Four Pieces Of Legal Advice For Musicians

Posted by Leslie ShumakeJan 01, 20220 Comments

It's a new year and I thought I would touch on something a little different, representing musicians. 

I have represented a number of local musicians in my career and currently represent some of the heirs of R. L. Burnside, an excellent musician who died in 2005 at age 78.  Mr. Burnside played "Hill Country Blues" and let an interesting life.  You can google him and read about his life, and his influence includes "The Black Crowes" and others.    (Check out how many "heirs" he had at the time of his death.)

I mention the Burnside Estate to illustrate one of the first pieces of legal advice I give musicians: 

1.  Make A Will.   As I have stated elsewhere on my website, this is one of the best things you can ever do for your family.   Mr. Burnside left many, many heirs at the time of his death, including children and grandchildren.   He had no will, so the quarterly royalty check his estate receives has to be divided among all of his many heirs.  A simple will would have solved that problem.  You may not ever be famous and make a lot of money, but you never know.

2.  Don't Let One Band Member Also Be Your Finance Person.  This is quite common for any band as it starts out, and, again, even if you are only making money as a local act, can lead to all sorts of unanticipated problems.  I generally advise having two people in the mix for travel arrangements, equipment purchases, etc.  It is a pain in the neck, and most artists don't want to fool with this stuff, but it should be done.  The checking account (yes, you need one) should require 2 signatures.

3.  If You Get To The Point Where You Don't Need A Day Job, Hire An Accountant And An Attorney.   Again, this puts two people watching out for finances, and will protect you in different ways.  An Attorney is also invaluable in reviewing contracts and protecting your interests for the present and the future.

4. Pay Attention. I realize Artists are wired differently from us average folks, but it pays to pay attention to the more mundane things in life.  A regional talent some years ago was in my office for a real estate purchase. He was more interested in chatting with the cute realtor than the purchase itself, and signed every document put in front of him without a second thought.  Fortunately, he was successful enough to have an agent who was present and looked over everything. It wasn't a big deal, but it obviously could have been.

So, Happy New Year to musicians and all performance artists, and we all hope live concerts will get back to the pre-COVID normal!