. Steve Weaver says:

    Thank you for the comment Robert. This is a type of practice that requires a knowledge of the business and the terminology. Knowledge of contract law, for example, is absolutely not enough. An entertainment lawyer must know all the terms of art in the industry and whether or not the terms of an agreement are fair and current, including such things and royalty rates, etc.

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