You make the call.
You're a hot-shot entertainment attorney who represents a much-sought-after pop star who's in the midst of negotiating a new recording deal with a major record company. There's only one tiny little problem--you also represent the president of the record company.
What's the right thing to do?
That's just one of the many thorny questions discussed in "All You Need to Know About the Music Business," an intriguing assemblage of advice and counsel from Don Passman, a leading music industry attorney whose client list includes such pop heavyweights as Janet Jackson, Don Henley, Quincy Jones and Randy Newman. Due out this month from Prentice-Hall, the book offers a wealth of information for young musicians, songwriters and executives about record advances, royalty computations, cross-collateralization and other inscrutable record-biz practices.
It's no wonder Passman writes with authority about issues like conflict-of-interest--he was the lawyer who represented both the pop star and his future label's president. He also once represented a pop star while his firm handled litigation for the star's record company. His solution? He had the musician sign a waiver allowing him to represent both parties.
"If the artist had objected, I would have never gotten involved," says Passman, a self-effacing, thoughtful man whom industry insiders describe as the opposite of the conniving legal pirates who populated the famous industry expose "Hit Men."
"In fact, I've pulled out of deals and told the artist I was uncomfortable being involved on more than one level. And I've had a couple of artists who have felt uncomfortable--and I've sent them to another lawyer."
But why are so many rock lawyers involved in so many potential conflict-of-interest situations? "Because we're in a very small, specialized business and there aren't many people doing what we do," says Passman. "We're constantly bumping into ourselves coming and going. Is it ideal? Probably not. But is it inevitable. Probably so."
It's no wonder Passman's book has blurbs from such show-biz tycoons as David Geffen and Michael Eisner. Record execs who've been across the negotiating table describe him as a worthy opponent. "He's a real sensitive guy who's tough but fair," says Geffen Records president Ed Rosenblatt. "He knows a deal is only a good deal if it's a good deal for both sides."
Passman recently negotiated Janet Jackson's unprecedented $40-million deal with Virgin Records. Can Virgin really sell enough Jackson albums to make that a good deal for everyone?
"They'll do fine," Passman says. "There were a number of companies willing to make a similar deal. If that's the going rate in the marketplace, I'd be a fool not to ask for it."
To Passman, the important thing is that he can still do business with Virgin with another artist next year. "I like it when everyone ends up feeling they've won. It doesn't do any good to have a bloody head on the table."
Not every artist has an attorney with Passman's clout, hence the value of his new book. "I think it's important for young musicians to learn about the business so they can avoid the mistakes people in the past have made," he says. "Things are much more complicated today than 20 years ago. Record contracts used to be 15 pages. Now they're 50 or 60 pages.
"The business started out with record companies having all the expertise. But artists are better informed now. And if this book helps out a bit, it would be nice to give something back to the community I work in."