Do I need to hire a music attorney in my state?
August 9, 2011
Dear Music Lawyer,
I am in a new band in Florida, and we just finished our first album. We are looking to put together a business team and to start trying to make a career out of our music. Should we select a music attorney in the same state we live in, or can we select a lawyer from anywhere in the USA?
There's no requirement that you select a music attorney in the same state you reside although there may be several advantages to selecting local counsel. Nevertheless, many musicians believe that they have to hire attorneys that live in what are considered major music cities such as Los Angeles, New York, and Nashville in order to succeed. This is a misconception. There are experienced music lawyers in many other cities. You should also be aware that attorneys in those three big markets may charge higher rates that are more difficult for emerging bands to pay or they may be too busy to take on so-called "baby bands" that do not already have a deal in place.
For those reasons, you might consider seeking out music lawyers in your area. Entertainment law is a popular practice area so there are often a lot of lawyers seeking music law matters. That's not to say that you should work with anyone who claims to be a music lawyer. The music industry is complicated, and it's important that the attorney you choose be familiar not only with copyright and trademark law, but also with the major types of industry players, the industry's infrastructure (shaky as it may currently be), and common entertainment-specific deal points such as royalty provisions, synch licenses, controlled composition clauses, etc.
It's worth noting that there are certain circumstances that will require someone familiar with your state's laws such as if there's a contract dispute and the contract is governed by your state's law. Similarly, if you are sued in your home state or are in a dispute that involves interpreting your state's law, you may need to hire local counsel (or your attorney may need to associate with local counsel). However, much of entertainment law is based on federal legislation so a lawyer in any state should be able to handle most matters.
Now how do you go about finding one?
Often the best way to find an entertainment lawyer is by word of mouth (e.g., ask other bands). You can also search online or contact a lawyer referral service to assist you in finding a local entertainment attorney. For example, most state bar associations now have searchable databases of attorneys online. Since you mentioned you're in Florida, you might try the Florida Bar Online Lawyer Referral Service and the Florida Bar Entertainment, Arts & Sports Law Section.
Overall, particularly at the beginning of your career, you would likely benefit from being able to sit down with a music lawyer who can help you chart out the basics: registering copyrights in your songs/recordings; affiliating with the performing rights organizations; setting up a band publishing company; drafting an internal band agreement; and possibly trademarking your band name. Face-to-face meetings are certainly more practical if you have local counsel.
Amy E. Mitchell