Music Attorney Matt Kaplan: Takin' Care of Business

New Jersey native, Matthew T. Kaplan, started his career on the music side of the music business, but quickly realized that he was far better suited for the business side, specifically, as a music business attorney. He represents an eclectic group of young and established recording artists with extraordinary empathy and respect borne of his own experience as a one-time musician himself. He is an “attorney-in-residence” at SST; his offices are in our Willow Building, along with numerous other music industry firms. 

360 Record Deal

SST:
Let’s start by talking about some of the current legal issues that artist managers should be aware of.

MATT:
With today’s 360 deals, record labels have their hands in virtually every aspect of the artists’ careers. Obviously, that leaves less money in the pot to go around. The legal issue, then, becomes less how much money is left in the pot that is commissionable to the manager. After the record label takes, the business manager takes, the lawyer takes, the question then becomes “Do the numbers have to get modified between the artist and their manager to keep a happy artist?” No manager wants an unhappy artist.

Record labels now generally participate in all ancillary revenue streams—touring, sponsorships, artist appearances on TV shows and films as an actor, points on the royalties if the artist publishes a book of poetry. The record label wants to participate in all those things. So, the manager sits by thinking, “Well, I should be commissioning all that, as well.”
 

The question is. how much can you take out of the pot before the artist truly gets upset?

 

SST:
In other words, the more they slice the pie, the smaller the artist’s slice will be?

 

MATT:
Exactly. The artists will be willing to give up only so much before they decide that it's just not worth it. The primary person they look to keep their slice of the pie intact is the manager because they figure that the manager has the most leeway.

 

SST:
Is that true?

MATT:
If the record label is unwavering in what they're willing to give up, then the answer is yes. If the artist feels that the record label is the most essential component of his or her career, then the artist is going to look to somebody else to take the hit or at least share in the hit.

 

I don't know for sure, but I would bet that in the old days, labels like Motown and Stax and Atlantic participated in those revenue streams, as well, as the packagers of the tours. Any record label in the past that took shares of both record sales and publishing was, in a sense, doing that kind of concept.

SST:
So how is it different now than it was then in terms of structuring deals?

 

MATT:
I think that there was an interim period through the 70s and into the 80s when that changed, when the record labels were flush with cash and when the bands were getting hundreds of thousands of dollars in tour support. That’s gone now because the money just isn't there. At least the labels claim the money isn’t there.

There's an awareness now that an artist’s career is no longer based solely on recording and touring. So, artist managers need to be up on the latest streaming legalities and how to work them for the benefit of the artist.
 

SST:
If an artist today takes an acting role on a TV show or a film, separate and apart from his or her recording, does the record company have now get a part of that, as well?

 

MATT:
It depends on how the contract is drafted in-house and how it is negotiated. Quite often in a 360 deal, yes. That is part of the deal. They would get anywhere from five to ten percent of whatever the artist pockets. Of course, the manager gets his management share, too. That would be normal.

There are a myriad of contractual considerations that are part of the 360 deals we do today that did not exist in the sixties, seventies, and eighties

SST Willow Building, Weehawken, NJ

SST:
OK. Let’s move on to your long association with SST. When did you first locate your practice at the Willow Building and why did you choose SST?

MATT:
I opened my office here in 2000. I'm on year nineteen now. My old friend, Gene "Machine" Friedman, had the first recording studio in the building other than SST's own studio, I told him I was looking for a space and he said "Come. Our building has many things." He introduced me to John Hanti and I liked him a lot. I was living about a mile away at the time and it seemed like a meaningful and rational thing to do.

SST:
Has it turned out to be so?

MATT:
Very much, yes. I'm never leaving. They'd have to drag me out of here.

SST
Do you find that there is a symbiotic relationship between your music business practice and all the artists and producers that come and go at SST? The Willow Building houses numerous private production studios. Are any of these other SST clients also your clients?

MATT:
I've done some work for them. I've done stuff for John and for the Syndicate over the years. There's a good relationship between the people who come here and work here. It is very much a community.

SST:
You're the only attorney though?

MATT:
Yes. I'm the only attorney. For about five years, my wife used to have her office here as well. She produces video.


 

SST:
Perhaps the most famous music business attorney of all was the author of "This Business of Music: The Definitive Guide to the Music Business," by M. William Krasilovsky, who died last year at the age of 92. Did you know him and did his book influence you?

