Shopping Record Deals (And Other Deals)

Record ContractI get a lot of email from unsigned artists wanting me to present their demo to a record label.  I don’t shop record deals.  If you are new to entertainment law that might surprise you.  I shopped artists and songwriters for recording and songwriting deals most of my career.  I only stopped a few years ago when the music industry took a downturn.  The number major of labels and major label imprints decreased.  And the number of signings also decreased.  If an exceptional, unique, talented and charismatic writer/artist with an independent sales record, fan club, etc. came to me would I shop them today?  Yes – I might.  But this type activity is no longer a regular part of my practice.  Will you shop deals?

Consider a few things.  First of all, for a young entertainment attorney deal shopping can be fun and exciting.  And if you and the artist are successful it can be financially rewarding.  It can also be heart breaking and discouraging.  It is a tough business.

Second, do you live and work in a community where the record labels and major publishers are located?  If not, deal shopping might be one of your best ways to get into entertainment law.  I moved to Nashville from my home town of Memphis, Tennessee for one reason.  I went where the work is.  In Nashville I get calls from prospective entertainment clients – I do not have to get on a plane to go find them.  When I got to Nashville I discovered that most entertainment attorneys here do not shop deals.  They spend their time doing the lower risk billable work.  My first year here one of the major music publishers referred a major label artist to me and another artist knocked on my door one day without an appointment.  In less than a year she was signed to major publisher and a major label.  But – keep in mind — when I moved to Nashville I had already developed a clientele and presence there.  I did that primarily by opening a small work office in Nashville that I visited a few days a month.

Do you have the contacts or are you willing to spend the time and expense of traveling to where the label reps are and networking?  I cannot tell you how to do meet the right people – at least not in this post.  It is not easy but it can be done.  I did it.  A&R are usually willing to listen to product being presented by an entertainment lawyer.  But it better be good or the door might not be open the next time.  Get to know the gatekeepers and take your “pitch” meetings in person.  That way even if you get a “pass” (i.e., rejection)  you will have the opportunity to learn “why” which could help you the next time around.

Do you have “ears”?  Can you recognize hit songs and do know an exceptional artist when you hear and see one?  It is not just about talent.  In Nashville we say that “talent is the common denominator”.  There are exceptional talented unsigned artists all over Nashville.  To get signed the artist must have “star quality” and so much more.

If you are already an entertainment attorney or one with aspirations in that direction, I would like to hear your thoughts about deal shopping.

Comments

  1. Gordon Firemark says:

    Steve, you’ve nailed it as usual with this post. One other point to make I that in some states, there are licensure requirements for talent agents, and those regulations can limit what activities an attorney can undertake without an agency license. 360 deals, for example, have become very common these days, but involve much more than the traditional recording agreement, and may run afoul of these laws.

    It’s important for practitioners to investigate carefully before agreeing to “shop” artists.

    I, personally, stopped shopping for clients years ago, for the same reasons as you… But never say never….

    Thanks for another great post. Keep up the good work!

    • Steve Weaver says:

      Thank you Gordon. Excellent points, especially with all that 360 deals encompass. Thanks for the contributions.

  2. Good post Steve. I never shopped that many country record deals but I shopped a bunch of rock deals and I consistently found that the ones that I put my heart and soul into were the ones that were most disappointing. Every now and then, I would get lucky. It did used to be a lot of fun though!

  3. Steve Weaver says:

    I think maybe the lawyers most successful at deal shopping would be the great networkers – the ones who spent a lot of time “hanging out” with record company execs and a&r. I have had some success just by knowing the right people and simply presenting them with a deal worthy act. That way it was a part of my practice – not the main focus of it.

  4. This is a funny article/blog because we are shopping for an entertainment lawyer.

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