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Jesse Morris is a music attorney who helps artists with everything from copyrights to contracts—Every legal need a person in the music industry could have. Jesse is also a musician and composer with skills on the piano, drums, trumpet, and tuba. We caught up with Jesse to discuss music, law, and much more…
We are here with music attorney Jesse Morris. So, Jesse, tell us a little about what you do in the business…
I’m a music attorney and have my own practice in L.A. called Morris Music Law. I primarily work with artists, bands, producers, managers, labels, and publishers. My work is to provide legal counsel in all aspects of the music industry; such as contract reviews, negotiations, and drafting, copyright research, registration, and transfers, and trademark registration. Everything an artist, band, or label needs to protect their rights and ensure they get all the revenue that they deserve.
And how did you get into the music industry?
I’m a musician myself. I play the drums, piano, write songs, and performed in two indie rock bands in the Bay Area while at UC Berkeley and UC Hastings. After I completed law school, my friends here in LA, where I grew up, started asking for help with their contracts and copyrights, etc. One thing lead to the next, and I became a music attorney.
So do you have preference when it comes to working with indie or major label artists/bands?
No preference, I like to work with good music and good artists.
Do have any type of artist that you like? Do you do some A&R work yourself? How do you find your clients?
I don’t necessarily do A&R work myself. My clients and my colleagues will bring me people they think need legal help. Often times a band will get offered a record deal or get offered a management deal, and now they need an attorney. Artists who are trying to put out their own work realize the legality of it is too overwhelming and need help. It is hard to understand what you have to register and what paperwork you need, so I will come in and clarify their entire legal situation.
Can you describe a typical workday for you as a music attorney?
It really depends. It can start with a phone call with a client who is upset about a management deal, lead to registering copyrights, then sharing one of my artist clients to a publisher. In my office, things are either urgent, extremely urgent, or have to get done immediately. At night, I try to go out to the shows of my clients or potential clients and see them actually in their element. Listening to music is a very important part of every day.
What are the pros & cons about working as a music attorney?
It is exciting. You never know what is going to happen as a music attorney because you are dealing with everybody in the industry. I deal with artists, managers, agents, labels, publishers, TV, and film. At the end of the day, I can hopefully increase everybody’s chance of success.
What skills does a person need to be a music attorney?
A law degree, thick skin, appreciation of music, deep understanding of copyright and contract law, and willingness to work with different personalities. Ethics and loyalty are very important as well in order to offer complete confidentiality and competence for your clients.
Did you have any idols growing up that made you want to be in the industry?
As far as idols, I just treat everybody with respect.
Did you have any mentors coming up?
I have fortunately had several mentors; Over the years, I have worked with several very well established music attorneys that will still help me out when needed.
The music industry has changed dramatically in the past 5-10 years. Where do you think the changes will happen in the next 5-10 years?
We will see a growth in streaming. As an example, new streaming services such as Beats Music and potentially YouTube. Managers are more important now than ever, as they are in control of the artist’s brand. We will continue to see great “cross genre” music that incorporates different styles into one. I also think in the next 5 years, we will see a resurgence of real instruments as opposed to electronic sounds. But I’m not a fortune teller…I’m here to evolve with the industry.
With all the music streaming apps like Spotify—you mentioned Beats Music, YouTube—Do you think its good or bad for the industry?
Good. We are also seeing apps from artists like Lady Gaga and Jay-Z. More people are on their smartphones, and more and more people are consuming music. We’re working on monetizing it in more efficient manners. We want to utilize this, profit from it and see it as a great thing. We’ll see more geo-fencing in the near future, Eminem did that for his last release. So with these new technologies, we can reach the fans—where they are, when they want.
Considering all the people you’ve met in your line of work, what personal attributes are essential for success?
Really strong work ethic and ability to foster relationships. Music is a really relationship-orientated business. A person can’t piss people off and burn bridges in this industry; they need to be respectful and build a solid reputation. Obviously rules get bent when there’s an artist with a hit, but in the long run, people who are respectful get further.
You have any advice or last words for our readers that you’d like to share with them?
Be an authentic artist, because fans can see through BS. And keep making music because no one can take that from you. If you are true to yourself, people will gravitate toward it. It’s a noble, honorable profession to make music. My job is to help foster and protect artists that are doing that.
Is there any way the readers, artists, or bands can get in touch with you?
Yes, they can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit my website morrismusiclaw.com. I provide a free initial consultation via phone or at my office.