Behind the Music: Matt Johnston Empowers Local Artists
by Bethany Good | Nov 3, 2021
One of the benefits of joining Cowork Frederick is the fascinating and friendly folks you meet. The members here tend to be well-rounded professionals from many different industries and disciplines from marketing to policy work to legal representation. It’s easy to collaborate with others, and even enjoy some chit-chat in the kitchen. Some members are entrepreneurs, engaging in a host of different activities from inventing new apps to promoting local artists and musicians. Matt Johnston, a fellow member of Cowork Frederick, is one such individual.
Matt Johnston goes by the moniker “Matt the Lawyer” and prides himself on his relaxed attitude, and his relatable approach to practicing law. He is an Attorney and Founder of Johnston Business Law Group. “We intentionally practice law and provide services in a way most people have never experienced with a law firm,” he says.
Matt has a true passion for music. “I really miss going to live shows. You don’t realize how much of an effect live shows have on you. It connects you to music on a totally different level,” he says. This passion (along with a years-long friendship with founders Jeff Bradford and Tim Phillips) led him to take a role with Jammy Jams and Big Curve Records.
I sat down with Matt to learn more about his involvement in the music business.
Your main gig is being a lawyer. Tell me about the kinds of law you practice, and the people you help?
So, we do a lot of business organizations, getting people registered, giving people organized agreements on those lines, contracts for their business, operational things like that, and trademark and copyright law. We only work with small businesses as clients.
Do you have any kind of background in music? Are you a musician?
No, I don’t. I love music, but I never learned an instrument. I’m learning a lot more about music as a result of my daughter. She’s a musician and she’s taking classes in music theory and she’s trying to instruct her dad. I know what the notes are on the treble scale but I would have a very hard time with anything else.
How did you become involved with Jammy Jams?
I know the owner’s wife. She’s a longtime friend of mine from college and law school. Both Tim and Jeff are working musicians; they are parts of bands. Most of the lullaby music that was out there was based on old lullabies. Jeff wanted to make lullabies out of the music he liked. Jeff is a great musician, and wonderful with marketing, but he needed some help with the business and legal side of things, so his wife asked me to help.
Jammy Jams is a fun, modern twist on lullabies for parents who strive to create memories with their little ones while teaching them a thing or two about their own style. It was founded in 2010.
How do you obtain the songs?
There’s a rights clearinghouse. We pick an artist, then figure out the 10 or 15 songs that we’re interested in doing, and get the rights to those songs. It’s a pretty easy process. After 11 years, we’ve established a good relationship with the clearinghouse.
Sometimes the artist might not have considered the songs for any sort of remake. So we’ll have to go to the artist’s representative and get the rights for the song. But most of the time, we don’t have too many issues.
Tell me about the process of recording the song and releasing it.
Jeff and Tim, and a guest artist or two, will go into the studio and record all the songs pretty quickly. Then Tim will spend most of the weekend mastering the recordings. Then we release them. Spotify, Pandora, and various other places keep track of how much it is and how much royalty has to be made. And then the payments are made more or less automatically. So it’s pretty self-sufficient.
Big Curve Records is an independent label for local artists in the DMV area. It was launched in 2020 with the goal of providing a fair and equitable platform for promoting local musicians.
Let’s switch gears and talk about Big Curve Records. How did you get involved with them?
It’s essentially the same company as Jammy Jams. So both my business partners Jeff and Tim each have a very each and a band and you know, they’re making music.
What makes Big Curve different from other labels?
We wanted to provide local artists in Maryland, DC, and Virginia with a different sort of experience in terms of a record label. One of the hardest things in a creative industry is making sure you get paid for the creation. With Big Curve, we really want the artists to get paid for their talent and effort.
We put together a very artist-friendly contract. We want to make sure that it’s their talent that is rewarded and not the record company, right? A lot of that was driven by Jeff and Tim’s experience.
“One of the hardest things in a creative industry is making sure you get paid for the creation. With Big Curve, we really want the artists to get paid for their talent and effort.”
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