Steve Massarsky Interview
A 'No Frills' Entertainment Lawyer
Steve Massarsky is an entertainment lawyer. With offices in New York, (The
Entertainment Law Center c/o Jacoby and Meyers, 1457 Broadway, Suite 970,
N.Y.C., N.Y. 10036 Phone: (212) 221-5757) Steve Massarsky's clients include
Henry Gross, Steve Chapin, Allman Brothers producer Johnny Sandlin, Allman
Brothers Dickey Betts and Butch Trucks, and Modern Records (Stevie Nicks
solo recording label.)
As former manager of the Allman Brothers Band, Steve Massarsky is launching
a new approach to entertainment law — the no frills approach. Where
a large prestigious firm charges $125 - $300 per hour, Massarsky charges
$75 across the board, the same rate for everybody. His idea is to appeal
to young entertainers who don't know where to go and don't have a lot of
With that in mind, we set out to talk to Steve Massarsky about his revolutionary
new concept in entertainment law.
Q. Do you have to be a lawyer today in order to be personal manager of
a recording act?
A. Absolutely not. I was a lawyer and personal manager. I managed the Allman
Brothers Band. It's certainly helpful in the sense that I was able to do
my own contracts, I was able to get very involved with the agent with Capricorn
Records, I was able to do my own negatives and so on down the line, which
a lawyer is generally a bit better at doing. The way I look at it, different
managers come from different places. Some managers used to be agents. They're
obviously much stronger at booking tours than I am. My strength was in law
and contracts when I managed. Other managers come from marketing, or record
companies. Their strength is on the marketing and record side, management
is a very diverse kind of job. It’s everything from psychologist to
lawyer to booking agent to travel agent. You have to know a little bit about
everything, and you go into it generally with one area of expertise, you
do very well, and then you learn as much as you can about the other areas.
Q. With the service you offer, you've said your aim
is "volume and
not high prices," you must be flooded with inquiries about your law
center. Can you give the personal attention to everyone's contract
A. Well, at the point I can't, someone else will. Right now it's still
comfortable for me to handle it. I'm working seven days a week, but that's
fine. I enjoy doing that. At the point that I'm sitting with too much work,
I'll bring in another lawyer who'll work at the same $75 an hour I do. At
the point where he's got too much work, we'll bring in another lawyer. Eventually,
the hope is to have an office in Los Angeles, New York, and Nashville, with
several lawyers in each office.
Q. Is it true that the best entertainment lawyers are only found in the
entertainment capitals like New York or L.A.?
A. There are certainly lawyers in Syracuse or smaller cities that are competent
in the area — that don't have the reputation of your lawyers in New
York, Los Angeles, Nashville and the main reason is the volume of traffic
isn't there. I don't think I could, as an entertainment lawyer, sustain a
practice by being just in Syracuse. It would be very difficult with the fact
that I want to be near the film centers, the television centers, record centers,
where my time is best spent dealing with the record companies, the publishing
companies, etc. My client list comes in and tells me what the problem is
and l need this, this, and this done, and then I go about doing it. After
that, I may not see my client again until there's another meeting or paper's
to be signed, but I meet the record company people every day for three months.
You need to be, at least initially when you start, where the traffic is,
so you can get clients, and where the entertainment industry is, so you can
do your work. Once you've established yourself to the point where people
are coming to you anyway, you can almost live anywhere. I mean go to F. Lee
Bailey or people like that for their legal work because he has a nation-wide
reputation. If F. Lee Bailey moved to Syracuse tomorrow, he would have just
as many clients.
Q. Are recording companies advancing "up-front money" to
recording artists as they did in the past, or is that totally gone?
A. It's not totally gone. It's just not in the same kind of numbers or
the same kind of volume it use to be. The day of the big dollar record deal,
up front, we don't know who you are, we've never heard of you, but we'll
give you $300,000 anyway, is not in existence anymore, but it does happen
on occasion. I mean, if every record company in the country suddenly wants
a group that no one else ever heard of before, the bidding will go according
to supply and demand. It's a question of negotiating and making the best
deal for your man. The big bands, when they leave to go to a new label, a
Paul McCartney, a Paul Simon, an Allman Brothers Band get major dollar deals,
but the days of the record company throwing around money indiscriminately
are no longer.
Q. Is there a standard royalty agreement that is offered debut recording
artists? Would it be in the neighborhood of 5 to 8 per cent?
A. It's hard to say. It depends on whether you're talking a percentage
of wholesale or a percentage of retail. Some companies base their deals on
retail, some base it on wholesale. That changes your percentage figures.
Again, it's all a factor of negotiations. I mean, if someone were to offer
me 5% for a group that I thought was worth 12%, I wouldn't take 5%. If I
had a group that no one else wanted, and somebody walked in and offered me
5% on it, I would take my 5 and be happy to get something. Right now, the
thrust is to get the deal and get the exposure, and make sure you are paid
what you deserve. You're better off having a deal at 5% with a good record
company that's going to promote you properly, and market you properly, than
to have no deal at all. And, so it's hard to say what a deal is. It's like
essentially would you take 5% from X record company, if they guarantee so
much promotion and if no one else is interested in the group, l can answer
your question. If you said to me: would you take 12% from Y record company
under any circumstances, I would probably tell you no, because I might not
take 12%; I might not take 20% under all circumstances, because the percentage
is based on how much you sell, and of I think the record on how much you
sell, and if I don't think the record company can sell any albums, what good
is it going to do me.
Q. When percentages like that are being tossed around, who really has the
power of decision?
A. It's a joint decision; it depends again on who you're dealing with.
If you make me a deal as a lawyer with an unknown group, and an unknown manager,
they look to you. If you're making a deal is a lawyer with a very prominent
manager working with you, and a prominent group, then everybody's been through
it before. Everybody knows what's fair and what's not fair. And, what makes
sense and what doesn't make sense, given the group's status and the current
economic condition. As a lawyer, I never go in and say you must take this
deal, because then what you get is them coming back to you later and saying
you made us do that. What you say is you make a recommendation, you say in
my opinion, in my knowledge of what I've done in the past, this seems like
a very good deal for you guys, and if I were you, I would take it. You weigh
it; here are
the pros of the deal, and here are the cons of the deal and here's what
could make trouble for you two years down the road, and here's what I can't
get them to put in the contract that I would like to have in. Here's what
they will put in the contract that I want in. Now you decide what you want
Q. Why would a record company try to cheat Dickey Betts out of hundreds
of thousands of dollars? If you hadn't discovered it, wouldn't someone else
A. Capricorn is a whole complicated situation. But, to try and answer your
question as best I can, I don't think you're talking about a man setting
out to say 'I think for every dollar I'm going to give Dickey, I'm supposed
to give Dickey, I'm going to keep a nickel.' What you're talking about is
contract interpretation. You had a situation where Phil Walden was the manager
and he was the record company, and there was really no lawyer involved, and
he was the only one they had to look to. And, if you and I are making a deal,
and I say to you, what do you think it means, you'll tell me what it means
based on what's good for you. If you say what does it mean to me, I'll tell
you what's good for me. So when there's nobody on the other side, if I'm
making a deal for myself, I'm gonna tell you what's good for me. The interpretation
that Capricorn put on the contract benefited Capricorn. There was no one
in there saying this could be the Allman Brothers interpretation, until we
came in and said you got the wrong interpretation.
Q. Are you making video deals?
A. When they come to me I do them.
Q. The big controversy today is who owns the video, the record company
putting up the money to film them or the artist who appears in them. Do you
have any thoughts on that?
A. It's a function of contract. If you agree and you're with a record company,
and you have a clause in your contract that they pay for the videos, then
they own them. And that's what the case is.
Q. The artists are concerned over the length of time the record company
can use the video without paying any money to them.
A. Well, you're talking about them showing it without paying royalties.
You're talking about the situation of whether it's a promotional clip or
whether it's something they're making money on. That's a whole different
Q. Is that the issue at MTV?
Q. Why do groups destroy hotel rooms...for publicity?
A. What's happening at MTV to the best of my knowledge, I don't work for
MTV, nor do I have anything on MTV at the moment. I haven't done any deals
with them. I know a lot of the people there. MTV is asking the record companies
to supply them with videos in the same way that they supply radio stations
with records, and that they should be able to play the videos on the air
and consequently they'll promote the artist. That's the way radio looks at
it. And they shouldn't have to pay for the videos if they're doing the record
A. Smashing up a hotel room has gotten to the point where it's old hat.
That it's been done so many times by so many bands, that 99 times out of hundred,
no one makes page one out of it. It used to be funny in the old days, when
they'd ride motorcycles through the hotels and things like that. But now, smashing
up a hotel room is no big deal. Generally, it doesn't make the papers or even
the police report. They're just generally billed for it. If they leave without
paying for it, then it'll get sent to whoever booked the room. I would imagine
that if a group smashed up a room, they smashed up a room they smashed up the
room for either anger, frustration or the sheer joy of it. I really don't know.
That's one reason I don't manage any more. I don't want to deal with that.
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