Gary James' Interview With Entertainment Attorney and Author
Entertainment Attorney Stan Soocher has written a book that should be required reading for anybody contemplating a career in music or for anybody that is already a part of the music business. Titled They Fought The Law, the book traces the difficulties musicians have faced dealing with bad contracts, personal problems, litigious fans and crooked managers and accountants.
Mr. Soocher is the Editor-in-Chief of Entertainment Law and Finance, a journal specializing in the legal issues of the entertainment industry. He is also the founding editor of Broadcast Law Report and has received the ASCAP Deems Taylor Award for excellent in music journalism for music law articles in Rolling Stone and The National Law Journal. Mr. Soocher has recently been appointed Chair of the Department of Music and Entertainment Industry Studios at the University of Colorado at Denver. He co-chairs the Legal Strategies Institute's Fighting For Music Royalties program and has presented Entertainment Law: The Year In Review in Los Angeles, Nashville, New York, Miami, Orlando, Atlanta, Austin and New Jersey. He holds a B.A. and M.A. in English from the University of Florida and a J.D. from New York Law School. And he plays the drums.
Is that a well-rounded entertainment attorney or what?
Q - I actually remember reading your material in Rolling Stone long before this book of yours was ever published.
A - That's correct. Some of this was based on articles , two of them I think, The Beatles and Two Live Crew. Though I've been covering these prior to Rolling Stone for the National Law Journal and / or Entertainment Law and Finance, which is the industry newsletter I've edited for years. I kind of put it all together and did further research on the topics.
Q - You were actually an associate editor for Circus Magazine weren't you?
A - True.
Q - Did you interview the recording artists of the day for Circus?
A - Oh, yeah. That was a great experience. It was early in my career and I was a freelance writer. I got that job with a group of other writers who were all in the early stages of their career. Kurt Loder, David Fricke, Jon Parelis from the New York Times. Jon was at Crawdaddy and he would come over and we would all go out to shows...at lot of shows together. So, it was a real good beginning for my first full-time job as a Rock journalist, being with these people.
Q - Since you play drums, were also in Rock groups?
A - Well, I started as a drummer in Rock bands in South Florida. Since I've been at the University of Colorado at Denver we have a compilation album and I also write songs. We put a song I co-wrote on the album called "The Key To My Heart". So I'm doing some recording. I write songs and play drums.
Q - Was it your idea to make someone think twice before signing a recording contract?
A - Well, the intent was to educate artists about the pitfalls of their relationships with managers, record companies and other industry entities. But, I know darn well that if an artists who has been shopping for a deal finally gets a recording contract, they're very likely to sign it, whatever the primary terms, in order to get their recording career off the ground. Now of course if the artist makes it, that early career can come back to haunt them and often does. But, another part of what I was trying to do really is, I tried to focus on landmark cases and educate well established artists as to some of the recurring problems that they may face. So, I was really going for in terms of artists those two groups. It's going to be when an artist has success and money rolling in from record sales to the record company and money is going to the manager, that the big problems arise.
Q - I've only heard of two performers who weren't ripped off. One is Dave Clark (Dave Clark Five), who is one smart guy and a hell of a businessman.
A - Very smart, yeah.
Q - And the other is Madonna. I don't believe she's been ripped off.
A - Well, when you say never been ripped off...
Q - By a record company.
A - With any artist it's hard to say. The basic theory on royalty issues between artists and record companies is if you sell a lot of records, you almost always want to do an audit. The primary reason being there's almost always money falling through the cracks somewhere. It may be intentional or not, but just the way the record company accounting is set up, it's so complicated that even astute record company people with good intentions can miss significant amounts of money in determining what an artist is owed. So, if well intended record company people can make mistakes, you can imagine in a business historically rooted in sleazy characters and companies, there's a lot of room to maneuver in payments to artists.
Q - Besides the two artists I've mentioned, are you aware of anyone else who was smart enough to handle their own money?
A - Oh well, there are artists who have learned lessons who are smarter.
