Gary James' Interview With Entertainment Attorney / Author
Behind every successful recording artist is an equally successful entertainment attorney, or so they say. Alan Siegel is one such attorney. His clients have included Barbara Mandrell, Ashford and Simpson and Placido Domingo. Mr. Siegel wrote a book titled Breakin' In To The Music Business (Cherry Lane Books). In the early 1980s, it was the most detailed accounting of what it took to be a recording artist.
Q - Mr. Siegel, why has it taken so long for a book like yours to be written? These days there seems to be quite a few books being published on the music business.
A - I am unaware of any other books that deal with the subject matter my book does because if I were, I never would have written it. I wrote this book because the other books I had seen were either so technical and so loaded that I doubted very much if any of my clients who were aspiring songwriters or recording artists would have the patience or time, if indeed they had the ability to do so, to plod through them. What I tried to do was write a book that was reasonably technical, that did not insult the intelligence of the readers and yet, I hoped, had enough humor and sense to it to be readable.
Q - Of the 5,000 albums released every year, only 10% cover their own cost. How then can any business survive for very long with such a poor track record?
A - When they go big, they go very big and they make a great deal of money. A lot of that money is used to finance the ones that don't make it.
Q - Many musicians hold the belief that accountants and lawyers who occupy key executive positions in the record companies are not creative and worry only about the bottom line. What can you tell musicians who believe that?
A - Clive Davis, who was a lawyer and who is interviewed in the book, ran Columbia Records. I think in the most creative manner that it's been run in the last quarter of a century, then went on to Atlantic Records and I don't think you could find a more creative entrepreneur than Clive. I don't particularly mind lawyers and accountants in top executive positions because I think their training is helpful. Those positions should not necessarily be creative positions in the musical sense. They should have enough sense that the musicians, the people who you told me are complaining, are not offering themselves to the industry in creative positions. What we're getting to a great extent in the A&R department are promotion men and business types who really don't have extensive musical backgrounds. So, if your musicians are going to complain, then I think it's incumbent upon them to get involved in the industry on those levels.
Q - Why hasn't the practice of sending in demo tapes through the mail to record companies' A&R departments resulted in the signings of big name artists?
A - They are so inundated with unprofessional material that I think it becomes very hard for them to pick out the one out of a thousand that they may be interested in. I also think they consider it un-American to confess not to listen to everything that comes in. I have my own personal doubts as to whether everything that comes in to a record company gets listened to or indeed if it gets listened to, whether it gets more than a cursory listen. I think to have a reasonable chance, a cassette probably has to be ushered in to a record company under the aegis of either an attorney, a manager, an accountant, or somebody else in the business who has some credibility. It does sound cruel, but it really isn't cruel because what you're doing in this process is cutting out a great deal of the chaff. By the time an artist either becomes affiliated with a manager or has the pluck and perseverance to actually retain counsel by this time, I think you've gotten rid of a great many of your amateurs and dilettantes. People who go this far are usually pretty serious. Before a lawyer, an accountant or manager is going to submit a tape to a record company, he's not going to know whether it's a hit or whether it's great, but over the years he will have some indication of whether it's in the ball park. So, they're pretty sure when they get a tape that a lawyer or manager or an accountant sends them, it will have passed that first test.
Q - In your book you write, "There are dumb managers and great managers, but there are no dumb, great managers." Let's take Colonel Parker (Elvis) and Brian Epstein (The Beatles), they both made some very bad mistakes in the careers of their artists.
A - Hey! Saying that somebody is bright is not the same as saying that they're not necessarily gonna make mistakes or necessarily that they're of the highest morality. Let's not mix apples and pears. I think both these chaps, Parker and Epstein, pass the brightness test. I'll stand by that statement. I don't think there are any dumb, great managers. I don't think you can be dumb and create a hit act. I think managers are usually very bright. I think what you're getting at is even if a manager is essentially very bright, he may not be the nicest human being, the best human being or actually the most judicious human being. All of those statements are true, but my statement didn't go that far! I didn't say that all managers are marvelous in every regard. I just said that I don't think there are dumb, successful managers.
Q - Do you see the day when the entertainment lawyer will replace the role of the personal manager or become both?
A - God, I hope not! I think there are certain ethical considerations that mitigate against acting as both. I don't think you can act as both. I personally think that if offends the natural checks and balances. A lawyer keeps a certain check on a manager. A manager keeps a certain check on a lawyer. They both keep a certain check on an artist. It balances out if it's working properly. When too much power evolves into the hands of any one of the elements, unless he's really a super individual, then I think it leads to difficulties.