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Best Kept Secret for Advancing Your Music Career

Let’s paint a scenario. Let’s say you’ve got some great music. You’re an up-and-coming independent. It doesn’t matter who you are - the songwriter, the producer, the artist, the manager, or the indie label owner. You’ve generated some pretty good buzz for that music. And, you happen to have $5000 to spend. What should you spend it on? What would really help advance your career?

A. Spend it on advertising
B. Spend it going on tour
C. Hire a publicist
D. Hire a lawyer
E. Hire a college radio promoter 

And the correct answer is…

D. Hire a lawyer

Are you surprised by the answer? You shouldn’t be. Truth is, in the world of entertainment, the attorney is king in many ways. They are the silent force behind every deal and advancement. They are the music industry’s silent gatekeeper and its best kept secret (and probably safe to say, best weapon). 

An entertainment attorney does much more than review paperwork, negotiate contracts, or sue people. Their interest is their client’s success within the industry. It means financial gain for them. They are well-connected. They are valuable and respected within the industry. Therefore, many of them are making career-advancing connections for their clients. They are also aware of many of the things that are happening within the industry. If a client of theirs has been offered a deal, they’re able and willing to solicit other offers for their client so that their client can get the best deal. They also help you re-negotiate for better terms if you’ve proven yourself to be a commodity with your work. The entertainment attorney is also one of the main go-to persons within the industry for career guidance and advice. Sometimes, more so than the manager. 

I was at an ASCAP event where there were several great songwriters/producers on the panels (it’s obvious I’m an ASCAP member).  I remember one particular panel, during which “the secret” was leaked. The hit songwriter (I can’t remember his name) said that he didn’t have a manager and that you didn’t really need one. He went on to say that the key person to his career success was his attorney. He said, “the lawyer is king in this business.” When I heard this, I thought, “You can’t be serious.” But when another hit songwriter/producer backed his statement a little later on during the discussion, I had to pay attention. I haven’t forgotten it since. I went back and did more research and what he said was true. Why hadn’t anyone told me about this? All the countless reading I’ve done, videos I’ve watched, and God-knows-what. But, I was happy. At least now I know. And now, you know. 

So, start doing some research and find the good ones. (There are grimy ones you want to stay away from.)  But, I’d advise you to be serious and make sure your stuff is actually great. Pay for some consultations and start building a working relationship with a reputable entertainment attorney. Every chance you get, work with your attorney. Get counsel. Get them to draw up some standard contracts for you. Become a regular client. Then, ask them to help you make some connections or get your music into the right hands. Not only will you be protected, but you’ll be connected into the industry through that relationship - one you should prioritize. 

Lastly, I want to point out that those who take this route are generally those who are already very business-minded and organized in their efforts to further their careers, be it as an artist, songwriter/producer, or independent executive. It’s definitely not for everybody, but it’s one route that’s not discussed much, which is why I wanted to bring it up here. 


Minh is an artist, producer, and entrepreneur based in the DC area. His site is


Reader Comments (23)

Great advice and fact to keep in mind. Not only for musicians but for all artists! Thank for that great post!

November 21 | Unregistered CommenterBuzztune

Another great post Minh,

I do agree that the Lawyer is quickly taking the place of the manager in many people's music careers. Since artists are able to shop produce, distribute and market themselves, you're starting to see labels and other brands approach them directly. Opportunities no longer come from management teams as far as breaking into every market (though some markets still call for specific management needs).

A few things to remember about Lawyers though, is that they work two ways: Hourly, and by commission. The hourly is pretty straight forward, the reality is that any of these industry savvy legal heavies is going to charge between $200.00 and $500.00 per hour. On the commission side, they will take you on as a client on a per project basis, basically taking a cut of a contract/deal they work out for you.

I've seen it a few ways, my last lawyer would charge a flat 5% to do the contract, and if he was able to get a significant amount of increase in the payout, he would get 10%.

That said, 10% of 100,000.00 is a nice number, 10% of 5,000 not as great, and many lawyers have their priorities very firmly set up in most cases.

