Feature Interview

Talking Independent Musician Publishing, Part 2

If you’re an independent artist the onus is on you to educate yourself as to the functions of regulatory organisations like SAMRO and how they’re supposed to work for you. Granted, it can be a daunting prospect, especially for someone who doesn’t necessarily have a grasp on legal jagon or a keen mind for paperwork. But it’s still a necessity.

Legalese paralegal Catherine Marcus was succinct in her breakdown of exactly how Legalese are here to help, by offering a spectrum of legal services to musicians, creatives, management agencies, record labels and anyone else dealing with artistic performance or intellectual property.

Tecla Ciolfi: The last service listed on your music royalty administration price list says “Royalty Administration (Monthly) – R2000 (with 20% split)” What’s is that 20% split?

Catherine Marcus: This entire service is an experiment to see if we can offer a new service to break the mold. So as we’re experimenting with fixed fees – we’re also seeing if we could take it one step further. This service is an exception to our usual offering. It’s also only something being offered to more established career artists with a back catalogue of unregistered, unaccounted for music that’s been in circulation without accruing benefit to the artist.

Our main focus at Legalese has been to work with career musicians, so this would be a more in depth and on-going relationship where we cover more than just their administrative needs, but more specifically, the bulk of their legal needs as well. We become an in-house service for the musician, and in exchange, take a 20% (give or take) cut of their publishing earnings. It’s not for everyone, but for some artists, it’s the kind of set-up that suits them best.

We already work like this with a few career musicians in South Africa and this sort of involvement in their career has worked really well.

TC: Why is having Legalese take care of all your admin a better choice than signing to a label or working with a manager and having them do it?

CM: Signing with a label is a great option for some artists. A label is meant to promote and administer an artist’s publishing affairs. The reality however is that sometimes they do their job, and sometimes they don’t.

As an artist, you take an exceptionally big risk on how good a job your publisher is going to do. Moreover, any agreement you sign is going to tie you to that company for quite a few years – maybe even the entire lifespan of your career.

It’s one decision which could essentially make or break your entire career. And unfortunately, we’ve seen the latter far too many times. The stories can be heartbreaking.

The longest commitment most of us have made has been say, a lease agreement for a house – and that’s just a year. A publishing deal is usually three years or more. If you get it wrong, it’s a very big problem. A home you can at least look at before you agree to move in. A publishing deal you often don’t know more than the name on the letterhead and maybe a discussion over coffee. If you feel after that, that it’s the right deal, then take it. But if you’re unsure, it’s a pretty big risk to take. Too big for me at least.

If you want to do your publishing yourself – promote your music, and find opportunities for it – without giving up a large cut of your income; if you want to keep your band/project independent, then Legalese can help facilitate that by helping you with the paper work and giving you advice along the way on how to control your music and your career. Plus, you gain a legal team. By taking on Legalese to do publishing admin, you establish a relationship with us in case of any legal guidance or dispute that may arise in the future.

TC: In your time working with the likes of SAMRO, CAPASSO and SAMPRA what has your experience been? How well do they work with in terms of the processing of paper work, communicating with you and most importantly, how long does it take for them to make payments?   

CM: Working with any regulatory organisations gets a bad rep – and big organizations like SAMRO are difficult to navigate. However, they have systems in place that you just need to understand. Being nice to people, following instructions and doing a bit of research goes a long way. Payment are made every year according to a schedule. That being said, we can always do better. So if anyone at SAMRO is reading this and is keen to work with us to make things easier for artists, then give us a call – coffee is on us!

TC: While record labels are still very much alive and kicking there has been a rise in incredibly successful independent artists – Chance The Rapper, Stomzy etc. – which seems to be a trend that’s picked up in SA lately. Who are some of the artists that you work with?

CM: The emergence of independent artists is exactly what’s inspired us to put this product into place. Chance is a great example – he proved to the world that you could publish independently and become famous. His music spoke for itself. The music industry has changed – artists such as have Chance realized this, as have so have many companies involved in music distribution. It’s changing in SA as well.

Before launching the product to the public at large, we worked with some existing clients and new artists – Haezer, Sibot, Skyscrapers and Nomadic Orchestra, to name a few. We also do plenty work artists like PH Fat, Stilo Magolide and Crazy White Boy which doesn’t involve their publishing, but does assist them in making their careers as artists more profitable and enjoyable.

Read Part 1 here.

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For more about Legalese read out interview with founder Eitan Stern.