For more than three decades now, Paul Sanderson has been one of Canada’s leading entertainment lawyers. His legal text “Musicians and the Law in Canada" is recognized as the best (and arguably only) such handbook in the country, as shown by the fact that there have been four editions of the book published.
In an extensive recent interview with FYI, we learned that the Toronto-based Sanderson’s career in music has seen him go from the bars to the bar. “Like many in this industry I came from a performing background,” he explains. “ I spent three years immediately after high school trying to make it as a player. That’s how I got into this crazy business. As you know, I still play. I’m four CDs deep with [local blues band] Blue Room and I still do the solo thing for fun.”
Back in the early to mid ‘70s, as a young guitarist, Sanderson was, he recalls “kicking around the bars in various groups, trying to have success but basically having none."
"My briefest flirtation with some celeb status came with a band I was in called West. We auditioned for a management company, Magic Management, that took us on, along with a group called Truck. Through their connections we auditioned for Shawne Jackson, then Domenic Troiano’s girlfriend and later his wife.
“We got the gig and backed her for three months, just before she released a single ‘Just as Bad As You’ that was written by Domenic. It became a big hit in 1974, but by the time it really hit the airwaves she had formed her own band.”
West broke up in 1974, and Sanderson gradually began to look at other academic and career options. “From 1976, I studied arts for two years at Glendon College, part of York University. I had a bunch of odd jobs, from factory work at Lever to a summer as a lumberjack, to working in the Eatons warehouse, to a boring job at The Ministry of Revenue.”
A turning point came when he spent a semester at noted law firm Borden and Elliott. “I thought ‘the lawyers here get a lot of respect. I’m still playing in the bars but not getting much respect or pay. Maybe I can marry the two disciplines.’ That is pretty much what I’ve been doing since.”
Sanderson then enrolled in law school (Osgoode Hall in Toronto), with his focus clearly on entertainment law. He quickly made a mark there, writing his first book while in his second year.
“In 1980 I worked for the Anglo branch of a visual arts advocacy org called CARFAC. They advertised in Osgoode Hall for a student to write a book on visual arts legal precedents for their members. I got the gig and wrote the book ["Artists’ Contracts: Agreements for Visual and Media Artists"] in 12 weeks. All by hand, and they then had it typed on an electric typewriter!”
After being admitted to the bar in 1983, Sanderson turned his hand to writing another book, one that became the first edition of “Musicians and the Law in Canada." “I had a few clients, but writing that book basically took a year of my life,” he recalls.
The book caught the attention of noted Toronto entertainment lawyer Clark Miller. “I had met Clark at the very first entertainment law seminar given at Osgoode Hall,” says Sanderson. “He suggested we practice together, so I worked with him, under his name, from 1985 to 1990. When Clark left for EMI Music Publishing in 1990, I took over the firm.” Miller is now Executive Vice President, North America, Operations of Warner/Chappell Music (WCM).
The first associate to join Paul Sanderson and Associates is now a familiar name, Zack Werner. Referring jokingly to Werner as “our Simon Cowell,” Sanderson recalls the hire. “He came to the job interview in ripped jeans and a Betty Ford Clinic t-shirt. He was fun to practice with!”
Other associates to follow in joining the firm were Mark Quail, Blair Holding, Paul Irvine, and Chris Taylor (now of Last Gang Records/eOne fame).
In 2000, the firm became Sanderson Taylor and kept expanding, having 10 staff at one point. “Chris and I worked together for about 10 years, and that was a good ride,” says Sanderson. “I’m thrilled that people associated with the firm have done so well,” he adds.
Sanderson describes entertainment law as “a specialty within a specialty. It can include film, television, theatre, book publishing, music and now videogames too. It is very complicated.” A photographer and a published poet, Sanderson represents visual artists and galleries, not just music biz clients.
Over his long career, his client list has included many notable Canadian artists in a wide range of musical genres. “One of the first gold records I had was Eria Fachin, who was on Vince Degiorgio’s Power Records label way back,” he recalls. “There was The Northern Pikes and Haywire, who went gold, and The Philosopher Kings were also early clients. I worked for a long time with The Management Trust, when Jake [Gold] and Allan [Gregg] were managing the Tragically Hip and others. “I’ve also worked long-term with Ron Sexsmith, Chantal Kreviazuk and Borealis Records. I’m very fortunate that I work with great people in the field.”
Sanderson explains that major technological changes affecting the music industry over the past two decades have also impacted his work. “The deals are different now. When you’re looking at a record deal you’re still looking at physical or analog technology, and now the digital realm. The deals cover both realms at once.”
"It’s funny to think that when I started with Clark, for a brief period the cassette was the dominant sales configuration. Then it was the CD until about 2000 and then it shifted to downloads and now streaming. All those changes affect the deal."
“Things have shifted from less direct signings to more licensing and distribution deals on the record side. On the publishing side it went more to placements- master use and sync licenses. There are still a lot of production deals for hopefuls seeking to build a career as a recording artist. The engine is still having a great record. That has become more of a loss leader for live, as a calling card.”
As an author, Sanderson took a break between editions of "Musicians and the Law in Canada" from 2000 to 2014, but returned with a fourth edition then.”That was to deal with the Copyright Modernization act of 2012,” he says. “The break was because I had a young family.”
In 2014, he also published another book, "Music Law Handbook" (Seraphim Editions). “It’s a non-legal text for the consumer market,” he says.
One major contribution Sanderson has made to the Canadian music community was to helped found (with Marian Hebb and David Warren) ALAS (Artists' Legal Advice Services) ,a free legal advice service for musicians and other creative types. The organization, about to turn 30, operates under the auspices of a non-profit federal corporation called ALAC (Artists and Lawyers for the Advancement of Creativity).
ALAS was funded by Legal Aid Ontario up until two years ago, and Sanderson remains one of eight lawyers volunteering to give free advice weekly on a rotating basis in Toronto. “Our client list is perhaps an 80 per cent split evenly between visual artists and musicians, with another 20 per cent being actors, filmmakers, and authors. We do service artists of all disciplines.” ALAS will celebrate the 30 year milestone with an event at Hugh's Room on Sept. 21.
Meanwhile, there are no thoughts of retirement for a man who clearly loves his job. "I joke to my clients that after 30 years I guess I have to call this a career,” Sanderson says.