Paying Dues: a Fact of Life for Both Musicians and their Lawyers


But Fountains of Wayne Leader Adam Schlesinger Tells Columbia Law School Audience Musicians in Better Position to Control Their Destiny
Media Contact: 
Public Affairs Office 212-854-2650 [email protected]
New York, Nov. 18, 2009 – For law students who aspire to a career in music and entertainment law, getting there is not easy. Just like the music business.
Most entertainment practices want lawyers to come to them with a solid grounding in contract drafting, negotiations and intellectual property issues. And if you can provide clients with reality checks and soothe outsized egos, so much the better.
“Generally, it’s felt that everyone needs a stronger base of training before you learn more and more about less and less, which is what happens when you specialize,” veteran music lawyer Josh Grier told students during a recent appearance at Columbia Law School sponsored by the Entertainment, Arts & Sports Law Society.
Outward appearances aside, the music business remains, well, a business. And during a time of illegal file sharing, narrow radio playlists, unauthorized YouTube videos and the shuddering of hundreds of record stores, business is pretty lousy.
But out of such gloom opportunity – and even prosperity – can emerge for musicians, as one of Grier’s clients, Adam Schlesinger of the band Fountains of Wayne, best known for the hit “Stacy’s Mom” told students.
“I think people that want to be musicians should do it because they want to be musicians. There are ways you can make a living at it. But that jackpot mentality nowadays is just foolishness,” said Schlesinger, who is also a producer and Grammy- and Emmy-nominated songwriter.
Grier, who also represents Wilco, Diana Krall, Ryan Adams, and the B-52s, among others, said artists can no longer rely on record labels to adequately promote them and help drive sales and increase visibility.
“There were bands that hardly played live at all and still had huge careers,” Grier said. “I don’t think you can do that now.”
Grier noted Fountains of Wayne had mainly been a studio band, but tours more now as “a way to keep the music moving forward, to keep the fan base intact.”
Indeed, Schlesinger said a growing number of artists thrive not only by touring – earning money from ticket and merchandise sales – but forego a label deal and release their own music independently or online. Success may only be a MySpace or Facebook page away. And getting your song used in a commercial on “Grey’s Anatomy can’t hurt either.
That paradigm shift not only gives artists more creative control, it also means carving up their earnings into fewer slices. That is no small feat in a business where artists have to repay labels for the expense of putting out a record before they see any revenue from sales. No surprise then, Schlesinger said, that a record deal “doesn’t have the cachet that it used to have.”
But most musicians can control only so much of their destiny, and that’s where Grier come in. He notes most musicians don’t want to deal with the business end and “want to have a sense that you know what you’re doing.”
One exception is singer Elvis Costello, a client, Grier said, who is often up in the morning emailing about business matters. “Most guys aren’t even up in the morning,” he joked.
Columbia Law School, founded in 1858, stands at the forefront of legal education and of the law in a global society. Columbia Law School joins its traditional strengths in international and comparative law, constitutional law, administrative law, business law and human rights law with pioneering work in the areas of intellectual property, digital technology, sexuality and gender, criminal, national security, and environmental law.