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What to do in this situation? Help a struggling engineer.

Discussion in 'Studio Lounge' started by Johnjm22, Nov 28, 2004.

  1. Johnjm22

    Johnjm22 Guest

    Okay this is my situation;

    I graduated from LARW about 2 1/2 years ago. After interning at various studios in the LA area for almost a year, I decided my best way to break into the industry while gaining experience, knowledge, and improving my skills would be to buy my own rig and go freelance.

    As I anticipated this has been a struggle. I've had to keep a day job to supplement my income. Despite this, I am confident in my ability, and I am confident that I will make it as a recording engineer.

    Over the past year and a half, I've engineered quite a few demos and made a VERY modest amount of money. During this whole time I have been doing free engineering for some friends of mine who are in the band. All this has really helped me grow as an engineer, and gain a vast amount of experience and knowledge. (Something that I don't think would of happened if I was still interning.)

    As I mentioned earlier I do free engineering for a friends band. It's kinda been a way for me to practice and gain knowledge. Currently me and this band, there called "Chrysalis," are nearing the completion of a full length 12 song album. I'm very excited about this album. I think this may finally be my big break. The music is excellent, and is very fresh and original. This album also represents my finest engineering work to date, I'm very proud of it. I'm so happy with this album that I've decided to have it professionaly pressed and packaged through my own personal finances. Reason being that I want to have something professional looking in my portfolio.

    My question is this; Since I'm financing the album to be pressed and packedged should I just start my own label and put it out independantly?

    I've been considering this for the past few weeks and have been studying the music biz a lot, and can see that it's quite complicated. So what are my options? I want to be able to make money off this band/album. It's not like I can charge them money, there just kids.

    The bottom line is this; I think this band is going places and I want to have a stake in their future. What's the best way of doing this? Since I'm financing the album to be pressed and packaged shouldn't I just start an indie label and sign the band to a contract?
    I'm afraid that if we put this record out without them signing a contract, they might get signed by a relitvely big label and I will just get left behind with nothing. I'm reluctant to start a label because I want to be an engineer, not a business man, but I feel it's my only option.

    What would you guys do if you were in this situation?

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    P.S.
    Sorry for the long post, but I feel that for anyone to properly give me advice they must understand my situation as a whole.
     
  2. LittleDogAudio

    LittleDogAudio Active Member

    You may want to think about sighning a contract that focuses on getting your return back first and then a cut of future profits within limits. Any contract you have them under, will be an issue for a "real" label if they want to sign them. The bigger your cut or buy-out is, the less likely the new label will want to pay for it.

    It will be a balancing act to get what you deserve (which is quite a bit if they get a good deal) and still keeping the band marketable to new labels.

    Just stay cool and be a positve force in a very shitty industry.

    Just something to think about.

    Chris
     
  3. Johnjm22

    Johnjm22 Guest

    Thanks for the reply littledog.

    I see what your saying. If I could sign them to a contract that would allow me to get a cut of their future profits that would great. Or better yet, a contract that would allow me to be the engineer their albums if they were signed by a major label. Plus this would rid me the hassle of starting a label myself.

    The only problem is the contract its self. Wouldn't I have to hire a lawyer to draft the contract for me?

    If I drafted the contract myself I'm sure it would have all kinds of loopholes that would allow them to break the contract later, once they get major label attention.

    All to often I've heard stories of artists on indie label's, that find ways to break their contracts, in order to deal directly with the major label and cut out the indie.

    Got any suggestions on where to find a good music biz lawyer that can draft me some contracts? Preferably one that won't cost me an arm and a leg. But I'll do what ever it takes.
     
  4. LittleDogAudio

    LittleDogAudio Active Member

    Well you live in Cali so I imagine there is an entertainment attorney on every street corner. Here in Ohio it's not so easy to find a good one.

    Almost any contract can be blown apart if the opposing side has enough money. If you are serious about this deal and you really believe in the band, then spending a few hundred on an attorney should be a no-brainer. The problem can lie in the pre contractual negotiations. Make sure you and the band spend all the time you need discussing the details outside the law office. That's where the dollars get eaten up, devil in the details. Lawyers live for this $*^t.

    I'm not sure that you can realistically write a clause saying that you get to engineer/produce thier future releases if they are signed by another label. If it's a small/ medium size label, then the band many times picks the engineer/studio. I assume that the band likes your production so you should get the nod when that time comes.


    Hope this helps,

    Chris
     
  5. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    Record companies have very good attorneys. They have to have them considering all the legalities they deal with on a daily basis. The problem with contracts, as my lawyer once told me, is that they are written by a lawyer and will be contested by a lawyer who is probably getting paid more than the lawyer who wrote it in the first place.

