A label I’d like to be on only takes submissions from music biz attorneys — should I hire one?

Because no one knows A&R like a lawyer…

I, personally, would be distinctly disinclined to throw money at a lawyer just to submit music to a label that only takes submissions from attorneys.

If I was going to do that, I’d do it the way people setting up bribes and crooked business/government deals do it. When they suggest getting an attorney, ask them who they recommend. They will recommend someone they have a cozy relationship with. You’ll probably still get royally screwed, but at least you’ll have been screwed by the people you’re trying to get in with. Valuable lesson.

Do I sound cynical?

Mind you, I’m not anti-music attorney. They have an important role in understanding some very complicated bits of legal and licensing mumbo jumbo for those dealing with sharky music biz types and big bucks licensing issues. Those are roles where their specialized knowledge of music/entertainment/Intellectual Property law can be crucial. If you need one of those guys or gals, you need a good one.

Now, there ARE often-mentioned reasons why a label might say they only want to deal with a lawyer, even for simple submissions. The rationale typically goes along the same lines as why old line book publishers often won’t even look at a manuscript unless the author has an agent. There’s the notion that an agent is the first stage of vetting of the author’s professionalism — but the usual reasons cited is that the publishers want to avoid dealing with nonprofessionals who might turn around and bring a groundless lawsuit for some imagined infringement when the guy who submitted a children’s mystery story about a walrus who solves crimes sues when the same publisher later prints an adult human murder mystery where the victim is killed by a trained sea lion.

So there is that.

But, really, that’s kind of old school… today’s publishing — like the music biz — is increasingly disintermediated — that means we’ve finally found marketing platforms and techniques that go a long, long way toward cutting out ‘the middleman.’ In our biz, there have been a lot of middlemen. (So many middlemen who make so much money that it often seems like in the music biz it’s only the people actually making most of the music who don’t get rich.)

But we now have ways of marketing directly to fans. That means, of course, that there are many MORE people marketing directly to fans. To the labels, that fact is one of their last justifications: the traditional ways of getting music noticed by fans are extremely expensive — it means lining a lot of pockets, spending a lot of advertising money, filling a lot of pockets above as well as under the table, paying off gatekeepers in favors, swag, and monetary ‘compensations’ and ‘considerations.’

And we’ve seen the result as big labels have concentrated on the market sectors that are most readily subject to this kind of money-driven buzz: teen and secretary/shop boy music markets, aka, dance pop and ballads.

Other markets, club music, hipster music, outsider, their audiences tend to see themselves as ‘independent’ of commercial trends — iconoclasts who know their own minds, maybe even seeing themselves as trendsetters and opinion-makers. They require a more subtle form of manipulation and marketing. (No, wait…  Well… kinda, we’re all human.) Those are the people who can to some extent be reached by working the grassroots, ‘zines, blog reviewers, associations (even organizations) with other, similarly oriented bands and artists.

The ‘punk revolution’ of the late 70s and very early 80s (while the big labels were doing everything they could to ignore real punk bands and pump out wimpy fake punk bands in the new wave mold) provided some valuable lessons on how to grow a scene –complete with ‘outlaw clubs,’ lose-but-loyal social skeins of punk bands, little labels working out of the trunks of cars — when the indies were frozen out of mainstream distribution by the big labels and their distribution arms (where the big label artists’ supposed profits often disappeared into, perhaps poetically on some level).

Anyhow… today we have the disintermediated methods of promotion and distribution that many of us could only dream of in the 1980s… It’s a brave new world, to be sure. It’s complex, it’s tricky. But it provides basic mechanisms for artists to really exert more control over their own careers.

But no one else is going to do it for you. That’s the other side of disintermediation.