Another thing to remember is that a lot of times these numbers we're seeing in contracts are advances, either in the recording side or the publishing side, and are recoupable. Very few acts see an outright signing bonus that will be pure disposable income. In a time when people aren't seeing as much from physical royalty, this is something to consider.

One last thing, you still might need a manager to handle admin etc. In many states there are laws that prohibit a lawyer from taking the role as manager as there is an inherent legal conflict of interest, also lawyers many times just don't have the same skill set a manager has in regards to the more tangible side of the music biz, IE touring etc.

November 21 | Unregistered Commentergaetano

I think the THE BEST KEPT SECRET an artist should use is to sell more music. And it's free. It's simple to use. Just post on your artists fan page on Facebook or tweet out and ask fans to request their new song. It will turn their fans into marketers of the artist.
Song Request Line app is a powerful tool for music artists.

November 21 | Unregistered CommenterBlair

Not really sure that I agree with this statement completely, as you don't really need an attorney unless you have a use for them. If you are a small touring band and you are garnering a following, then your money is definitely better spent on promoting yourself and touring in order to build the fan base that would make you attractive to people offering deals in which you would then need an attorney to negotiate. I've never met an attorney that has ever been able to help any band build a base. I've met many that have been able to open the doors to labels, but even in the majority of those cases, unless the artist planned on being a single dose pop singer, the band was only able to build their base by relentlessly touring. That being said, I've worked with a couple of bands that signed incredibly lucrative label deals without ever having built a fan base, who were then thrown into the studio and sent as an opener on tours. Even after a few years of heavy touring and marketing push from the labels they've still have not been able to get the following they would have expected.

The attorney that handles my accounts works for the an incredibly large, music only firm. I have been in many deals where I was partnered with someone in the creation of a project, or worked with a baby band, where I asked my attorney if paperwork needed to be drawn. Their advice has always been to not worry about putting anything on paper until there was a value on the idea, or there was the opportunity to actually make money. If you are a band that just starting to really tour, and you are doing alright, but you haven't been approached by and labels or agents yet. Then save your money, promote yourself to new markets and build your brand. That will make you an attractive package, and the offers will come.

November 21 | Unregistered CommenterAnon

Definitely a surprising answer. It makes sense, but I also agree with Anon above. Good advice from both.

November 21 | Unregistered Commentercheekbrown

Thanks for sharing this! I feel that this might be more true for the US than say UK or Mainland Europe, but I have nothing to back that up. Anyone?

November 21 | Registered CommenterJohannes Taal

That's the craziest thing I've ever heard of. In this day a age most lawyers don't have a clue about how to advance in the digital space except for trying to sue everyone for file sharing. Take the money, join TopSpin, FanBridge, and all the other social music spaces. Set up a nice WordPress site.Get cards, flyers, posters, and a few T-Shirts to sell and make $500 more dollars. Oh yeah, press up some CDs and give away as much of your music as possible.

November 21 | Unregistered CommenterJun Mhoon

BEFORE you make a judgment, understand that the premise is that:

"You’ve generated some pretty good buzz for that music."

Whether you agree or not, the truth is that the attorney is often the one making the connections between the artists and the business. Your relationships within the business (if you plan on being commercial with your music) is key to your success. I'm merely pointing out the relationship of the attorney to the music industry and how important it is...which is more important than most realize in how it can advance their career.

November 21 | Registered CommenterMinh D. Chau

this is gold. thks.

November 21 | Unregistered Commentereshon

This sort of thinking is what got the music biz in trouble long ago. Attorneys and accountants broke into music, began running the show and it's never been the same. I caution young and emerging artists against this advice.

November 21 | Unregistered CommenterAnon

@anon With all due respect, your reasoning isn't based on facts, but assumptions regarding the business. The music business was doing great until Napster came around. The changes in technology and the slow response to it is mainly the reason for the struggles over the last several years. Truth is, without a good, reputable attorney on your side as an artist, songwriter, manager, or indie label are vulnerable! I'm simply adding a fact that a good entertainment attorney can also procure valuable opportunities...not just protect you. People with great success in the music business are the ones who understand what I shared in the article. Once again, the premise is that you've already generated a pretty good amount of buzz for your music.