    How tight are you with this band? Will they drop you without notice if they make it big? Are you really sure where you stand with this group? These are questions you have to ask yourself and also realize that if this group gets offered a recording contract with the proviso that they use ABC recording company and not you is the band going to risk losing the whole gig just so you can be their recording engineer? I personally don't think so but of course I don't know the members of the band or your relationship with them.

    I have done a lot of mastering for people who say that once they make it big (and a couple have) they will come back to me with their work. It has yet to happen. Record companies have their own people that they work with and are not really interested in working with someone else as part of the "package" they are offering to the band. This is especially true if you don't have an established clientele and the band is your only client but stranger things have happened.

    If this band is as good as you say they are and the recording is GREAT then you are contributing to the band's fame and fortune and if they get the recording gig it will be in large part because of all the sweat equity you put into the project without any financial rewards. You deserve your "cut" and you want to make sure you are protected and rewarded for your efforts so a contract between you and the band is mandatory for your protection. You do have a lot to lose and I think if you are serious about this a few hundred dollars consulting with an entertainment lawyer is probably money well spent. Now is not the time to get cheap and try and do the contract yourself.

    Asking to be the "official" recording engineer of the band maybe a sticking point and may not be possible but getting a part of the profits of the band when they do finally make it due in large part to your efforts is something that I think you are entitled to.

    Be aware that money can make even the best friends become bitter enemies and that lots of times people are promised lots of things to keep them going. I personally know of a couple of roadies and FOH engineers that were working for nothing or very little and were told they would be taken care of when the band made it. When the band finally did make it big the band members conveniently forgot about the people who really contributed to the band's success and those people were left with lots of empty promises and not much else.

    Get the contract drawn up and signed by all parties and you will sleep better at night.

    Hope this helps
     
  6. Johnjm22

    Johnjm22 Guest

    Thanks again for the replies. Thomas you brought up some very good points.

    I'm actually very tight with this band. We have all been friends for years. Me and the drummer go way back. In fact I've been their live sound engineer for about 4 years (All for free). It's even at the point now where the band uses alot of my equipment, and I help buy equipment for them. I've kinda become their unofficial manager. But like you say money can change people, that's why I want to get a contract. I have discussed this situation with the band and they tell me not to worry, that they would demand me in the studio. But I would certainly sleep easier at night if we had a contract.

    Are you guys saying that it would only be a few hundred bucks to get legal advice AND have a contract drafted? If so that would be awsome. I consider that pretty cheap.

    That's unfortunate. The whole reason why I've associated myself with this band is in hopes that it would lead to advancing my career as an engineer. If I just got money out of the deal that wouldn't really help my career out that much.

    This is what I'm afraid of.

    P.S.

    Where's a good place to look for an entertainment lawyer? Recomandations would be nice.

    Even though I live in SoCal, it's not like there is a lawyer on every corner. I live in a small town about 200 miles outside LA.
     
  7. LittleDogAudio

    LittleDogAudio Active Member

    Well, maybe a few hundred bucks is pretty cheap.

    I always have lawyers as clients in my studio so I barter quite a bit.

    Find a lawyer that needs some recording and you have a friend for life.

    Chris
     
  8. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    The best place to look for an Entertainment Lawyer is on line (use the Yahoo Yellow pages or some such) or the yellow pages of the phone book, or ask around in fact if you call a local lawyer they are full of info and since they all belong to the bar they have quite a network to help them if they get into an area they know nothing about (which maybe more times than they like to admit). The couple hundred would at least get you in the door and as Little Dog says maybe a barter situation can develop. My own lawyer says hi to me and it costs me $25.00 so they are not cheap. The important thing is not to do this yourself. I believe it was Mark Twain (my 23rd cousin twice removed) who once said "A person who is their own lawyer has a fool for a client" or some such thing and it is as true today as when he said it.

    Best of luck and give us a heads up when you are able to find someone to help you with your contract and what is the final outcome of the whole exercise.
     
  9. maintiger

    maintiger Well-Known Member

    If you are their de facto manager, become their official manager and put it in writing. Negotiate a percentage as a producer of this album that would be fair to all and be prepared to take a buy out offer from a record company.

    Actually, If you do sell the production as is to the record company and are the producer and they release it with your name on it and its a hit be prepare for the phone to ring with offers to produce other acts- but that is just the best scenerio. The record company might want to re-record with their own producer and buy you out. If that's the case, settle for a fair settlement, (probably less what you'd hope) and don't derail the band chances- as it is, its hard enough to make it in this crazy business and if you become the obstacle to their success they will hate you forever anyway.
     