MATT:
I know the book; I did not know him personally. When I was younger, his book was a constant on my desk.

SST:
The first edition was published in 1964, with the 10th and final edition published in 2007. Are the lessons that you learned from the book still valid today?

MATT:
That's a good question. There are a couple of other good books like that. "All You Need to Know About the Music Business" by Donald Passman, for instance. It's been so long since I looked at any of them, honestly, I have no memory of them. I knew that they were beneficial when I was first starting. The one thing I can say about these books is that when it comes to musicians, they are the intellectual equivalent of Web MD. Musicians read these things and they think, "Oh, well the book says so, therefore it must be true." Then you sit there and explain to them, "Well, in a perfect world that would be true, and the books do say that, but in reality, they don't necessarily tell you what the bargaining position might have been at the time. They are academic, not real-world.

SST:
How did your interest in law, specifically in music business law, evolve?


MATT:
My father was an attorney, but he was a general practitioner lawyer. He did not specialize in the music business, although he could handle most anything related to the music business other than record contracts. When I was in college, he asked me, "What are you going to do when you graduate?"

I said "It beats the hell out of me. "
 

"Well, you've got two choices,” he said, “Get a job or go to law school."
 

That sounded like a much better choice.  So, law school it was.
 

SST:
Did you have an altruistic reason to follow that path, as well as a personal interest? Did you feel that you could help recording artists who may need sound legal advice?

MATT:
I believe that musicians are the ones who have real talent and that everybody else makes their money off that talent. I felt there was a need to look after them, to help them not get screwed over. So, in that sense, yes, there was an altruistic basis for it.

SST:
You clerked at one time for the Fox News celebrity Judge, Andrew Napolitano?

 

MATT:
Yeah, I clerked for him while still in law school and he was in his first year on the bench. He was somebody who truly believed he was destined for something greater in his life than being a superior court judge in Hackensack, New Jersey.

SST:
Do you find this to be equally true with the artists you work with—that the ones who have that kind of conviction of greatness are more likely to become great?

MATT:
Most bands in the world have no idea or no desire to truly be great. Very few bands have any idea of what it takes to become famous, what it takes to go from being a club band to a better band to a band that plays in the arenas. Very few bands have what it takes to do that. They think that want to become successful, but what they really want to do is sit around and smoke weed and play games. No one's going to pay them millions of dollars to sit around and play Nintendo Switch all day long.  They don't understand that this is a 24/7 endeavor, that they’ve got to work harder than anybody else to succeed. They must be willing to put me in hard hours that are well beyond the scope of what they think they should be doing. It’s difficult when you have to sit there and explain it to them, “Look, this is 2019. You've got to have a strong concept, you’ve got to master social media and use it multiple times a day to get your name out there and make your band successful.

There are too many bands out there that want to sit around and let other people do the work while they smoke weed. They don't have that other thing. They don’t have the drive to get themselves to the next level, whatever it might be, like saying “Hey, we're going to do every radio show we can do, no matter what it takes.

I have worked with bands that do have that and it's always the thrill. It doesn't necessarily mean that those bands are going to make it. It doesn't even mean that those bands are good. It just means that they do have that thing. And no band is going to reach that level without it.

There are bands that have that killer instinct and are willing to do whatever it takes. They might not be as talented as other bands, but they have a better chance of making it.

sweet relief.jpg

Sweet Relief Musicians Fund provides financial assistance to all types of career musicians who are struggling to make ends meet while facing illness, disability, or age-related problems. In other words, Healing Musicians in Need. We all have received so much out of music, it's time to give a little back!

www.sweetrelief.org

SST:
You serve on the Board of Directors of Sweet Relief, which is a wonderful, organization. I would think that is a particularly satisfying role for you?

 

MATT:
Oh yes. What most people hear about are the artists who are well-known, but what Sweet Relief does on a daily basis is help musicians that you've never heard of and that I may have never heard of, but they are musicians in need of help, musicians who are struggling. Musicians lead a tough life. It’s a life filled with the possibility of things going wrong. Some led a clean and sober life, some do not, but we all get old. And for most ordinary career musicians, the shock is not that bad things happen; the shock is when they don't happen. The mission of Sweet Relief is to extend a helping hand when they do.

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