TMN Ask A Lawyer: Label Shopping
TMN Ask A Lawyeris a semi-regular column where our readers receive expert legal advice from renowned entertainment lawyer Brett Oaten.
Q: I’ve heard that some attorneys do label shopping for artists, how do I go about procuring one?
A: Some attorneys or lawyers do “shop” on behalf of artists and some don’t. It’s a personal preference on the part of the lawyer.
Historically, “shopping” has been a very significant part of a lawyer’s role in the US, and lawyers have been, and remain, a very important part of the A&R ecosystem.
There are many reasons for this: the US market is, obviously, a lot bigger than Australia’s and the deals are correspondingly more lucrative. In the US, lawyers typically charge a percentage of the amount the artist earns from the deal (and, in certain circumstances, from all other parts of their career) as their fee. This gives the lawyer an incentive to seek a bigger deal (in dollar terms) for the artist, which many artists would see as a positive. Indeed, it may well be a positive for all concerned.
Sometimes, it may be better for the artist to secure other accommodations in a deal, in return for less money and in these circumstances the artist needs to ensure that his or her goals for the deal are aligned with the deal the lawyer is seeking on the artist’s behalf. Of course, this applies to anyone else working on an artist’s behalf – most particularly, a manager.
How do you procure one of these attorneys? Well, typically you or your manager approaches the attorney and requests that they become involved in shopping you for a deal. Presumably, the lawyer makes an A&R decision on whether they will take you on – either that they think you (the artist) are great or that they think, while you are not great, you have qualities that would allow them to secure for you a deal. A deal that is worth their time and effort.
There are lawyers in the UK who also shop, and lawyers in Australia who shop, though that approach is not as pervasive in either of those markets as it is in the US.
In Australia, lawyers are not allowed to charge a percentage of a deal secured in commercial deals. That, and the fact that deals are, generally speaking, smaller here than they are in bigger markets, mitigates against a pervasive shopping landscape.
Personally, I don’t shop artists, and that is a policy in my firm.
My view is that shopping is an endorsement of an artist’s quality and/or commerciality and I think that my personal view about the quality of an artist is irrelevant to my ability to provide them with high quality legal services. Of course, if you really enjoy your client’s music, that’s very gratifying, but its not a pre-requisite to doing a good job for them.
Also, if a lawyer seeks to shop a deal for an artist, and doesn’t secure a deal, is that because the artist is not of interest to labels or because the lawyer is not a good shopper? This scenario could damage an otherwise strong artist / lawyer relationship.
Of course, lawyers who shop feel differently about this issue and as an artist you need to choose the members of your team, lawyers or others, who you think will work best for you. In that regard, happy shopping.
Oaten established his legal practice during the grunge era, and specialises in music and other entertainment matters. In the music industry Oaten principally represents artists and some current clients include 360, Angus & Julia Stone, Empire Of The Sun, Lorde, and Troye Sivan. Oaten is also a founding board member and life member of FBi Radio.