  10. Johnjm22

    Johnjm22 Guest

    Again, thanks to everyone for they advice.

    I just thought I would throw this up;

    In my search for a lawyer I found a cool website. It's a site that has forums just like RO, except it's all about legal stuff! They even have a catagorey that's devoted to entertainment legal matters.

    Check it out:

    http://www.prairielaw.com/messageboards/list.asp
     
  11. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    I'm sure there's some form of "Legal Aid" In your area as well, for people who can only afford the most basic stuff. But yes, by all means, GET IT IN WRITING.

    I'm wondering what it is you really want to do at this point: Do you want to really stake your entire career to this one band, or do you plan to use it as a stepping stone for a more complete career? (Is the band that good that you see them as the next generation's U2 or Rush, or Phish, or whatever? What I mean is, do you REALLY want to do just THEIR music all your professional career, or will you want to branch out eventually?)

    I'm totally on the side of the engineer/producer who spends years working for next to nothing with a band, lending them gear, doing their live gigs, essentially becoming their audio guru while they're on the way up. Then the age-old show biz horror story always kicks in. These stories are legion; up and coming young bands finally getting a shot at the big time, always forced to shed the "little people" who were there on the way up.

    From the bands point of view, there COULD come a time when they look at you as: Who are YOU to hold them back? (No offense, I'm just making a point....) They may even see it as pretty selfish for you to want to make ALL of your life's income on THEM. Pretty heavy burdon to bear. (And as others have mentioned, the record company will dissuade them of THAT notion pronto.)

    You say you're "good buds" from way back. Trust me, that never stopped anyone who's on the fast track to the top from dumping friends, family, and even PARENTS. (Lee Anne Rhymes, for one... Britney Spears another...) It's a fact of life, and in some ways, it IS really a business, and very often our services are merely a commodity that can be bought and sold.

    Certainly, there are acts that are forever intertwined with their engineers/producers, (Beatles & George Martin, Paul Simon and Roy Hallee, Billy Joel and Phil Ramone, Michael Jackson and Bruce Swedien/Quincy Jones, etc.) but they are often the exception rather than the rule. I could introduce you to a slew of wonderful (and now somewhat burnt-out) people here in the Delaware Valley that all used to work for Bruce Springsteen on his way up from the South Jersey shore. Not a single one of them is still invovled, but that's ok. They knew the biz never worked that way anyway. They were all gradually replaced or moved along on their own. (It be 'dat way, sometime!)

    I know of others who are forever bitter over their onceuponatime "iron clad" soulmate relationships with their friends/band members. (One semi-famous guy I know had a similiar relationship with a new band that won a local radio talent contest, with a contract to record an LP, and tour as openers for Van Halen - way 'back in the day'. What happened to those broken relationships, the failed tour, the dead-end album, the near-lawsuits, etc. would make a great book or TNT movie. ;-)

    I highly recommend a book by Hank Bordowitz called: "They Fought the Law". It's ten or so chapters of hilarious and horrible tales of the record industry (Beatles, Elvis, CCR, Billly Joel, etc.) and what can happen with lawyers, labels and money getting in the way of relationships and careers. It is truly worth reading, if you're heading down this road. (Creedence Clearwater Revival was a band made up of brothers and friends from grade school and high school. One brother (Tom) is now dead, and the survivor/founder (John Fogerty) has nothing at all to do with the other two - his friends from day 1 - unless it's through his attorney. Sad, really sad. It's a horrible example of what can go wrong, and it's in the book, too. You can read another book by Hank called: "Bad Moon Rising" - the unofficial bio of Creedence et al. It'll make your skin crawl.)

    Another thought comes to mind: You personally are taking a HUGE gamble by putting all your eggs in one basket, engineering-wise. What happens if/when the band breaks up? If this goes nowhere, you've simply got a great demo to shop around. That's not a bad thing, just beware of the possibilities. Don't get stuck or obsessed over just ONE project, or one band. There's a LOT of great stuff out there, and good savvy producesr and engineers know how to work smoothly, efficiently with several clients over a period of time.

    Check out magazines like Electronic Musician, Wire, Vibe, Rolling Stone, MIX, etc. and read the small print, esp the stuff that lists the producers and engineers, and where they work. You may be surprised to see some names in there over and over again; these people haven't hitched their wagon to just ONE star. Quite the contrary, they are in demand because they bring something special all their own to a project, and they become sought-after based on their skills and reputation.

