Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Music Business/Law Tips - "Video" (Part 2)

If an artist is signed to a label, a video usually will be produced to help promote the release. A video has two aspects: sales tool (i.e., MTV) and potential product (i.e., home video sales). Although a video is mostly a promotional tool, virtually all record contracts require that the artist grant video rights to the label. For contract purposes, a video is treated like a record. Therefore, the concept of recoupment comes into play. Recoupment means that the label will have the right to recoup the costs of the video, usually from all sources of income that the artist might make. As with records, the label will usually initially pay the production costs of the video. There is a strong argument that since videos serve to promote a record, not to generate sales of the actual video, only a part of the costs of the video should be recouped from the artist's royalties. Thus, most labels only require recoupment of 50% of the label's expense for production costs.

At first glance, it would seem that a signed artist would want to demand a guarantee of a as many videos as possible in the record contract. However, the artist must keep in mind that a label will usually spend an average of $25,000+ on a video. Since half of these costs are recoupable from the artist's royalties, a promotional video might not always be the wisest choice. The key is to try and keep the budget low. An artist on a label will also be concerned with creative control. Yet, unless an artist is quite successful, the label generally controls the content and the concept of the video. Finally, it is not reasonable to expect to make a profit from a video. There are rare exceptions (Madonna and Michael Jackson come to mind), but again the reason for making a video is normally to hype a record.

In conclusion, if an artist is unsigned, in most instances a video (with the exception of an internet only YouTube low budget video) is probably not the most practical way to spend money because chances are it will not be seen on mainstream TV channels like MTV. If an artist is signed, although the label will probably insist on a video, the artist should strive to get the budget low so the artist will not owe back as much money to the label.

Ben McLane Esq

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Music Business/Law Tips - "Video" (Part 1)

Video is a subject that is synonymous with the music business today. Essentially, the main purpose of a video is to promote a record and to help build an image for an artist, not necessarily to make an artist money. However, videos can make money for an artist indirectly because a video can increase record sales, merch sales, and help gain fans for shows. An artist can get utilize a video to get bookings, interest a manager/agent, and perhaps get a record deal. This article will discuss video as it pertains to unsigned and signed artists.

If an artist is unsigned, a full blown video is probably not the best use of resources unless: (1) the artist has a great song along with a great visual or story, (2) the artist can afford to produce a professional video, and (3) the artist can have the video broadcast to a wide audience. Traditionally, the best exposure for a video is of course MTV and similar music video sites. However, getting on MTV is next to impossible without being on a reputable label. It is possible to get on local cable programs with a well produced video. Additionally, many syndicated video and talk shows might consider a video by an unsigned artist. Of course, with the advent of YouTube, Vimeo, Vevo, etc., anyone can upload an amatuer or fully produced video on the internet as well since there is no barrier/gatekeeper, and sometimes the video can go "viral" which can acheive the same end result as being on MTV (but without some promotion its like a grain of sand on the beach).

[part 2 next time]

Ben McLane Esq

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Music Business/Law Tips - "Union" (Part 2)

As a member of the AFM, one must pay an initiation fee, as well as quarterly dues. However, the benefits are comprehensive. As well as better pay and working conditions, benefits include, but are not limited to: a pension, job referrals, insurance, legal counsel, discounts, collection of unpaid fees, consultation, industry contact information, workshops, etc.

One drawback to being an AFM member is that a person may not work for employers that are not signatory companies. Doing so may result in fines or expulsion from the union. An obvious problem is that many small clubs/coffeehouses and small record companies cannot afford to pay the union minimums. For a musician just starting out his or her career, these smaller outlets are the only supportive showcases for their talents. Many artists work "under the table" and take the risk.

The important question to answer is when, or if, to join the AFM? The best guideline would be for a musician to join the union when he or she has decided to become a full-time professional musician and when there is some reasonable basis to assume that one can survive as a musician.

Ben McLane Esq

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Music Business/Law Tips - "Union" (Part 1)

If a person is planning to pursue a successful career as a professional musician (either as a player or vocalist), he or she will eventually have to join the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) which is the musicians' union. There are other music-related unions such as the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) which represents singers and radio/television talent, and the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) which represents actors; however, the AFM will be the focus of this article.

The AFM is a labor union whose membership is comprised of musicians. The AFM regulates wages and working conditions as well as providing a level of job security to its members. The essential reason the AFM formed was because musicians bargaining as a group would have greater negotiating strength than individual musicians. The AFM is a national union with local charters which have their own specific territories (e.g., AFM Local 47 in Los Angeles). Each local union sets minimum wage scales at clubs and theaters in its own jurisdiction. As an AFM member, a musician is free to negotiate wages above union scale, the musician simply cannot work for less than scale.

All of the major record companies have signed an agreement with the AFM whereby as an employer they promise to hire only union members and to provide at least the minimum pay and working conditions set forth in the agreement. Any music employer signing such an agreement is called a "signatory company". As a member of the AFM, a musician authorizes all employers to deduct "work dues", which are a small percentage of the scale wages, from their pay and to have the dues sent to the local union.

[part 2 next time]

Ben McLane Esq