Scene Not Heard: Featuring Entertainment Lawyer Henderson Cole

Scene Not Heard shifts the focus from the individuals who create the best albums to take an inside look at the behind-the-scenes jobs that keep the industry running. Go beyond the music and meet the people who keep your favorite bands in the public eye…

Henderson Cole is an entertainment lawyer in New York City and New Jersey. In 2017, he opened his own law firm, Henderson Cole Law. A scary task, but the loving support of his family and friends has helped him—even affirming to his parents that this is, in fact, a real job. Before that, Cole helped book shows around the area and created his own music blog, The Alternative. What began as a college radio show is now a site covering the grassroots of the industry; 100 percent volunteer based, it highlights the up-and-comers who will eventually land a contract—another area Cole knows plenty about due to his legal studies.

So, what exactly does he do as entertainment lawyer?

“It’s a job many people might not have heard of, but basically, what I do is help artists of all types—people involved in music, film, etc.—to protect their work and negotiate contracts. An entertainment lawyer is somewhere in between an agent and a manager—or at least that’s how I like to think of it. I mostly work with music law; that’s what I know best and enjoy most.”

“That said, working on contracts for my favorite bands for my own firm has been the most exciting. I have recently been working with a bunch of artists that are incredibly talented and have a bright future: Mom Jeans, Hodera, Oso Oso, Prince Daddy & The Hyena, and a bunch more. Those have been the ones that have really blown me away, like, ‘Is this real life?’”

Photo by Jessica Lavery

When did Cole begin to even consider pursuing this career?

I’ve always been a diehard music fan—punk, indie, hip hop, those are my jams—and I love working with creative people. In high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I had never considered becoming a lawyer, and I wasn’t the best at staying awake in school. Then, my friend showed me this book, ‘All You Need To Know About the Music Business’ by Donald Passman. He was like, ‘Hey, dude, there’s this job called a music lawyer where you work with bands. How cool is that?’ So, I bought the book, and I was hooked. Learning about all of the negotiations and contracts behind the music business that make or break artists’ careers was so intriguing. I also learned how frequently artists were screwed out of profits or damaged their careers due to legal mistakes. That’s when I realized this might be the way I could help creative people and work in a field that I love.”

In Cole’s eyes, what mistakes are often made by bands that can be so easily fixed by a person like him?

“Can I do two? I would say the biggest mistake is that artists—in general, but especially bands—don’t realize they might need the help of a lawyer or don’t think they can afford one. Obviously, I’m biased on this, but the help of a lawyer when negotiating deals will be far more valuable than you think, and a mistake when signing a contract can doom a band’s entire career. I see bands too often leaving money on the table, because they run into a record label’s legal team and they’ve never negotiated a contract before.”

“The second one is related. Bands often forget to negotiate. Getting offered a recording contract is awesome and exciting, and they just want to say yes and get working on music. But if you take the time to look the deal over, you can find areas you would like to improve, or maybe you’ll realize that someone else will offer you more.”

For Cole, asking questions is an important aspect of negotiating contracts and making them benefit the creative intellect when producing on someone else’s money. The dedication that Cole displayed allowed him to intern with Levinsohn Associates, P.C., while still in law school. During that time, he worked on big name contracts with 50 Cent and Eminem, as well as the Marvin Gaye / Robin Thicke copyright infringement litigation. Now, Cole gets to combine his love for music and his site to help out up-and-coming bands in creating contracts that benefit them—and he gets to write himself a paycheck in the process.

People like Henderson Cole are hard to come by, but they are some of the most important players behind making your band—and the bands you love the most—a success!

p.s. thanks for encouraging me to do what I do today, I owe it to you. Look, we made it.

Henderson Cole Law

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