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 money.

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 needs?
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 to do.

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 have?
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 issue.

Q. Is that the issue at MTV?
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 company's job.

Q. Why do groups destroy hotel rooms...for publicity?
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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