In the late 1990s, aspiring Salt Lake City songwriters sent a demo tape to an Atlanta record label.
The songwriters, Brian Ballard and Kim Jones, didn’t hear anything back.
That is, until 2007, when they heard a song on the radio from a top-tier recording artist that sounded suspiciously like one of the songs they had submitted.
The duo claimed the artist infringed on their copyright, but Ballard said because they lacked the money, knowledge and representation to match the artist’s high-powered legal team, his case got “squished.”
Ballard was at Salt Lake City’s Utah Museum of Contemporary Art on Saturday to learn about his rights as a songwriter and how to write and read contracts so his future doesn’t repeat his past.
He was one of about 20 local artists of varying disciplines taking advantage of an intensive, one-day workshop presented by Utah Lawyers for the Arts and Dance Theatre Coalition.
The Salt Lake City-based lecturers — attorney Heather Sneddon and multidisciplinary artist Amy Caron — helped local creators acquire some legal and business acumen that will hopefully advance their art. Participants ranged from sculptors to playwrights and choreographers to musicians.
“They spend a lot of time on the creative side but don’t know much about the business side,” said Caron about the audience. “We’re hoping to give them more confidence and equip them [so we can] empower them.”
The first session of the day focused on the ins and outs of contracts. Sneddon answered questions about liability, liens, insurance and where to get help in an industry where artists are often intimidated by business people.
At one point, Sneddon told the crowd, “You try to look out for yourself to not get screwed but sometimes that’s unavoidable.”
The workshop is the first such partnership for Dance Theatre Coalition and Utah Lawyers for the Arts, which has been offering workshops for years to artists who often lack the income to retain legal counsel. In 2012, the lawyers group held several workshops on music law, publishing and even one for documentary filmmakers.
Sneddon, a commercial litigator and shareholder at the law firm Anderson & Karrenberg, said she got involved with Utah Lawyers for the Arts because she wanted to share her knowledge, having represented artists in contract negotiations with The Leonardo and the University of Utah, among others. “I’m not an artist, but I’m an artist supporter,” she said. “I am making sure we have a thriving arts community.” She is on the board of trustees for Dance Theatre Coalition, Utah Lawyers for the Arts and Salt Lake Acting Company.
Caron, who co-taught a workshop on grant writing, résumés and artist statements, had one over-arching message to artists who too often sign any contract offered without reading the terms. “They shouldn’t say ‘Yes’ to everything,” she said.
Dance Theatre Coalition’s Amy Caron offered a list of essential reading for artists on art, writing and business:
• Your Life as Art, by Robert Fritz
• Creating, by Robert Fritz
• On Writing, by Stephen King
• The Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White
• The Business of Art, by Lee Caplan
• Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, by David Bayles and Ted Orland
• Best Business Practices for Photographers, by John Harrington
• Rich Dad, Poor Dad, by Robert T. Kiyosaki