    Sad but true, only a small part of our industry (and even less of the listening public) really CARES or even notices who's behind the board for bands and their recordings. It's just a fact of life. If you DO stay with your band through thick and thin, be prepared for the reality that most folks won't know (or care) who YOU are should they become famous.

    These days, I sure can see the merits of you jump starting your career with a hot indie band on an indie label all your own. But I'll bet you in ten years, you'll look at it as just a starting point, hopefully the stepping-stone to many other fine projects in your resume.

    Good luck, man, whatever you.
     
  12. Johnjm22

    Johnjm22 Guest

    I really just want to use this band as a stepping stone. I'm hoping that this album does well enough to get me noticed as an engineer/producer. Which would utlimatley lead to me getting more work, and hopefully on bigger projects.

    As for my relationship with this current band I would like to mantain it, but not as a manager, label owner, live sound guy, ect. I'm really only interested in recording engineering, and I would like to be able to work on the bands future projects, if at all possible.

    Understood. I don't plan on getting all my income from this band. Want I really want is to become a succesful engineer and work with numerous bands.

    I certainly wouldn't mind being "forever intertwined" with this band. But like I said earlier I would like to work with lots of different bands.

    I guess Terry Date would be a good example of how I would like my career to be. He works on every Deftones album, but at the same time he does work on tons of different projects.

    I wouldn't say all my eggs are in one basket, but at this point most of them are, and I think thats really my only choice. You must understand that It's difficult for a relativley unexperienced engineer to get work. And while I've been continously working on projects since I got out of school, this is the only one that I think has a chance of going somewhere. When it's hard to find work you've got to take whatever you can get, needless to say I've done some project that I'm not very proud of.

    I must also add that part of the reason I've decided to have this album professionaly mastered, pressed and packedged is not so much that I want THIS band to suceed, (although I do want them to suceed, and I think they will) but it's more so to have something professional looking in my portfolio and on my resume.

    If I did this album for them, and they just put it out on burned cd-r's that really wouldn't do anything for me. Even if the band was able get tons of cd-rs out there and they developed a big underground following, I don't think that would really benifit me as an engineer/producer.

    So that's kind of why I've decided to give this band so much support. In this situation, what's good for them is good for me.

    I certainly hope so! Thanks for they advice. :cool:
    [/quote]
     
  13. britune

    britune Guest

    spec deals

    You should have a contract with the band before you start, based on what you and the band agree on. If you don't have one now, get one before you continue any further. The contract needs to be reviewed and edited by an attorney.

    I have produced/recorded some local bands with a spec contract between me and them. I usually have the band front the money for the CD replication. Then all the recording/production/mixing is free (included). I own and pay for all tapes and recordings. I get $2-3 of every CD sold. I get a few percentage points (of CD sales and songwriting royalties) of the next two releases, and a finders fee, if they get signed. I have the option to produce their first CD if they get signed at a set price. I keep possesion of the replicated CDs and give them to the band, as they pay me the $2-3/CD.

    Get it all in writing ASAP. It's amazing how fast things can fall apart. Once the band starts getting a lot of rough mixes, they won't want to sign a contract. They will think they can use some of the mixes to get signed. Also, you can spend a lot of time, and when you finish, te band breaks up. Every band member should be signed, both as a unit and individually, in case they separate.

    You can read about spec deals in the book- "Confessions of a Record Producer". They have a "standard" spec deal in there.
     
  14. britune

    britune Guest

    spec deals

    You should have a contract with the band before you start, based on what you and the band agree on. If you don't have one now, get one before you continue any further. The contract needs to be reviewed and edited by an attorney.

    I have produced/recorded some local bands with a spec contract between me and them. I usually have the band front the money for the CD replication. Then all the recording/production/mixing is free (included). I own and pay for all tapes and recordings. I get $2-3 of every CD sold. I get a few percentage points (of CD sales and songwriting royalties) of the next two releases, and a finders fee, if they get signed. I have the option to produce their first CD if they get signed at a set price. I keep possesion of the replicated CDs and give them to the band, as they pay me the $2-3/CD.

    Get it all in writing ASAP. It's amazing how fast things can fall apart. Once the band starts getting a lot of rough mixes, they won't want to sign a contract. They will think they can use some of the mixes to get signed. Also, you can spend a lot of time, and when you finish, te band breaks up. Every band member should be signed, both as a unit and individually, in case they separate.

    You can read about spec deals in the book- "Confessions of a Record Producer". They have a "standard" spec deal in there.
     

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