By Jenna Paone

The WiMN’s Front and Center is a weekly column that showcases accomplished women who work in the music and audio industries. We spotlight successful female performers, manufacturers, retailers, educators, managers, publicists, and everyone else in between. Want to be featured? Learn how here.

Front and Center: Indie Artist Resource Founder and Entertainment Attorney, Erin M. Jacobson

In a music industry that can sometimes seem like it’s full of sharks, Erin M. Jacobson, Esq., otherwise known as “The Music Industry Lawyer,” helps artists and companies navigate the legal waters. As a music attorney with her own practice, her clients include Grammy and Emmy Award winners, legacy artists and their catalogs, songwriters, music publishers, record labels, and independent artists and companies. She is based in Los Angeles, where she handles a wide variety of music agreements and negotiations. In addition, she is the owner and founder of Indie Artist Resource, the independent musician’s resource for legal and business protection.

I sat down with Erin to learn a little more about the services she provides and why it’s so important for those of us in the music industry to have someone like her on our side.

WIMN: Tell us a little bit about your background and how you became interested in working in the entertainment side of law. What led you to becoming “The Music Industry Lawyer”? Were you a musician or music lover prior to becoming a lawyer?

EJ: I have always loved music. As a kid I considered myself to be Elvis Presley’s number one fan. I was known as the resident Beatles expert at my high school, then expanded into classic rock like The Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton, followed by an exploration of many other genres. At the time I did not think about working in music because I thought that the only way to work and music was to be a musician or performer.

When I was in college at USC, I took an Introduction to the Music Industry course that explained the roles of managers, agents, and music lawyers. I thought the contracts and copyrights were extremely interesting and thought the job of an attorney handling these matters for musicians was just about the coolest job a person could have. At that point, I decided to apply for law school with the intention of becoming a music lawyer. I then went to Southwestern Law School (known for its great entertainment law program), and I focused all of my electives and activities around music law. Once I graduated and passed the California Bar exam (first time!), I began getting referrals from people I knew in the music business and decided to open my own practice.

WIMN: What sorts of services do you provide, and what types of clients do you work with?

EJ: I represent songwriters, artists, music publishers, independent labels, and other professionals within the music business. I draft, review, negotiate, and counsel clients on music publishing agreements, record deals, management agreements, producer deals, licenses (synch and otherwise), library agreements, and more. I also help people on the film side clear music for films, and I represent people or companies buying or selling song catalogs.

My clients range from independent artists to Grammy and Emmy Award winners, as well as legacy artists. For new artists, I get them properly registered for copyright and with the necessary royalty collection services, as well as put all agreements in place for when they are collaborating with other artists, producers, etc. For legacy artists, I will deal with copyright termination issues to recapture rights they granted away years ago, in addition to the other types of music agreements I mentioned. When representing companies, we are signing songwriters or artists, as well as managing issues with existing deals.

WIMN: You deal with a lot of contract drafting and negotiation for both major and emerging artists alike, including songwriter agreements, music licensing contracts, and more. Can you tell us why it’s so important for artists to get into the habit of putting everything in writing in order to protect their best interests?

EJ: Putting agreements into writing is absolutely necessary for several reasons. One, without a written document there is no legitimate proof of what the agreement actually was between the parties. Two, disputes become one party’s word against the other party’s word. Three, there are usually misunderstandings about what each person meant as to the terms of the agreement. Four, people’s memories tend to become fuzzy a while after making an agreement. Five, a written agreement always provides a reference of the framework of the relationship.

Emerging artists should seek out an experienced music attorney to make sure their interests are protected. Consider it an investment in yourself and your career. The cost of dealing with a major problem later is usually much more expensive – and the consequences much greater – than if the matter was handled properly from the beginning.

WIMN: At what point should artists consult an attorney? Any advice for those reaching out to an entertainment lawyer for the first time?

EJ: Artists should consult an attorney any time there is a contract in front of them or any legal or business matter they don’t understand.

Here are some links that will be helpful:

How to Actually Hire a Music Lawyer

How to Choose a Music Attorney Whose Perfect for You

How to Choose the Right Attorney for YOU (series)

Why Hire an Entertainment Lawyer

How to Get Legal Help if You Can’t Afford a Music Attorney

WIMN: You’re an advocate for songwriters, artists, and publishers getting fair pay for their work, particularly where streaming services are concerned, which often pay only minuscule sums for the music they depend on. Why should artists be paid fairly for what they create, and how do you think those of us in the music industry can work together to make this happen?

EJ: Artists should be paid fairly because making music is an artist’s career and how an artist earns a living! It’s the same as you pay for food in a restaurant, clothing in a store, or the services of a doctor or lawyer; making music is both a service and the product of an artist’s endeavors. Why is it fair that you can pay for food you consume in a restaurant but not the music you consume throughout your day?

It’s not only the artists that deserve fair pay; there are companies that manage or own the music, like music publishers and record labels. These companies all have employees that have rent to pay and families to feed. When artists and writers make less money, so does everyone involved with their careers.

Those in the industry need to stand together to demand fair pay for use of their music and not accept anything less. If enough artists and artist representatives stand up for fair payment, those using music will have no choice but to pay fairly.

People got used to services like Napster and the free download era, which diluted music’s value to consumers. Those that license, use, and consume music need to come back to the idea that music has value and think about the people that actually make and manage that music instead of regarding music as just a passing sound in the air.

WIMN: The music industry is in a state of major change, and has been for some time now. What do you think the future holds/what would you like to see happen for your clients?

EJ: For now, the immediate future holds massive efforts to reform copyright law, as well as continuing to try to find a good model to monetize music in the digital age and command fair compensation.

I would like to see all of my clients, but also all in the music business, fairly compensated for their work and their creations, able to make a living off of making music, and have their music impact their public as only music can do.

WIMN: How has it been thus far working as a female attorney in the traditionally male-dominated music industry?

EJ: Definitely interesting! Females in the business do have a different experience than males. I enjoy working with the majority of my male colleagues, and most of them are great! Of course, as in life, there are always some men who can be inappropriate or have a hard time handling working with smart women.

WIMN: What advice would you give young women just starting out and trying to acclimate to our industry?

EJ: Know your job, remember that you are a professional, and act accordingly. You are not there to be a groupie. Be the best you can be at your position and don’t be intimidated by the men in the field – you deserve to be there as much as they do.