November 21 | Registered CommenterMinh D. Chau

Thanks for revealing your secret and sharing it with us! I agree with you. Your post really makes sense.

November 22 | Unregistered CommenterKurt Whitner

The correct answer is

It depends on what you want to achieve in your music career.

Figure out what that is then decide how $5000 can be best spent to deliver either maximum return or reduced risk to move you closer to where you want to get to.

(Oh dear - sounds like a financial adviser!)

The ASCAP event mentioned in the article was held in February 2011 at the 92nd Street Y in NYC. The hit songwriter/producer who made the statement concerning the attorney was Gregg Wattenberg (Train's "Hey Soul Sister" and "If It's Love"). And the other hit songwriter/producer who later affirmed and backed his statement was Kerry Brothers (Alicia Keys' producer).

(Thank you, James Palace, for reaching out and reminding me who they were.)

November 22 | Registered CommenterMinh D. Chau

I'd be inclined to agree with Jun.

With $5000 in your pocket and a bit of surrounding hype you can easily use a service like Topspin and generate a pretty substantial mailing list with out spending much. Obviously it doesn't need to be through Topspin but they do offer pretty good white papers to their members who are new to digital marketing.

A band could easily make a recording, and release it for free (in exchange for e-mails), build a new website and have a good chunk of money left over for facebook ads etc.

Unless they are planning on making a deal with a label or publisher, then there is little need for a lawyer and a good one will work on commission in those scenarios. Don't go seeking out a lawyer until someone is seeking your band out!

November 22 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Wilkinson

I completely disagree with the author. Lawyers are EXPENSIVE, and you can blow through $5k very quickly with little to show for it. Only hire a lawyer when you have a clear, specific reason to, and know exactly what you want to get from them. Legal documents like agreements & contracts can be obtained on for a fraction of the cost of having a lawyer create them from scratch. I have a friend who's built a very successful business, and the majority of his legal documents have been crafted from LegalZoom templates.

IMHO, for an artist who's generated some buzz already, the best thing to do with a $5k windfall is hire a really good designer & web developer, and build a serious website & some great-looking logos/merch designs. Design & development are two areas where "doing it on the cheap" or doing it yourself really shows in the final product, but paying decent money for a really good expert to do it for you results in a MUCH higher-quality end product. And a good website & solid designs can last you a long time & help generate a lot more money.

November 22 | Unregistered CommenterJason Spitz

you are exactly right. i was in a band briefly over ten years ago that was signed to hollywood third rail. the manager found the entertainment lawyer that got them the deal after playing sxsw. the label recorded a good cd and for some reason canned it and the deal went south. i left the band and never new the reasons. i wasnt the original drummer but it was still a downer. for better or for worse a connected lawyer can get you place a manager cant. its a necessary evil i guess.

November 22 | Unregistered CommenterRanch

i not only agree with this.. it's actually fact.. 99.9% of all labels will not even speak to you without an attorney.. therefore as big as you become on your own, when you actually tryna step it up without an attorney it's literally impossible.. end of story.. less you tryna just be underground forever.. if so spend it on whatever you want but once you have that kind of money and if you really have a "BUZZ' that means you might be get a labels attention if you get your music in front of them.. but without a lawyer they will never hear it.. less they find you by accident but that doesn't happen often..

I'm in the music industry and have been part of, and brokered over 11 major deals in the passed 5 years that have ranged from publishing to recording contracts, and that is the worse advice I have ever heard. I won't even get into detail as to why I say this because that statement is just so off, but, I see where you are coming from in saying so. Regardless, anyone reading my comment should do their own research. Go out there and ask some people on both sides of the spectrum to get the proper perspectives and decide for yourself. People that have been part of the type of deal you are seeing for yourself.

If you have that much buzz then a really good lawyer, who can actually make something happen, will not charge you up front. Other than that hiring a lawyer for $5k will be like throwing money away.

Oh, and by the way, there are probably about a dozen or less lawyers that are actively and consistently part of a LARGE portion of the major deals going on. I say a dozen meaning about 7, if that.

