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Legals With Mark Quail

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We at CUMAA had the opportunity to sit down and bounce some questions off Entertainment Lawyer, Dj, Producer and Music Fanatic Mark Quail. With clients like
Richie HawtinArt DepartmentManuel de la Mare, Pleasurekraft and Olivier Giacomotto this was an opportunity we could not pass up. Mark is deeply rooted in the scene, he is not a stuffy shirt wearing lawyer….he is the exact opposite. Cool, current and well educated.  Most of us only dream about doing what we love for a living and being successful in that field. Mark has done just that. Here he answers many of the question we’ve been afraid to ask and puts to bed some of the legal myths floating around the music industry.   

CUMAA: What first inspired you to get into entertainment law?

MQ:  From about the age of 11, I wanted to be a lawyer.  A teacher in the 6th Grade said I’d be good at it and so it stuck in my head.  When I was about 17 (and that point in my life an absolute music fanatic) I read an article in Rolling Stone that interviewed a music lawyer in New York.  I said, “Wait, I can do music law as a career?!”  So the die was cast and there was no looking back.  For the next decade after that I jumped through whatever hoops were put in front of me to become a lawyer and learn those skills.  I’ve played in bands and I’ve produced music and I have DJed and I’m pretty good at those things.  But what I’m really good at and what I love doing is being a lawyer and bringing that mind-set and that particular skill set to problem solving.  It’s my calling, so I wasn’t going to try to fight it.  I’ve been at it for 26 years now and it’s been quite a ride.

CUMAA: If an “artist” is a duo or more should they have some sort of Partnership agreement?

MQ:  Yes, absolutely.  Going into an “arrangement” whether it’s a duo or more, is always easy.  Everybody is in good spirits and mostly of “one-mind”.  It’s the break-up that’s hard because that’s when positions become intransigent and the parties involved don’t want to budge.  A written agreement helps set the terms to run the operation and, then if there’s a break-up, helps smooth that process out.  Spending some time to to establish a framework in the form of a written agreement will save a lot of grief and a lot of money in the future if things become difficult for the players involved.

CUMAA: Are there any common mistakes that artists make that could get them into legal trouble?

MQ:  There are loads of common mistakes but the one I will focus on here is the need to get the deals surrounding your creative work in writing.  It’s amazing how the simple act of reducing your understanding and the understanding of the other party to writing distills the issues and save a lot of disputes in the future. That little bit of time spend now save hours in the future.  Words to live by, in my opinion.

CUMAA: What advice would you give to clients that you wish they would follow (but they usually don’t)?

MQ:  Thankfully most of my clients follow the advice I give and it’s quite gratifying for me to see them avoid problems because of that.

CUMAA: How do you feel about the growing number of record labels popping up almost on a daily basis?

MQ:  It’s sign that creativity never stops.  Starting a record label is not the path to making money that it once was, so if you’re starting a label I have to figure you love the music and you want the world to hear it. There’s a lot of organization required and you have to be a master of promotion to really have a shot to get the music heard.

CUMAA: How has this changed the music industry and from an Entertainment law stand point compared to just 10 years ago?

MQ:  The real changes started happening 16 years ago with the advent of Napster.  The shift to digital distribution removed the issues of transporting “bits” and unleashed the “bytes” into the world.  Bytes can be pirated much easier than bits (though there were enough unsavory types pirating the bits in the 80s and 90s – there are a few books on that topic).  And so the downward spiral began for recorded music.  What this means for Entertainment Law is that there is now less of a business shopping bands to major label for record deals because records do not sell what they used to. The major labels simply cannot take the chances that they once could.   For some of us lawyers that was a sizeable business: getting on a plane and flying to NYC and LA to take meetings with A&R personnel and play them the client’s demo CDs. Not so much anymore.  I’ve always been fortunate to be working with people and companies that are working on the leading edge of music and technology and as record sales have declined, those other elements have taken off.

CUMAA: What are the main legal concerns when signing a contract with a Canadian label and how would they differ when signing with a label outside of their home country?

MQ:  For me, it comes down to the release commitment.  Will the Canadian major label guarantee a release in the US?  Can they get the honchos at the US head office to get behind the artist?  Most often they cannot.  That’s why anybody shopping a Canadian major label style act will shop it first in the US.  If the US says yes, then any issues about signing in Canada are moot.  If you are talking about an electronic music act, signing to an electronic label in Canada could be the same as signing anywhere else because you are dealing with digital distribution. What you’re interested in seeing there is the marketing and promotion muscle that the label will bring to bear on your record.

CUMAA: What is an artists recourse when signed to a label that avoids or refuses to show quarterly reports or pay royalties?

MQ:  First off you audit, and secondly you sue.  Social media becomes useful there too.  If a label gets a bad rep, good luck signing more worthy artists.

CUMAA: What is an artist recourse when a label releases music with out a signed contract?

MQ: Copyright does not transfer unless the assignment is made in writing.  So you are in the driver’s seat when it comes to prosecuting your rights.  But lawsuits can be expensive and if you don’t have the money to push the case, you’ll want to speak to your lawyer about other possible strategies that might be available to you depending on the facts.

CUMAA: What is the legal stance on sampling considering material is resampled constantly in today’s music?

MQ:  Plain and simple:  clear the sample.  There ARE a lot of uncleared samples out there and the risk is that your music containing that uncleared sample will be removed from public access wherever it is at the request of the copyright owner.  It’s kind of a waste to put all that time into a track and have it removed that way, no?

CUMAA: If you buy a vocal sample off of a site like Beatport can you freely use it your production?

MQ: Yes, if it comes from a royalty-free sample pack made for the purpose.  Otherwise, the answer is no.

CUMAA: Do you have any other words of wisdom you think are important for artists to hear?

MQ: Once you’re done in the studio, the music business becomes a team sport.  Choose your teammates wisely and surround yourself with the best you can find.

CUMAA: What other projects are you working on now?

MQ:  I’m working with Plus Eight Equity who are an early stage investment fund that are assembling a portfolio of next-level music companies.  Products from companies like Sub-Pac, Pacemaker and LANDR are transforming the world you think you know.  Because of this, I’m liking the look of the future.  On top of that, Richie Hawtin’s “PLAY Differently” mixer looks like it is going to turn some heads and that is just coming to market now.  Lastly, Liine, a Berlin-based apps company that I’m involved with as just released its new product “Skram” for the iPad, and that’s going to prove to be a really cool music app for creative types.

CUMAA: What is the best way to get a hold of you when an artist is legal need?

MQ:  email me at mark@markquail.com