Qualities Of A Successful Independent Record Label

Most artists never have record labels lining up to sign them. More likely, only one label will be interested in signing an artist at any given point in his/her career. Nonetheless, an artist will want to sign only if the label is reputable, experienced, and knowledgeable about the music business. I advise artists that it’s better to remain unsigned than to get trapped in a bad deal with a record company that can’t (or won’t) help to advance their careers.

 What does it mean for a label to have a good reputation, and why is it important? If the record company is not able or willing to live up to its responsibilities (i.e., produce a good record and then promote and sell it), the artist will be out of luck, and his/her music career will be stuck in neutral. This can happen even to established artists, but it can be especially damaging when an artist is just getting started. If it happens to the artists you sign, you’ll develop a bad reputation as a label that does not help to advance your artists’ careers.


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What Does An Entertainment Attorney Do For Artists?

An entertainment attorney's primary job is to advise and counsel clients (i.e., you) about legal aspects of the entertainment industry. Common responsibilities of your attorney will be to draft and negotiate contracts for you with third parties, such as record and publishing companies, managers, booking agents and producers. Your attorney also will prepare your copyright or trademark registrations, and advise you on issues as diverse as goal setting, things to consider when choosing a manager or record company, and your career direction.


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Music Copyright Basics

The music business—and therefore, your label’s business—is founded on the acquisition, use, and/or sale of copyrights to songs and the recordings of those songs. To understand this fully, it will be helpful to understand the basics of copyright and its relation to the music industry. Copyright is the legal right, established by federal law, of an author to control his or her intellectual creations, and to make copies of his or her original works. In the music industry, an “author” can be a songwriter or a recording artist who records the song. The law protects a songwriter, and recognizes him or her as the song’s owner as soon as the song is written down or recorded. The same is true for a recording artist, who acquires a copyright to the recording of a performance the moment that performance is recorded. Copyright allows songwriters and recording artists to protect and maintain ownership of their creations, or to transfer those rights to third parties, like record labels.


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Trademark Registration and the Music Industry

A trademark is a creative or fanciful name or design, used to identify the owner of goods or services. Whereas copyright laws protect literary musical, dramatic, and other artistic intellectual property, trademark laws protect names, logos, or other (trade) marks associated with a business or individual.

The significance of a trademark is that it legally assures the owner’s right to use (and profit from) that trademark in association with the service or product he or she provides. The trademark also allows its owner to prevent others from using the same or a similar name or design. These exclusive rights are granted via the Federal Lanham Trademark Act, or by state trademark laws.

In the music industry, trademarks are most often used for the name of a record label or of a group, band, or artist. The trademark PolyGram Records, for example, identifies the corporate owner that manufactured U2’s records for many years. The trademark U2 identifies the band that provides musical entertainment services.

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