Just like artists, there are a TON of lawyers that lurk right outside the music industry borders but are NOT in the industry yet. Be careful with lawyers.

November 25 | Unregistered Commenterr.p

I feel it's either B or D. Artists make the most money on tour than anything else. But a Lawyer is still important especially when it comes time to sign a contract. Good info.

November 25 | Unregistered CommenterHip Hop Merchandise

@ r.p.

First and foremost, I think that if you make the statement that it was "the worse advice" you've ever heard, you should follow it up with an explanation as to why it is the worse advice. Simply stating that you've brokered all those deals doesn't really explain anything. UNLESS you did them all without a good attorney present, which I doubt.

Second, the advice I dished did not originate with me, but with songwriters/producers that have succeeded in the industry and are STILL relevant/working. (Gregg Wattenberg - Train's "Hey Soul Sister" and "If It's Love" - and the other hit songwriter/producer who later affirmed and backed his statement was Kerry Brothers -Alicia Keys' producer.)

Third, I think you're generalizing what a good lawyer would or would not do. Truth is, they don't work for free, especially the good ones. And spending money with them (becoming a regular client) builds a long-term relationship. I'm not advocate going for a one-pop entertainment attorney. I'm suggesting building a long-term relationship with a really good and well-connected one, which was what the industry pros suggested. There's nothing wrong with paying someone upfront if they are legit. I've worked with consulting managers, which I paid up front, who've done great work and made invaluable connections for me.

Fourth, there may be a "dozen or less" elite lawyers involved in "major deals", but I'm pretty certain there are a whole lot more doing business within the industry at large, bleeding also into the film/tv sectors.

The point of the whole article was to shed light on a vital part of a music career - not just for an aspiring artist, but also for an aspiring songwriter, producer, or independent executive. And once again, when the premise begins with the fact that you've "generated a pretty good amount of buzz"...that means that you're beyond a certain stage and what you need is to make the right connection to take your music to the next level of exposure (through capital and/or important relationships).

November 26 | Registered CommenterMinh D. Chau

If you have a real contract or negotiation issue, an attorney is an essential resource. But if you're looking for representation, as in someone to sell you to the industry, it may be premature to plunk down $5000 to your attorney.

In my youth, circa 1980 in Hollywood, attorneys such as Alan Leonard, Steve Shapiro, John Branca carried a lot of clout as respected gatekeepers, acting like agents to the record and publishing companies. Of course, now record companies have become less important in the scheme of things. And, the artist/attorney relationship is likely to have several flaws. In my experience, attorneys are often more loyal to the other people they do business with than their clients. Bands and songwriters come and go, but executives and producers stick around a lot longer. And attorneys are not going to work that hard to sell you, beyond pushing your CDs around to their colleagues. They are definitely not going to get their hands dirty in the way a good manager, agent or publicist does.

Unless you have the industry actively sniffing around your shows, I would take half the money and put into Social media, publicity, video etc, and the other half on touring. If there's a deal to be made, many attorneys will do it on contingency, i.e, they'll charge you if a deal goes down. And if not, there's really not much for them to do.

November 26 | Unregistered CommenterBruce Kaplan

I'm sorry but I don't think this is the best advice. 5k for any top, "connected" lawyer, you can burn through faster than you can say "where'd my money go and what do I have to show for it."
Those creme of the crop lawyers are easily $500 by the hour, or more. That's just a few hours of "connection" with the lawyer, for those doing the math.

If you've progressed to a point in your career where you are making 6 digits, then yes, those lawyers are the best, and you can afford to work with them. On a long term basis. Those Ascap professionals that recommended this themselves ARE successful and ARE making that kind of money, and ARE at that level, to hire lawyers at this price.

Everyone else, don't waste your money. 5,000 can be wisely spent elsewhere. Where you say? Well, that depends on each band, artists. Everyone's needs, places in their career, are different.

I spent my money on a music video. I have no regrets.

Good luck to all,


November 29 | Unregistered CommenterSinem Saniye

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