TYLER MIDDLETON represents artists and industry personnel clients in the entertainment industry. She focuses her practice areas in artist development, contracts, intellectual property, and corporate matters for a range of clients, including musicians, managers, music publishers, record companies, marketing companies, public relations firms, online music companies, visual artists, producers, fashion merchandisers, and authors. In 2006, Tyler joined Gladstone Baker Kelley on Music Row, and in 2010, she started her own association of attorneys, Graffam Middleton, with associate Ted Graffam where she continues to serve her clients in Nashville.
EVERYTHING AN ARTIST WANTS TO KNOW … from TYLER MIDDLETON, ENTERTAINMENT LAWYER WITH GRAFFAM MIDDLETON
1. You are the CEO.
This is probably the most important thing that I try to convey to a client, particularly a DIY artist. As with any business, there are always a million things going on at any moment, and particularly for a creative thinker, staying on top of it all can be a little overwhelming. There is some sort of perpetuated myth that if you get that amazing deal or build your team with the right people, from that moment on, all of your dreams will come true; you can rest easy and focus on your songs. This is not the case. You are in charge, and this means that you are responsible for the success or failure of your career at all times. Getting that deal is a fabulous opportunity, yes, but it is truly just the beginning of a whole new plateau of heightened responsibility. If this sounds too daunting, then my thinking is that you may want to consider music as your hobby and your passion, but maybe not your career. In my view, the ability and willingness to take on this responsibility separates the singers and players from the professional musicians. I know that people have various levels of business savvy, and I get that; however, to step out of the CEO role and assume other people will take care of your career is the fastest way to lose both your momentum and your path.
2. Figure out how YOU are going to make money.
Going back to point #1 above, you have to make some clear planning decisions about what you want. We already know you love music, but you need to decide how you want to make music your livelihood. How are you specifically going to make money? Everyone is different and has a different set of strengths, so focus on what you do best. Is it the recorded music? Is it the live show? Is it the songwriting and collaborations? Also, think about the aspects of your life and what you are willing to do. For example, are you willing to tour 300 days a year? Would you rather stay at home with your family and write for a publisher full-time or write songs for film/tv licensing? You have to start somewhere, so figure out what you want to do. Talk to your trusted advisors, call your best friend, ask your attorney for help, but ultimately, it has to be what you want. Other people are there to help and supplement your team effort, but it has to start with you. Make a business plan of sorts, however creative it may be, and incorporate both short- and long-term goals. You can’t get anywhere without deciding which way to go, right?
3. Have outstanding work product and find your fans.
This may sound obvious on both fronts, but the music has to sound great and your fans have to love you. I believe that anyone who is a strong CEO can have a career in music. It doesn’t matter if everyone likes your music; it only matters if some people love your music and are willing to support you. Bottom line – if you have something to sell to a group of people who ravenously want to buy it over and over again, and you can sustain your market, you’re all set. So if you are looking for what is hot right now rather than what you can organically make happen for years to come, my suggestion is to stop trying to be something you’re not and go find the people who love you as you are. If you can’t seem to find that group, then you may want to take a close and honest look at your work product and your strategies to see what gives.
4. Build your house.
Once you’ve confirmed your audience and decided on your direction, then you can start building your foundation. This includes all sorts of things, like finding teammates to help you, setting up your own company, securing your brand, and making sure you have all of your internal housekeeping nailed down firmly. When it comes to selecting team members, be thoughtful about what you actually need at the time. It’s not worth going after a booking agent if you don’t have any people at your shows, for example, and you don’t need a manager if you aren’t doing much of anything yet that requires their help. Taking on more than you need too early can be a waste of money, time, and ultimately impact your morale. Don’t do this to yourself. Sorry to be a broken record, but we’re back at point #1 again. You have to be discerning about what you need to achieve specific goals at that time and then hire the best people for your particular trajectory. Also, please pick great people. A contract can be written beautifully all day long, but if you are working with people you can’t trust and talk to, it will be an uphill battle if things don’t go perfectly.
5. Be smart.
I know you are a creative person, and that is what makes you suited for this career; however, this does not give you a free pass to not handle your business. Again, #1. You need to have the ability to talk with people honestly (and gracefully) about what kind of agreement you’d like to have. Be cool, be kind, but please, be clear. Relationships are so important in this business, and I have full respect for maintaining the lovely flow of a creative environment because that is essential to the finished product. At some point, though, you still need to come to a decision about business matters or all that creative loveliness gets tainted. Things like, who wrote what parts of that song, or who is actually in the band as a permanent member, or who will own the master recordings you just made. If you don’t figure that out, the song or the band may never see the light of day for all the arguing or hurt feelings. It’s part of taking your career seriously and not simply assuming it will all work out fine in the end. Please be responsible and take care of your dream.
6. Protect your work.
When are writing and recording music, you are the parent of these works you’ve created. Once you have put in the time and energy to create your work, let’s make sure it stays in good shape and helps propel your career forward. I’m talking about your assets, your compositions, your masters, your brand, your company, your agreements, and your obligations. This is where team members can really shine because delegation is key. While I am still quite high atop my soapbox about the CEO thing, I also realize that one person can’t do all things all the time. Your primary role is to provide the artistry, no doubt about it, but there has to be a balance so that you still know what’s going on around you. Ask questions and stay connected, and then go do what is most important – create true beauty, find your audience, and get out there so I can come cheer you on!!
Huge thanks to Tyler. I love it when someone shoots me straight. Whenever I decided to “make the jump” and try to pursue this full-time, I had a few days where I was like, cool okay, so what do I do now? Then I made a 1, 3 and 5 year business plan, and asked some people to look at it. I’ve still got a long way to go but it is good to get perspective and know the direction you are heading in. Tyler gives us some tangible, practical things to consider. It’s more than a good song – it’s a business and you have to run it.