Interview with Elliot Chalmers from Independent Music Law Advice

Musiclawadvice.co.uk supplies advice and representation to a wide range of artists, bands and music related companies. With the rise of talented young musicians, bands and artists all vying for a record deal I thought it was about time we sat down and talked with Elliot Chalmers from Independent Music Law Advice to find out how easy or hard it is to get a contract and what the pitfalls to look out for on the way are.

Can you start by telling us how your Independent Music Law Advice Service came about and tell us a bit about the services you provide?

Well about 5 years ago I looked at the state of the music industry and the law firms operating in it and saw a potential for a service that was reasonable and more accessible to new labels and artists. I decided to write some articles and gage the response.

I immediately realised there was scope for the service and began by analysing contracts clause by clause giving the artist the information needed to understand fully what the contract meant. I have since expanded the service and supply advice and representation to a wide range of artists, bands and music related companies. The majority of work involves drafting up deals for management, recording, publishing and distribution companies. I also deal with copyright infringement cases as well as contract termination.

Can you give us the names of some of the clients that your organisation has worked with?

There’s an extensive list on my website but a few include Evil Nine, Ex Producer Of Keane and lots of up and coming bands and labels.

What are your views on the current state of the music business with the explosion of websites like MySpace and YouTube, is it easier to get in to the music business now and do you see any changes to the way we consume music on the horizon?

It’s definitely easier to get into music but harder to really break through as there is more competition. Bands like Enter Shikari have shown that if you are good enough you can stay relatively independent and not have to rely on the traditional record label model. This should give encouragement to anyone out there but shouldn’t mean you can always go alone. I know for a fact that they have an excellent team behind them that have tirelessly worked to bring them success.

As far as consumption of music is concerned I have a quote on my website by David Bowie from a couple of years ago that really shows that there are no limits on the modes of consumption that are and will be available:

‘Music, itself, is going to become like running water or electricity…’

The rise of the Internet has seen the rise of rights infringements with the old peer to peer websites, BitTorrent etc. How safe are people who put their music on websites like their MySpace page from having someone copying any part of their music?

Well the most common enquiries I have had over the last year or so concern copyright infringement. They are not all internet related though. If you are posting music on websites then always check the terms and conditions which should state that no rights are being assigned. Around a year ago Myspace rightly altered their terms and these should be standard for all other similar sites.

What advice would you give to musicians who are worried about people infringing on the rights to their music?

Due to the lack of a one-off register various methods of protection have evolved over the years as music has become more and more lucrative-Some of the more popular methods are:
-Posting copies of your work to yourselves in a sealed registered envelope obtaining a stamped dated post office receipt, and keeping the unopened envelope and receipt in a safe place in case they are ever required for evidential purposes.
-Depositing a copy of your work with a lawyer, accountant or other reputable professional in return for a dated receipt.
These measures are helpful in recording that the work was in existence on a particular date, but they are not a guarantee of copyright ownership as they are always open to possible tampering or copying.

Also never send demos to unknown sources even labels. You never know who’s hands they could fall into and it can be very hard to trace once it’s been sent.

You hear a lot in the press about young musical acts getting themselves locked in to long term record deals or deals that don’t deliver on what they are promised as when young acts are looking to get in to the music business they tend to sign anything that is put in front of them. What advice would you give to someone who has just been offered a record deal?

Well certainly DO NOT sign until you have had it looked at by a music industry lawyer. I will always do a clause-by-clause analysis of a contract as opposed to the usual marking and highlighting method used by some law firms. It is just as important for the artist to know what they are signing and be able to use this knowledge after they have signed. This is especially handy for management deals as they often contain few real obligations so if the artist knows where they stand legally they can make sufficient demands. This also applies with record deals.

Are there any big changes to music law you see in the future that may affect the way in which music is produced and promoted in the future?

It’s hard to see a massive change but I would hope the area of copyright registration becomes clearer and more similar to the American model. I would also hope to see less rights being assigned in record deals with the artist keeping some control over their works. This can only occur though with sufficient support to alter existing statutes, which can be a lengthy process.

Many young people when they are trying to make it in the music world just concentrate on getting a demo produced and then taking it around record companies and management companies. What can using your service do for them and why is it so important that they seek advice from law advisers like yourself?

As well as doing the contractual work I can give them advice based on my hands on experience of the industry knowing how things have changed and developed. I also like to have an input into their music and like to see my clients play live too. I will always pass music on to contacts and do all I can to help their careers go on the right path. Good legal advice and representation should act as a security blanket for the artist-they know they can ask for help whenever they need it.

What advice would you giving to any budding young musician who wants to make it in the music world?

The most important thing should always be the music. An artist should not be influenced too much by all the opportunities out there-if the music is not right then all the myspace and digital sites are NOT going to make it happen. I would advise an artist to spend at least 6 months working in a studio and playing live before they think about marketing or promotion or even legal advice! The most frustrating enquiries I get are from artists who want me to get them signed just because they have written a song-they have to make things happen themselves first.