Music Bussiness Survival Series Pt 4: Entertainment Law

Lisa Lopes

Lisa Lopes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By: Julian Harris Gibson

Many artists find out the hard way when it is too late that before they plan a world tour, they need to find a good entertainment lawyer. There have been countless horror stories of artists getting the short end of the stick when the profits came to pass. One of the most recent and famous stories was that of R&B super group TLC which sold a whopping 10 million records for their smash album in the mid nineties only to end up broke due to ignorance and shady business practices. Many people asked how in the world a group could sell that many records and end up broke but as a creative genius and lead singer the late Lisa “Left Eye” Lopez discussed it in a VH1 documentary.

During this film the singer explained how the group only received about one dollar per unit sold, which meant that the original pie for the artist was ten million dollars. This may seem like a boatload of cash, but keep in mind that the original retail price of a CD at that time was about 15.99 which meant at ten million copies sold the record label stood to make well over 150 million dollars. TLC’s share was less than 10 % meaning they only had five million to start out with.  After the label billed the group for the cost to produce, promote distribute and package the album, the group was left with a dismal $15,000 per artist, barely 1 % of total sales.

This case was on the extreme end of the spectrum, but is fairly common in the music business. The practice of billing the artist is known as “recouping” for expenses and is standard in many fields of business. However in the music business, many artists get caught up in the glitz and glamour of the bright lights and get hit by the train of reality –hard.


Music Business Survival Series Pt 2: History of Copyrighting




The United States Congress established the first federal copyright law in 1790, and originally the clerk of the United States District Courts filed each application. It did not take long for the first copyright certificate to be issued, which happened within the first two weeks of the offices conception. Also in 1870, the filing responsibilities were transferred to the librarian of the Library of Congress in 1897 and Thorvald Solberg was the first Register of Copyrights. Since its opening, the United States Copyright office has filed 33,200,000 applications from all sorts of authors, musicians and artists. This process allows artists to reap the benefits of their labor.

With all those filings the Register of Copyrights would be impossible without help, he is assisted by the general counsel, the associate register for registration and recordation as well as the associate register for policy and international affairs which provides legal advice and counsel to the artists and authors works they also administer the Federal Copyright Law. The Copyright act of 1976 created the need for two copies of copyrighted works to be issued to the Library of Congress. This task of not only cataloging but also enforcing Administrative Law is very daunting.

Thousands of lawyers work tireless hours to litigate on behalf of artists and their employers as to who owns what and who stole what from who and when. This tedious task may be confusing for any music aficionado much less a teenager in an up and coming rap group who only is focused on becoming a star. Many artists leave this responsibility to managers who are entrusted with the task of negotiating contracts, licenses and copyrights for their clients. These managers often are someone close to the artist like a family member or local music producer, these people often are not trained in Copyright or publishing laws and protections and they fall victim to ignorance.


By Julian Harris Gibson

Most recording companies are looking to get the most return for the lowest risk. No matter what genre of music the artist creates like rock, rap, country or gospel. This means record labels often will not sign an artist until they have proven viability. In order to prove viability, artists often have to invest in themselves spending their own money for equipment, studio time, promotional materials as well as travel expenses for touring.

However, these tasks are expected to be completed before the struggling artist has even packaged or produced a record. This daunting task often forces the artist to become a self-contained business and handle many areas like budgeting and paperwork and PR that the artist may not be knowledgeable about. Follow this series to gain valuable knowledge about these topics.

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