How An Attorney Can Help you Get Signed?

If you submit your material to a major publisher or record label without them requesting you to do so, you’ll probably receive your material back with a huge stamp on it that says “RETURN UNSOLICITED.” The reasons for these companies not accepting material from unknown outside sources are many. I will discuss three of the main ones here.

Entertainment Lawers As a Gateway to Your Record Deal

Recording companies are already bombarded with material from legitimate and trusted sources. If they accepted material from just anyone who walked in off the street or sent it through the mail, they would never be able to get through it all. There are thousands and thousands of people out there trying to get a deal of any kind, and these companies just don’t have the manpower to handle all the material they receive. By having entertainment lawyers act as gateways and cull through the crop, these companies are much more likely to receive viable or commercially exploitable material. No entertainment lawyer that is worth his salt will want to put his name behind something that could jeopardize his hard-earned reputation among his contacts at successful entertainment companies.

Why Record Labels Return Unsolicited Demos

If these companies opened your letters with your songs or recordings enclosed, they could be proven to have had “access” to your material for the purposes of a copyright infringement suit. There are thousands of people out there wrting songs every day, and chances are fairly good that some of those songs are similar to each other. Every song has a title, a story line, and a melody. The chances are extremely good that the title of one song is exactly the same as another, but song titles are not copyrightable. There’s less of a chance that the lyrics are very similar, but they could be. (The lyrics often follow the title.) Finally, most popular songs are based on simple hooks or melodies. Even though there are millions of combinations of chords and melody lines, most songs usually follow some type of formula that makes them pleasing to the ear and fit in with the sound of the times. It’s an extremely long shot that two songs written by two different parties, at two different times and at two different places, will be exactly alike, but it can happen. That’s a chance that these companies can’t afford to take. They don’t want to have to defend themselves from less than appropriate or even legitimate claims.

To prove infringement, you must be able to prove substantial similarity and access. If these companies accepted unsolicited material, half the proof for an infringement action would be there. The only thing left to prove would be substantial similarity. Even though that is a tough burden of proof, these companies could end up spending a good deal of money defending numerous copyright infringement suits, whether they were warranted or not. Since they have a policy of not accepting unsolicited material, they have a pretty solid defense in regards to “access” and are much less likely to lose any infringement suits in this regard.

Over the years, I’ve had lots of people call my office wanting to file a copyright infringement action because a song on the radio is very similar to a song they have written. In some cases the songs were very similar, and I have even seen a song or two that was almost identical, but there was no way to prove that the writer or company that published the song, or the company that released the song, had “access” to the “similar” song that was allegedly infringed upon. Therefore, there was really no way to bring the lawsuit.

So, if you have an “established” entertainment lawyer submit your material, the company you’re submitting to won’t worry that it will be involved in some type of frivolous suit if it accepts that material.

Why An Attorney Can Be Helpful?

If you have a reputable manager or entertainment lawyer who is well connected, you are much more likely to get through the door. These companies know that your manager or attorney isn’t working for free, and this serves as a natural weeding-out process. Furthermore, they know that your manager or attorney isn’t going to waste time pitching a client that he doesn’t believe in. In fact, you probably won’t have a reputable manager unless you have some degree of commercial viability, nor will you be able to get an entertainment lawyer to pitch your material unless he believes that you have a very good chance of making it. If a manager or lawyer brings one of his contacts a fairly marginal act, or an act that really doesn’t stand a chance of getting a deal, he won’t be taken seriously the next time he comes knocking on that company’s door. So, lawyers and managers are very, very careful about who they pitch to their contacts at major labels, publishers, and other companies.

Does Lawer Have to Share Your Taste?

Another thing to remember is that your lawyer or prospective manager has an opinion too, and it might not be what you want to hear. It might not even be correct. There is no accounting for taste, and your career isn’t over just because one person doesn’t care for your music.

I have been in the business as an artist, a songwriter, and a musician long enough to know that what I like isn’t necessarily what is going to be right for commercial radio. When trying to decide whether or not to pitch something, I’ve always used the measure of commercial exploitability. “Is the product of good enough quality that I won’t end up being embarrassed if I pitch this to my contacts?” It is a purely subjective call, so don’t get discouraged if the first people you meet don’t believe in your product enough to work with you. Keep trying to find a manager or lawyer who truly believes in your ability and your material. After all, your relationship with your attorney may not be on an informal or personal basis, but it should be based on mutual trust, respect, and belief in each other’s abilities.

Whom You Should Not Hire?

One thing that I don’t recommend is hiring a local lawyer who says he does entertainment law, unless you live in a major city with many experienced entertainment lawyers to choose from. Anyone can say he is an entertainment lawyer, even if he represents only one or two local artists. Many of these lawyers have absolutely no chance of ever getting you a deal because they just don’t have the necessary contacts. So ask any prospective lawyer about his experience in the entertainment field. He may not be able to reveal his client list without his clients’ consent, because that is confidential, but you should find out the depth of his experience and how he’ll handle whatever you’re asking to him to handle.