It’s all in the delivery

I suppose you are wondering exactly what I am referring to when I say “it’s all in the delivery.”  Well ladies and gentlemen, here goes:  All too often I receive physical/electronic press kits and general correspondence from aspiring artists who  valiantly attempt to write “creatively” or to use terminology outside of their vernacular.  For example, there may be jargon specific to music and the entertainment business, but on many occasions artists do not use such terms in the correct context.   Even more often I find myself reviewing materials received from artists who misuse language, embellish in describing their careers thus far or in describing their musical talents, mislead, or what in my opinion is by far the worst offense, forget to spell-check and grammar check!  You do not have to be the most intelligent person or have an extended vocabulary to communicate properly.  You do, however, have to spellcheck, confirm your grammar is proper and if you can, have a second, fresh set of eyes review your material before you send it to a potentially interested third party.  Some prime examples of these “easy-to-fix” mistakes are use of slang; getting too comfortable, too soon, with the recipient of your correspondence; use of humor/sarcasm that cannot be received as intended, due to the limitations inherent in text and email; failing to use capitalization or using it inappropriately (e.g. on the 2nd letter, to be “different”); misusing terms (your/you’re; where/were; there/their/they’re), spelling; and punctuation.  Look, we are all human and we all make these mistakes at some point.  However, this should not be a reoccurring theme and it definitely should not be a repeated offense every time an artist or band shares a press kit with a third party!

In addition, and in my personal opinion, there will never be a time when writing in this fashion is appropriate.  In other words, when you are communicating with your own agent, manager, legal representation or record label, never engage in these writing/speaking techniques (or lack thereof).   For example, I do not want a ten line email that has no punctuation and no capitalization.  How am I supposed to know when a sentence ends and a new one begins?  It takes me twice as long to decode these letters and by that time, I have probably lost interest.  And, I am one of the few people that would even try to determine what it is you are trying to say! Obviously, it goes without saying that the same advice pertains to communications with talent buyers, venues, festival coordinators, endorsers/sponsors, agents, managers, contacts at various mediums (television, newspaper, magazine), publishing houses, distribution companies and A&R representatives at record labels.  You want all of these people to take you seriously and to appreciate the time and effort expended on developing your product (your music) and your service (your performance).  Show them you mean business and present yourself in a respectable fashion.  This leads me to part two of this article.  Delivery “in person!”

Now that we have covered the dos and don’ts in written correspondence, let us chat about conduct in person.  Here is where demeanor, character, and presentation play a key role.  How do you want to be perceived by the public?  How can you protect your reputation?  Should you care what people think of you?  How you carry yourself and how you interact with others whether you are promoting a show, performing at a venue or simply networking, can sometimes determine the fate of your success.  Something I always told the bands I managed was to never lose sight of your surroundings and who may be watching you.  Many times industry executives do not announce their appearances in advance.  Rather, they would like to see you in your “natural” state.  As such, avoid being intoxicated before, during and after a show.  Try to avoid constant vulgarities, not only while on stage, but when communicating with fans and others.  Address your fans and thank them for their support at every event.  It is because of them, in most cases, that you are able to play some of the top venues.  Most importantly, do not be an ass! No one likes an ass! Even a veteran in this business, does not have the right to be an ass.  So, you, as the amateur, should definitely refrain from conducting yourself in such a way.  I am not suggesting that you be fake as that can be very transparent.  I do suggest, however, that you are polite and treat people with decency.  These days, kindness and respect can go a very long way.  Now, I understand and appreciate that “street cred” plays a huge role in defining and marketing artists.  In other words, if you are a heavy metal band or perform gansta rap, I am not proposing that you talk about rainbows and butterflies or change your lyrics to reflect happier thoughts.  What I am proposing, however, is that you draw a line of professionalism and try not to cross it.  Even if you are an amateur, this is not amateur hour. Always be a professional-act like you have done this before.

In closing, I leave you with this – we are not all English majors and although we all communicate differently, we should at least try to communicate properly and effectively.  You can do so by following the general rules of grammar and dusting off the good ole’ spellcheck.  Do not forget to be truthful in what you say and although confidence is attractive, we can do without the conceit.  Strive to be the best and work hard to set yourself apart from others (musically and otherwise).  Just do so with class and integrity.  Good luck and “keep on keepin’ on.”

By Michelle M. Wahl, Esq.

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Michelle is a Partner at Swanson, Martin & Bell, LLP and is licensed in Illinois and Indiana state and federal courts. With a Masters of Law in Intellectual Property, Michelle is the Vice Chair of the firm’s Entertainment and Media Practice Group and a member of the firm’s Intellectual Property Litigation and Transactional Services Practice Group. Her copyright and trademark practice focuses on intellectual property prosecution and related transactions, including performing trademark availability searches and providing advisory opinions, as well as preparing and filing trademark applications with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, and copyright registrations with the United States Copyright Office. Michelle also assists with the oversight of the firm’s extensive trademark docket and conducts required monitoring and maintenance of clients’ trademark portfolios, as well as provides clients with corporate counseling and innovative corporate solutions to address their respective needs.

Michelle further provides comprehensive representation in the drafting, negotiating and executing of various entertainment-related contracts and licenses, including but not limited to band member agreements, artist management agreements, session player agreements, performance agreements, sound engineer agreements, recording and personal services agreements, publishing agreements and licensing agreements. As a former artist manager, she has implemented many facets of national and regional tours, assembled benefit and charity concerts, communicated with various industry personnel, facilitated radio and internet publicity campaigns, arranged radio, print and internet interviews, and assisted in the development of press kits and websites promoting local talent. Michelle has also guest lectured on entertainment and intellectual property-related topics at The John Marshall Law School, DePaul University College of Law, Chicago-Kent College of Law and Azusa Pacific University (CA), as well as served as a panelist on various other entertainment-related continuing legal education courses. Michelle is an author and editor of the Litigation and Industry Updates Column of the ABA’s Entertainment & Sports Lawyers Journal and has also had numerous articles published by the Chicago Music Guide.

In addition, Michelle serves as Chair of Swanson Martin & Bell, LLP’s Community Service/Pro Bono Committee and proudly volunteers her time as President of the Associate Board and as a pro bono attorney to Lawyers for the Creative Arts, a non-profit organization that provides free legal services to eligible clients in all areas of the arts. She also currently serves as Events Chair for the Chicago Chapter of Women in Music, a non-for-profit organization dedicated to fostering equality in the music industry through the support and advancement of women. She recently served as Chair of the Young Lawyers Division for the Illinois Association of Defense Trial Counsel, where she was recognized as the Rising Star recipient and received a Meritorious Service Award and President’s Commendation.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in these articles constitutes general information and guidance and shall not be construed as legal advice applicable to or provided for any particular person or entity, and shall not be deemed to create an attorney-client relationship between Ms. Wahl and anyone who elects to read and/or rely, to any extent, on the material provided herein. In that respect, Ms. Wahl hereby expressly and specifically disclaims any such legal relationship, but encourages any person or entity seeking a legal advocate pertaining to the issues addressed and discussed herein to contact her directly for further information. Ms. Wahl may be reached at Swanson, Martin & Bell, LLP (330 N. Wabash, Suite 3300, Chicago, IL 60611 or via telephone at her direct line: (312) 222-8585 or e-mail at: