Can Personal Managers help artists find employment?

Here’s an interesting question and one that involves music and law. Can a personal manager seek employment for an artist? As is usually the case in law, the answer is not just a simple “yes”or “no.”
In California, we have a Talent Agencies Act which sets down strict rules about who can procure employment for artists. Labor Code section 170.4(b) defines” artists” as “actors and actresses rendering services on the legitimate stage and in the production of motion pictures, radio artists, musical artists, musical organizations, directors of legitimate stage, motion picture and radio productions, musical directors, writers, cinematographers, composers, lyricists, arrangers, models, and other artists and persons rendering professional services in motion picture, theatrical, radio, television and other entertainment.”According the Act, only licensed agents can procure employment for artists. Personal managers, on the other hand, are supposed to overlook an artist’s career. This includes activities such as advising the artists about career choices as well as planning and coordinating career development for the artist. It does not, however, include procuring employment.
Part of the purpose behind separating out the duties of the personal manager and restricting what a personal manager can and cannot do is to protect artists from exploitation. Especially in the beginning stages of an artist’s career,when many artists are desperate and vulnerable, artists might be tempted and seduced into giving up too much for a chance to get his or her career going. This could make them easy prey for unscrupulous persons who might sign them up to a one- sided personal management agreement. These managers might make unrealistic promises in return for a percentage of the artist’s future earnings, do little by way of planning and coordinating the artist’s career and still reap large sums as compensation for minimal work done in procuring employment. By denying managers the ability to procure employment for artists and by establishing detailed licensing requirements for talent agents, the State is better able to protect artists.
On the other hand, the Act has helped some artists avoid paying managers for strictly managerial work based on the fact that the manager crossed the line and violated the Act by engaging in some activity that could be construed as “procuring employment.” The artists in those cases have voided the managerial contracts in their entirety and have refused to pay the manager any money owing. In some cases,where the manager had already been paid, the manager was forced to disgorge (give back) his “ill gotten gains.”
This has provided somewhat of a bonanza for artists whose managers helped them get gigs, movie roles, guest appearances on TV etc. The artists in these cases have been able to benefit from the manager’s efforts to help them in their careers and then, at some point, voided the manager/artist agreement and paid nothing for the manager’s services. Thus, the manager was not entitled to any compensation for procuring employment and may have lost payment for managerial services because the contract was now voided in its entirety.
Managers have had to be very careful about what services they rendered to their clients and how they have communicated to third parties about their artist/clients. If the communication smacked of an attempt to procure employment, even if the artist was not to be remunerated, the manager stood to have his managers contract voided and lose compensation for much of his efforts on behalf of the artist’s whose careers he was advancing.
More recently, managers have been able to regain some of their lost ground. According to the 2008 case of Marathon Entertainment Inc. v. Rosa Blase, the court recognized that although the Labor Commissioners may invalidate an entire contract when the Act is violated or they may apply the doctrine of severability to preserve and enforce the lawful portions of the contract where the facts so warrant. The Supreme Court has held that “Courts are to look to the various purposes of the contract. If the central purpose of the contract is tainted with illegality, then the contract as a whole cannot be enforced. If the illegality is collateral to the main purpose of the contract, and the illegal provision can be extirpated from the contract by means of severance or restriction, then such severance and restriction are appropriate.”
As a result of this holding, the manager is no longer at risk of losing all just because he may have engaged in an instance or two of procuring employment. He may lose that part of the compensation related to those instances where he crossed the line, but still have a valid contract as a manager where he is still contributing significantly to the artist’s career and the employment procurement was only a collateral (side) activity and not the main purpose of the relationship.
It should also be noted that there is a “recording contract exemption” to the Talent Agencies Act. This allows a manager to procure or attempt to procure a recording contract for the artist without violating the Act. Care must be taken, however, that the “recording contract” involve only the standard recording of audio masters for release in phonograph records and CD’s and not other acts to be performed by the artist which do not fall under the standard recording contract. For example, songwriting services are not included in the recording contract exemption and it would be a violation of the Talent Agencies Act for a manager to receive any compensation for the such services performed by the artist.
Artists and managers need each other. When they take complimentary roles, they can benefit from each others skills, talents and virtues. The artist can concentrate on his artistic side and the manager can focus on the business side. They can both bring their creative energies together to further the artist’s career and both benefit financially from the relationship. Successful artist management starts with an enforceable agreement and a clear understanding of what kinds of activities of the manager are in violation of the Talent Agencies Act and which will preclude the manager from being compensated for his efforts on behalf of his client.
So, to answer our original question: Can personal managers help artists find employment? It would seem that, aside from recording contracts, managers should be very careful about even incidentally or occasionally procuring, offering, soliciting or promising to procure employment to their artists.

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