Music Industry Careers: Dan Chisholm

  • Name: Dan Chisholm 

    Hometown: Christchurch 

    Job: Entertainment lawyer 

    Studied: Otago University, supported by student loans, playing drums in a band and working at a fitness shop

    Your job in one sentence:
    It's all about helping individuals and companies within the entertainment industry understand legal agreements and concepts so that they can minimise risk and make informed decisions.

    When did you realise you wanted to work in the music industry?

    I started playing the drums when I was eleven and always thought playing in bands would be a cool job.  I'm a massive fan of the arts in general- film, painting, writing, performing.  To be honest, I never really thought I would work within the music industry but thought I might play in a band for fun in the weekends or something along those lines.

    I was always in pub bands at uni.  When I was 2 months away from graduating and I met three "hardcore" musos who planned to move to Melbourne and live off music.  They were after a drummer and asked me to come with them.  That was the first time I really considered a career in music but the thought of it was exciting, so I became a full-time muso in Australia.  It never felt like "work" to me.  A few years down the track I wanted to get more into the business side of music so I utilised my legal skills by working for a specialist music law firm.  Two very different jobs but equally interesting.  I have drums set up in the office for the odd jam session with clients.

    What are some of the challenges with becoming qualified as a lawyer?
    For starters, you need a degree, which takes around 4 years of study. Following this, there is a further period of time in which you undergo training in order to be fully qualified and get admitted to the bar.  Aside from the initial university costs, you have to sacrifice a full-time job so you have time to attend classes and study.  You will also need to be "accepted" into second year law by achieving sufficiently decent exam results in your first year.

    The time it takes to get qualified is well worth it if you keep the end result in mind.  Student loans come in handy for the uni costs coupled with part time jobs to pay rent while studying.  In terms of tackling the law papers, I'd get a mentor if necessary to give one on one advice.  I recall back when I studied that a lot of students skipped classes and opted for drawing pictures during lectures rather than taking notes, so, as simple as it sounds, simply showing up and listening can put you ahead of the pack.  Lecturers are generally happy to give feedback after class, so don't be afraid to hit them up- that's their job.  It comes down to the basics really, the more prepared you are the better you'll do.

    What attracted you to your current job as an entertainment lawyer?
    I thought it would be great to practice law in an exciting industry.   I love being around creative individuals, musicians and entertainers.  I feel we are on the same page.  They are generally super positive, and have had the courage to put themselves and their creative material out there which is not an easy thing to do.

    Being in the entertainment industry is never dull and often there is something exciting happening when entertainers seek legal advice.  This can open doors to a bunch of new opportunities for them and to be part of that process from the start is pretty cool.

    What skills are important for this kind of job?
    Taking the time to read contracts and other documents carefully is important.  This means paying attention to detail, as opposed to cutting corners. If you hate reading, then law's probably not your thing.  In saying this, I wasn't always a huge reader of books and novels but find it easier to read legal documents because I'm interested in getting to the bottom of things...identifying how the content affects my clients.

    Being able to identify the important issues and relevant points is a key skill- contracts, case law and legislation can be quite lengthy.  Communication skills are important to virtually any job.  Some people think that lawyers talk in pompous language using words like "furthermore" "forthwith" etc but in reality, it's quite the opposite (or at least it should be the opposite!).  The good ones always keep their language simple and concise.

    I think experience as a musician has really helped me understand my client's perceptive and also identify issues that might not be so obvious to the average non-entertainer.  I realise the passion that comes with being a muso, the time involved, the sacrifice etc.  Being able to slot into your client's shoes is an important skill.

    Lastly, just like any other job, being positive and respectful to others is also important.  Negotiating is a big part of the job, and people will always talk if they have had unpleasant dealings with you.