Hillel Frankel is a prominent entertainment attorney based in Chicago. His Company, The Entertainment Law Office P.C., has worked with many well known musicians and labels and covers all types of entertainment law. SAM thought we would throw some questions at him about getting a career kick started in the entertainment business.

SAM: You manage bands, artists, producers, DJs and labels. What kind of advice could you give an up start new band or artist today?
Frankel: You have to be your own business. You have to make sure you’ve taken care of your own copyrights, and that you own your own recordings and you’ve registered them properly. You have to set up your income streams—this includes registration with ASCAP or BMI for performance rights, and registration with Sound Exchange for performance rights on the mastering and recordings. Also, you have to report to Sound Scan on recording sales, showby- show and each piece sold on the net. You set up your websites. You approach CD Baby, Sonic Bids and other providers for digital distribution. Then you market your music. In a sense the music industry has become like any other business. If you were going to have a vegetable cart at the corner market, you have to have good vegetables, you have to have an established clientele, and win them over with your good vegetables. At this point, it’s not about going around and making good music and looking for somebody to support you. It’s all about building your own brand and sound–that is what it’s all about now.

SAM: What about checking to see if the name is available? Trademarks and copyrights—things like that?
Frankel: The easiest way to see if a band’s name is available is to Google or search it on the Internet. You can search it on the patent and trademark website as well (uspto.gov). When you are there, you go to trademarks and then use the search function and that’s a simple search. There are more complicated searches, but they really require that you know trademark regulations because the search is a description and it gets a lot more complicated that’s why you should have an entertainment attorney do it. The name of the artist or the band is what you want to protect. The processes of that are pretty complicated so I highly recommend seeking legal counsel. It takes about a year and there are all sorts of pitfalls in regard to registration. You can apply on line but unless you word it properly, with the right classification, you are going to have your application disqualified. Whether it’s online or on paper and it takes the trade mark office about six months to get to reviewing your application because there’s so many trademarks being applied for at one time. If, six months from now, when they finally review your application, they determine that it wasn’t done properly then you’re back to square one. In the mean time, you have no protection and some one else might come along and grab your band, lose the name, time and your filing fee which is not cheap. The filing fees are $325 per class. For a band that’s filing in the performance market, t-shirt market and a recording market, it can be as much as $975.

SAM: What about getting a record deal? Is that realistic?
Frankel: At this point, I would encourage an artist to set up their own label first. Unless you’re doing sales of 5000 or more or have a huge touring base, it’s hard to imagine an indie or major label coming in and getting involved. Set up a boutique label. You can make the label name the same as the band name if you want. Release the record, start selling at shows, on the net and it’s very important to keep a record of your sales. Maybe go into some independent record stores and put it in on consignment, sell online and sell digitally.

SAM: How do you get your CD in stores? Is it realistic as an independent artist?
Frankel: There are fewer independent distribution companies than ever before and it’s harder to get paid from them than ever before. If they have trouble getting paid from their clients (the stores), they’re not going to pay you. Most of my clients that have independent distribution, unless they’re selling in numbers in the thousands, will never get in the black because the distribution companies have fees, service charges, return fees and marketing charges. They may sell 1500 CDs in the stores but they will see no money for the CDs they sell. If they sold 500 online at $10 a piece, that’s $5000, but if they sold 1500 through a distributor, they probably wouldn’t see a dime. With the demise of Tower Records and some of the other key chains, it’s much harder now. You have to go into the big box stores to sell any kinds of numbers and there’s a lot of money involved in setting that up. To see an independent product in a big box store, it’s almost unheard of. There’s only so much space in those stores and all of it is eaten up by the majors. The days of doing in-stores (Live performances in the store) at the independent chains are over. That use to be a valuable way to promote independent releases.

SAM: How would you suggest looking for a good entertainment attorney?
Frankel: It doesn’t matter where you live in the US, just look at the website for the attorney and see what he has done and who he has worked with. They need not be located in the same state you are in. If it’s another country, the UK for instance, I would advise getting a barrister because they know the laws of that country and they could work in with your US attorney. Most US attorneys have colleagues in other countries they have either worked with and both probably have contacts that you will never have.

For more information: Do a search for Musicians Rights.

Originally posted 2009-07-21 02:11:19.