There is no bigger financial lesson learned in the entertainment industry than to see a chart-topping artist suddenly go broke. According to Fox News, at least 15 celebrities made fortunes and then got slammed into filing bankruptcy, including Burt Reynolds, MC Hammer, Kim Basinger, Larry King, Toni Braxton, Janice Dickinson and famous writer Mark Twain.
Fans of the MTV reality show “Making the Band” remember cringing at the first season of the show when the group debated hiring outside counsel to make sure their contract benefited them in the long run. For entertainers, consulting a lawyer may need to be more of a priority than fame.
“Aspiring artists have to start treating themselves and positioning themselves as a business,” said entertainment and small business lawyer Johnetta Paye of J. Paye & Associates. “As Jay Z says, ‘You’re a business.'”
Hiring a lawyer may be viewed as more of a financial strain than the record deal. However, Paye sees this differently.
“You could be losing out on tons of money. You could be locking yourself into a contract where you don’t even have consistent control over the music that you want to create. You don’t want to be signed to a label and they’re not putting out your music. A lawyer could negotiate an out for you if the record label doesn’t put out your music.”
J. Paye & Associates has reached its six-year anniversary. The John Marshall Law School graduate has represented artists such as Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, Belo from Chicago hip-hop group Do or Die and Eugene Bush of E-Tre Productions.
“For people interested in the entertainment industry, it’s definitely a fun field and changes day-to-day.”
But initially after graduating during the height of the recession in 2008, her career goals weren’t always this optimistic. While the traditional model was to become an associate at a law firm after passing the bar, law firm jobs were being cut by the time she graduated.
“You have people coming straight out of law school who really don’t have mentors and guidance. Law school teaches you the law, but it doesn’t teach you how to become a lawyer or how to be a lawyer. The only way I was able to do this was because I had great mentors.”
Shamontiel L. Vaughn is a professional journalist who has work featured in AXS, Yahoo!, Chicago Defender and Chicago Tribune. She’s been an Examiner since 2009 and currently writes about 10 categories on Examiner.com.