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Don Passman on Who an Artist Needs on Their Team

Donald Passman is one of America’s foremost entertainment lawyers and author of All You Need to Know About the Music Business, widely considered to be the single most essential and influential book ever written about how the music industry works. A partner with the Los Angeles, CA-based firm Gang, Tyre, Ramer, and Brown, Passman has negotiated some of the most lucrative deals in history for artists such as Janet Jackson and R.E.M, and is an in-demand speaker, lecturer, and educator on music business topics.

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Don Passman is an entertainment lawyer and the author of All You Need to Know About the Music Business. He discusses the key members of the artist's team, such as manager, agent, lawyer, etc., as well the roles and responsibilities of each.

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September 2006
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The key members of an artist’s team are the personal manager who is in a sense the CEO/ General Manager of the artist’s operation. This is someone who oversees everybody else on the team, who oversees the artist’s career. They’ll help them with marketing decisions, they’ll beat up the record company, they’ll help make creative decisions about which songs to use, how to put the album out, how to best position the artist in the market place. And they’re also involved in the business decisions, picking other team members and so forth. The lawyer, of course the most important person on the team, is someone who takes care of the legal aspects, helps negotiate and structure the deal, works with the manager, works with the artist and generally makes sure the artist gets what it is that they’re trying to accomplish in their lives and gets it with the least amount of legal hassles. And also takes care of making sure that the artist is protected. The agent in the music business is similar to agent in film except that they’re much more limited in scope. Agents essentially deal with live concert performances, they may occasionally get into sponsorships or commercials or if the artist has a film or TV career they could get into that. But primarily they’re dealing with the concerts and personal appearances. The other team member is a business manager which is someone who takes care of all the money in the artist’s life. They keep track of it, they pay the bills, they keep records of what’s in, they’ll help them work it up so they can file their taxes, do their investments and generally just make sure that they’re financial life is in good order.

It varies who comes on your team first depending on your situation. A lot of times it’s a manager who’s a friend who is just sort of been living with the band and they become the first person on the team. Sometimes if there is no such person the lawyer’s the first because it’s not much of a time commitment. the lawyer will either go out and shop and help you get a deal or you don’t get a deal in which case they haven’t spent a lot of time on it and there’s nothing much left for the lawyer to do. Agents tend to come a little bit later, at least the major agents unless you’re talking about agents that are locally booking you in some nightclubs. They can come a little bit earlier. Business managers are usually last because it’s very expensive to have a business manager and you can’t really afford or have a need for one till you got some money coming in and some expenses to keep track of.

Business managers tend to specialize in the entertainment industry and you want someone who does because they’ve got the expertise to know how to look at a royalty statement and see if you’re getting paid for what you should, to understand the terminology in the industry. However, some business managers branch out; some handle doctors, some handle athletes and in fact someone who handles motion picture people may not be the right person for a music artist because it’s important to understand the specific industry so that you can track the money and understand what should be coming in and what it means.

A decision about whether to audit a record company, which means go in and look at their books and records and see if you’ve been paid enough is usually made by the business manager or personal manager and lawyer in consultation with each other. You need to be pretty successful before you do that becuase the audits are expensive and it’s not done by the business manager. Some of them have – the larger business managers may have an auditor that works with them but usually it’s done by someone who specializes in doing the audits. And as I say it’s fairly expensive so unless you’re earning a lot of money it’s not something that you would normally do.
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