Q - I'm talking from the get-go. We don't see Dave Clark or Madonna suing their record companies.
A - Right, but I'm a cynic. He's licensing. Dave Clark was one of the first artists to keep the rights of the sound recordings if I'm correct. And that proved critical. Most artists didn't, including The Beatles. That's something The Beatles tried to get when they sued Capitol / E.M.I. for royalties in the 80s. Tried to get back the rights of the sound recordings and in the settlement, did not. But, Dave Clark owns the sound recordings. He licenses them out. He's now got people owing him royalties. Anytime companies own you royalties, there's always a very high chance of underpayment. It may be that Dave has just not filed any suits and has quietly chased people or quietly done audits and settled. There's no way of knowing. Many royalty claims are settled. Dave may not have said anything about it. I consider Dave a bright artist. Mick Jagger and Bob Dylan would be too, but they've learned a lot from mistakes, particularly Mick Jagger from The Stones...mistakes years ago. I think there's a learning curve and a question with most artists of how quickly they can move up the curve. I would put Mick Jagger as someone who moved up the curve quickly.
Q - You don't think too much of Brian Epstein (the Beatles) as a manager.
A - No.
Q - You write in your book: "The genesis of many of The Beatles legal problems can be traced to the often ludicrous business deals the group's manager Brian Epstein bound the band members to in their early days." To that, I would say read Alistair Taylor's new book A Secret Affair, in which he chronicles Brian Epstein's efforts to secure a recording contract for The Beatles. Because of Brian Epstein's retail record store operation, he enjoyed something you and I would not have and that's clout. He had leverage.
A - That isn't the problem. I don't find that to be a major problem. Yeah, it was a baby band deal. It's really what happens and I mention it in my book because the band was stuck with it for such a long time. It's really what happens after that is what I think is more concern. I think Brian could've brought in better council, better advice than he did. That's the concern. He was really a neophyte at these deals. Back then, we have to say on his side that there wasn't a lot of information out there like there is today for someone who is going to be managing an artist in the industry. There's a lot of information out there today. If Brian was shopping The Beatles today and did his research, he could find a lot of information on management deals, record deals and be in a better position to negotiate the deals he did.
Q - Do you think he could've gotten the information at the time?
A - It was much tougher. Once The Beatles were popular, he did not negotiate good deals. He was a weak negotiator and there's a lot of evidence for that.
Q - Who would've been a better manager for The Beatles?
A - That's a rough one. That's a darn good question. A lot of the great managers have been tough, obnoxious people. Back then, the business was done a lot differently. Again, it had to do with the information factor. People sometimes just went by brute force. I did not know Brian personally, but certainly from all I can glean and people I've talked to about him, was more of a social animal in the sense that he wasn't willing to blow apart relationships to get what he wanted. If he didn't get it from one, he'd go to the next one. So, I don't know that I can answer that question. I don't believe it was Colonel Parker because of Parker's huge self interest that I don't know if any of The Beatles would've seen through, but I think that's a hard one. Back in the early 60s, the Rock industry was not populated with well-established managers that bands were chasing to be with. There were packages.
Q - Can you name a band that got a better deal than The Beatles? I don't know that The Stones did or The Kinks or The Who.
A - Well again, most of these bands got baby band deals or new band deals, although once The Beatles hit and the British Invasion was in full swing, it was easier to get a deal. The terms of the deal are still new band deals, but it wasn't a tough to get the deals. The Beatles were the ones probably, because of Brian's persistence, that got 'em the deal. But, that's something that any manager would need to do, even with most new bands today. It's tough to get signed. Brian Epstein had to really work to get The Beatles signed.
Q - I would say part of the problem with today's music business is that no one thinks long term.
A - Part of it is the public being fickle. That's one factor. An artist is "hot" for only so long. In most cases there are exceptions like Madonna, but she's a tremendous exception to that general rule. For most people, they're "hot" for a little while and then they move on. The people in the industry with the long term careers are the managers and the record people who establish themselves as the artists come and go.