Beyond vibing: Why music producers need legal representation.

In Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part 2, Dick the Butcher said, “Let’s kill all the lawyers.” But if the Butcher was a music producer in times like this then he might have changed his tune if he had to deal with negotiating deals with artists and protecting his intellectual property. The fact is, music producers, need to deal with more than just vibing with the artists in the studio; your work is your property, it is like building a house and having your name on the deed. There are legal documents to be signed, your property needs to be protected, this is why having a good lawyer is one of the most valuable decisions a producer can make. Still, some Nigerian music producers don’t care about having a lawyer unless there is a court case. At this point, it is fast becoming a norm for producers and artists to have disagreements whether the producers come online to rant about not getting credits or being ripped by artists or musicians discussing the issues they face while working with music producers. Most people who have zero knowledge about the music business come after the producers attacking them because of the misconception the producers are mere “beatmakers.”

Contrary to the popular opinion that producers are just beatmakers, they do a lot of work and affect the music just as much. Asides from making beats by chopping the right samples or by selecting the right instruments, some producers can also co-write the song, advise the artists on the arrangement of the song, and choose the rhythm of the song. There is a lot of work that goes into tweaking the song to make it into that jam that you love so much. Now, imagine your favourite song without the touch of a producer, imagine Burna’s “Last Last” without a sample of Toni Braxton’s “He wasn’t man enough.” This doesn’t diminish the input by an artist, but producers have been instrumental in some of the biggest songs and without them, these songs would have been mere words. That’s why when Cruel Santino describes them as the “Guardians of the sound,” it was not an exaggeration. However, producers are the most unrecognized creatives in the industry, and that anonymity robs them of the credit they deserve and that’s why most of them have adopted the use of audio tags as a means of identification for themselves. At the same time, though, being recognized doesn’t negate the fact that most producers are exploited and to curb this they need legal representation.

The truth is as a producer in the industry, acquiring legal representation can never be overemphasized, the music industry is complex and so it is necessary to have people on your team that understand the legal aspects of the industry. Without the lack of proper legal representation, creatives fall into legal troubles that can disrupt their career and in the long run, they might not recover from the impact which could have been simply avoided if someone understood things like copyright ownership, contracts and many others. As a producer reading this piece, you might still ask, “Why do I need legal representation? How does this benefit me?” To give a better understanding of the importance of legal representation, we spoke with Oyinkansola Foza Fawehinmi an award-winning lawyer and president of Digital Music Commerce and Exchange Limited, an intellectual property valuation, management and administration company serving sub-Saharan Africa.

Over the last nine years, she has served as a legal advisory and business consultant for some of Africa’s most reputable entertainment companies and artists like Chocolate City Music, Premier Records, Boomplay Music, Infinix Nigeria, K1 De Ultimate, Teni, Adekunle Gold, The Sarz Academy, Sarz and more.

Your property needs to be managed.

“The producer is creating a property and the property needs to be managed. As much as you don’t need a manager for that, the person that does the nitty-gritty of ensuring that the property is secured and can be enforced is the lawyer.” She stresses that producers are not equipped with the knowledge to negotiate contracts and neither do they understand the commercials that go behind managing your property.

“The music is the property and the property needs to be managed and the contracts and deals that you sign or negotiate are what protects that property. 9 out of 10 times a producer doesn’t understand the commercials that go behind it. Once you collect producer fees, you need to understand that it is recoupable. You need to understand what it is recoupable against, what kind of percentage to ask for, and what publishing percentage to ask. These are the questions that go around the property that music producers create and that’s why a producer needs legal representation.”

Entertainment lawyers are accessible.
Oyinkansola Fawehinmi reiterated the fact that lawyers are easily accessible. “Five years ago it was a little different, but now, every time I go on Instagram, I see a lawyer talking about entertainment law or someone is holding a seminar or sponsored ads or masterclasses.” Also, technology has made it easier and with a click, on your phone, you can employ the services of a lawyer.

She said, “There are several educational platforms right now just for artists and producers to get educated. So, making assumptions about the lack of entertainment lawyers is an invalid statement. If this was four years ago, I’ll tell you we don’t put ourselves out there but as of now, there are entertainment lawyers everywhere. There are directories where you can find lawyers, for example, there is a directory called “Legal Naija,” where you can access different lawyers. There is “Connecthead,” if you Google entertainment lawyers, a lot of them will pop up.”

Pay for their services.
“If you can’t afford me, you’d find twenty other new lawyers who would take the money you have to offer,” says Foza, who talked about hiring services you can afford. But could going for a lesser price mean you’d work with someone who isn’t fully equipped? or daft in legal representation? If the client has a potentially valuable property, then it cannot be exploited hence opportunities are cost; what is the middle ground?

Foza was tagged to a post on Twitter where a producer was urgently asking her for a split sheet, but if he gets her invoice would he urgently respond?

“The middle ground is producers having enough funds to hire qualified people. I am one of the biggest advocates for creatives, but I am done making excuses for not paying for value and then people like us are now getting tired because we are overburdened and underpaid. I’ve been with people that we have grown from point A to point B and when it’s time to start getting paid you are short-changed and start arguing for money.” There is no free work anywhere, refusing to pay for something simply means that you don’t see the value it brings.

“The reason people say there are no lawyers is that they don’t see the value in paying for it and I can’t help you see the value of my service. There’s too much education for people to expect free work. Most times when people can’t afford me, I refer them to people I have worked with in the past and they are in the person’s price range. But the thing is, a lot of people expect us to find a middle ground. I’m giving you value, but you want to give me protection value. It doesn’t work like that anymore because we all know that this property is going to make money somehow.” Perhaps you have gotten free work based on popularity but guess what, “Everyone is done working with your creative braggadousness, it’s pay and get your work done. I am not going to be dragging an artist or producer to court for money it makes no sense and it makes me lose value. I would rather protect myself from the beginning than fight in the future. Most lawyers say, “Let me wait on the percentage you get from the money,” then they start fighting the client for their money. The creatives have not shown enough grace for us to extend that grace for them to deserve the grace for a middle ground and that’s the truth.”

Do not adopt unsustainable models.
“Artists are increasingly adopting the model of “I want to build my team from scratch. I want my producer, my manager and lawyer,” in most cases, it seems like the perfect model, but it could also be unsustainable considering if the artist is not making enough to pay then he/she cannot exclusively hire their service.” Yes, it would be nice to have your team, will the money you get at the end of the day be enough to go around?

As a producer, once you have decided to enter the music industry, the first step is to hire an entertainment lawyer. Producers also need to be involved in the deal-making process; it might not be your strongest suit, but having a little knowledge of what is being discussed can make a big difference. Avoid being bedazzled by the glitz of the artists and most importantly fuck the vibe. When a producer is employed to work with a popular artist they are usually in awe of the stardom and as a result, there is a growing number of producers whose livelihood is being exploited. The stardom of the artist might be blinding, but diving deeper it becomes apparent that the short-term glamour has real negative impacts in the long term.

Before vibing with the artists in the studio be conversant with agreements such as split sheets, producer agreements and many others. The music industry is complicated and without guidance, one can easily make a bad deal and is often caught off-guard by its complexities which is why they need certain people like entertainment lawyers to understand how whatever they create can be properly managed and protected. With easier access to lawyers, music producers should take this opportunity to hire qualified legal representation.


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