Published Sep 01, 2005Stacey Mitsopulos practises entertainment law at the prestigious Toronto firm Sanderson Taylor. A strong supporter of independent musicians, Stacey is a frequent panellist at music conferences where she trolls the showcases in search of new talent. Her client list reads like a who's who in Canadian indie music.
What kind of services do you provide?
I deal with legal issues such as licenses and reviewing and negotiating recording, publishing, management and producer agreements. Music lawyers do more than pure legal work; they can be a valuable source of business advice and facilitate introductions to professionals in the industry, like labels, booking agents and managers.
At what point does a band really need you?
The most obvious answer is when the band have been offered a contract, but I often meet with clients that have signed contracts without having a lawyer review them before signing. Bands should always get legal advice before signing anything; it is cheaper to have a music lawyer review your agreement than to enter into a relationship with a company or entity that will seriously affect your career. When those relationships go sour it can cost a lot more career-wise getting out of a contract can be a lot more expensive than paying for a few hours of work up front.
How does one find a good lawyer who really knows the business?
Word of mouth is a great way. Another is to look for a lawyer who represents bands that you like or respect, or bands that have had success.
Are major labels harder to deal with than indies?
It depends on the label. Major labels can be great to deal with; they have business affairs departments that are experienced and so they might offer fairer deals than an indie, and the deals are usually for more money. That said, any money still needs to be recouped, and if you don't sell records you might not be making another album for that label. A major label will most likely sign an artist for a longer term, so it could come down to "Do I want to be with this label for five albums?" It depends on the band, and what factors are important to them. Plus, not all majors and indies are created equal some indies are known for their fair royalty rates and really investing in the marketing and promotion of a band, other indies might not have the money to do that.
Why are recording and publishing contracts so long-winded?
There is a lot to cover that an artist might not think about. How much money is there to record? Does the band get an advance? What does the label recoup against? How many albums is the deal for? What is the royalty rate? But there are a lot of other issues, things an artist might not consider, like the territory if a band are signing a worldwide deal, a record label should commit to releasing in "major" territories. Other issues are things like creative control, budgets for marketing and videos, tour support, mechanical royalties. There are also the boilerplate clauses that might not seem important at the time, but can be very important down the road. Some examples of these are governing law, audit rights, notice provisions, and the representations and warranties of each party to the contract.
What's your best advice to a hot young band?
Artists usually garner record company interest by doing what they do best writing great songs and playing great shows and that is where their focus should be. Also, be patient when adding people to your "team," be it band members, agents, managers or lawyers.