One of the benefits of having interesting clients is that they often have interesting friends and family. In New York in 2008, I was privileged to meet Rogiérs, the brother of my alumna KaSandra Rogiers. Rogiérs has been a successful musician for over a decade, so I imposed on him to give us an inside look at the life of an entertainment lawyer.
Rogiérs,would you say that you relied on lawyers and agents more now or back when you made that first leap from playing in local spots to an actual tour ad recording deal?
Much more in the beginning. I had an attorney-between 1999-2003 whom I relied very heavily on. He was very helpful and gave me great advice (regrettably, some of which I ignored).
In the first [failed] situation, my management at the time completely mishandled the negotiations; a joint venture/label distribution deal through Universal. I remember actually having to seek legal advice from a volunteer lawyers organization in Boston to review my contract back then (not a good sign). Corporate lawyers-who mean well-reviewing major label recording agreements is not the best way to go (lol). But I was very new in the business at the time.
I entered my second deal (a production deal) against my attorney’s advice. He was, for good reason, “anti”-production deals and consequently, I am too. Myself, having a degree in Music Business & Management and experience reading contracts while working at Elektra Records/WMG in NYC, should have known better and taken my lawyer’s advice. I definitely paid for that mistake!.
I stepped into the independent arena [officially] back in January of 2003 after having a good 5 years of world touring under my belt with many different artists. Being independent at first was a reluctant choice. But sometimes you take a risk in your career for an opportunity to be “better off” in the long run; that was a risk I took head on. So I started my label with two other partners and we began marching down the road toward success with much momentum, steam and hope on our backs. :-)
Did you have an attorney representing you at that time? Did you have a non-lawyer agent? Both? How much reliance did you place (or need to place) on having your own legal representation? I know KaSandra handles a lot of the details for you. But if you could estimate in dollars or hours how much you rely on lawyers in your work, that would give young people who want to be entertainment lawyers an indication of how many independent clients it takes to support one independent lawyer.
It is very important for aspiring entertainment attorneys to understand the complexity of the entertainment business as a whole. There are many “shapes” and “sizes” of artists, labels, deals and the like. For example, you have independent artists/groups with absolutely NO distribution & NO “buzz”, artists/groups with NO distribution & local buzz, some with HEAVY international buzz & NO domestic buzz, local buzz, NO international buzz & SOME distribution, and the list goes on and on. It’s really a very rich and varied group in the “independent” world-especially since 2003-2004.
If an attorney were working with an artist like me, one would need about 5-10 of me to work with every month just to cover reasonable overhead expenses of keeping a home office. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve spent thousands of $ over the years in legal fees but my contracts have not been consistent (or lucrative) enough for me to keep an attorney on retainer or for them to live comfortably off of my career.
Therefore, aspiring entertainment lawyers wishing to work with an artist like me (who has several international releases on multiple labels, international press, worldwide critical acclaim and moderate notoriety but no distribution deal) honestly would do best working primarily through a firm that represents major and major indie artist/bands.
If you’re trying to make a living being an entertainment attorney, you’ll make your most in being able to read and negotiate more than just record deals.
Being able to work with clients involved with television, films, sitcoms, music publishing, record deals, endorsement deals, synch licenses, future media, etc. is where the work (and the $) is.
It is also important to remember that anything in entertainment involves people…that means whether you’re the artist, agent, attorney, publisher, etc., you’re work depends largely on the strength of your personal association(s) and relationships.
Additionally, one should work with independent music/artist/bands on a “case by case” [pricing] approach. Artists without distribution typically don’t have a budget to pay their lawyers the exorbitant rates they might receive for re-negotiating the next Beyonce deal with Sony-BMG (!), so be flexible. If you believe in the artist/group you’re working with it may pay off in the end when they’re actually offered a record or label deal.
Currently, the music industry is going through a very painful “re-structuring” process because of the effects of the super consolidation of labels, “digital revolution” and on top of that, the economic current downturn. Artists (especially some independent artists) are thinking twice about when & how they’ll hire an attorney in their affairs; labels are signing fewer artists and that affects everybody from the artist on down. Get to know your “field” and be creative, innovative, resourceful and understanding in your work.
Rogiérs, thanks for taking the time to answer all these questions. So many young people. especially minority kids, think their fame and fortune lies in the music industry. If they're wrong, they need to know it. And if they're right, I need to know it! Can I leave them with a sample of your work?