kamal @ johnson-moo. com
Order Now: The Straightforward Guide to the Music Biz, by Kamal Moo, Esq.
In the news: Read Kamal’s comments on Rihanna’s music licensing matter at Mashable.com.
Attorney Questions and Answers:
What do music attorneys do?
A music attorney represents various types of clients in the music industry, such as artists, producers, songwriters, and record labels. A transactional music attorney will deal with drafting, reviewing, and negotiating contracts and help to protect the client’s intellectual property. In general, music contracts will deal with matters such as copyright law, production, touring, etc. On the other hand, a music attorney who is a litigator will deal with litigation matters such as lawsuits. In any case, music law is a highly specialized area, so it’s important for clients to find a knowledgeable, experienced attorney. You can also check with your local bar association (most entertainment lawyers will be based in Los Angeles, Nashville, or New York) to find out if your prospective lawyer is in good standing.
What kind of music business clients do you represent?
All kinds, from hip hop to jazz to rock. My current clients include music icon Janet Jackson, Lil B, and several independent record labels and artists.
What services do you offer your music industry clients?
I’m a transactional music lawyer, which means I draft, review, and negotiate contracts for my clients. Many times artists and songwriters will reach out to me and request that I shop their music for a deal — unfortunately, this is not a service I offer, so I usually put that disclaimer out there right away. However, for example, I can definitely help to review and negotiate a deal that a songwriter has on the table from a music publishing company.
Can you help with disputes between people working in music?
Yes, however, ethical rules prevent me from representing two parties on opposite sides of a conflict. So, if there is a conflict, I can only represent one of the parties.
What makes you a good music attorney?
Having been a personal manager, I can say that I really do care about my clients. Also, I am always willing to explain each contract to my clients so they know what they’re getting themselves into. I’m also huge music fan, so I always love hearing my clients’ music and that helps motivate me to do the best job I can. When it comes down to it, I think any entertainment attorney needs to love their work in order to be successful.
When would you recommend someone contact a music attorney?
If you’re ever offered a contract that has anything to do with your music, I would definitely recommend reaching out to an attorney. It’s always worth it to pay for professional advice avoid problematic legal issues down the road. Signing a bad deal can negatively affect your career for years to come. Also, before you start working with others to create music (such as collaborating to produce tracks or forming a band), it’s always advisable to have a written contract in place to avoid conflicts down the line. I always tell clients it’s much harder to figure out a contract once money becomes involved — at that point it’s like trying to unscramble an egg. Also, don’t be intimidated, most music attorneys are pretty laid back and want to help provide clients with the legal services possible.
Are you open to new music clients?
How much do you charge for your services?
It all depends on the situation. Sometimes clients will bring me a contract that they just want me to review, and in those situations I’ll usually charge a flat fee. Other situations will require a retainer. But, overall, I always try to create a fee structure that makes sense for each client.
What is the biggest surprise most artists face?
Usually, the biggest surprise artists face is how fast the money gets spent. When they hear their tour took in X amount of money in gross income, they often don’t realize that it costs about 98% of X to fund that tour. Funding entertainment endeavors is expensive. Artists should understand that in the beginning so they can plan accordingly. Also, it’s crucial that artists find solid record labels who can help set them up for success. Much of the relationship is of course defined by the record deal, so it’s vital to have an attorney who will keep an eye out for any deal points that may become problematic later on.
What do artists need to understand about the entertainment business?
Not to sound too discouraging, but they need to understand the simple reality that there’s an extremely high rate of failure. For example, the music business has a 95% failure rate. That means, even for the major labels, for every 100 albums that get released, 5 will break even and possibly make a profit. As such, much of entertainment law is concerned with protecting the client’s rights if and when they do become successful. In addition, if you’re an up and coming artist, it’s also advisable to protect your music by registering it with the U.S. Copyright Office. Finally, it’s also important for artists to educate themselves about new developments in the industry by reading publications like Billboard. Those outlets help keep artists updated on the industry as a whole, including the type of music labels (e.g., Universal Music, Sony Music, Warner Music, etc.) are putting out at the moment. And, aside from planning their music career, when an artist does become successful, it’s also important to look ahead and think about the future. There are some very savvy artists who invested in other ventures such as real estate and never have to worry about money again.
Where can artists anticipate being profitable?
In this digital age, live shows and merchandise (shirts, stickers, etc.) seem to be the most reliable sources of income in the music business. The simple truth is that you can’t bootleg the actual experience of being at a concert or wearing your favorite band’s shirt. These are things that can’t be downloaded illegally, and as long as fans still want them, they can and will make money. That being said, things appear to be changing as streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music have helped to stabilize the industry, thus allowing artists and songwriters can make money from these DSPs. In addition, sponsorships can also be a good source of income for artists. There really are so many opportunities open to independent artists these days, so it’s important for an artist to collaborate with their team to formulate a solid strategy.
What is your most memorable experience as a professional in entertainment industry?
The most memorable experience would be the day I woke up to an email in my inbox from a well-respected record label saying they wanted to sign my brother’s band who I managed at the time. That was my first “break” in the music industry where I was finally in the position to make a deal happen.
Why should an artist or entertainer work with you?
Because I have been managing artists for the past few years, I have a unique perspective regarding the needs of artists and how to translate those needs into a deal that works for them. So many attorneys just walk away after a deal is done and don’t have to live with the consequences, but as a manager I’ve had to live with those contracts on a daily basis.
Do you have any tips for people looking to work in entertainment as a manager, agent or attorney?
Be willing to explore new ways of making money for your clients. Ten years ago, hardly anyone knew that ringtones could be so popular. It’s true that the Internet has made things difficult for the music business, but it has also opened up many new possibilities. Managers, agents and attorneys are now in a position to help shape the music industry in an unprecedented way, and forward-thinking individuals will be invaluable to their clients.
For the past several years, Mr. Moo has represented artists from various genres of music as both personal manager and attorney. In that time he has negotiated several types of entertainment contracts, including recording, music publishing, and producer agreements. Prior to this, Mr. Moo worked in the business affairs department of a boutique venture capital firm based in downtown Los Angeles. Mr. Moo earned his B.S. in Music Industry from the University of Southern California in 2002, his J.D. from Southwestern Law School in 2005, and was admitted to The State Bar of California in 2006. Mr. Moo was born in Kingston, Jamaica and raised in Miami.
Mr. Moo has previously worked with Arista Records, BMG Music Publishing, Universal Music Group, and law firm Carroll, Guido & Groffman.