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Revealed: Billboard’s 2021 Top Music Lawyers

Through it all, the deals did not stop. Nor did calls for greater fairness and equality, both within and beyond the music business.

Over the past tumultuous year, the leading music attorneys chosen for the 2021 edition of Billboard’s Top Music Lawyers — nominated by their firms and peers and chosen by our editors — have played an essential role.

Those helping clients to buy and sell recording and publishing catalogs were busier than ever. Among the headline-grabbing transactions were Universal Music Publishing Group’s acquisition of Bob Dylan’s iconic catalog, Primary Wave’s creation of a joint venture with Stevie Nicks after acquiring a majority share of her publishing copyrights and the buying spree of Hipgnosis Songs Fund, which brought the catalogs of creators from 50  Cent to Shakira under its wide umbrella.

Lawyers involved in the live-touring sector came to the aid of their clients by diving into an alphabet soup of pandemic relief packages: PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) and EIDL (Economic Injury Disaster Loan) administered by the SBA (Small Business Administration). That federal agency will open applications on April 8 for the $15 billion SVOG (Shuttered Venue Operators Grant) program.

In Washington, D.C., one of the longest-running legal dramas in the music business came to a surprising end when a U.S. Department of Justice official revealed in January that the DOJ had concluded its review of the decades-old consent decrees guiding the operation of ASCAP and BMI — without recommending change. The outgoing assistant attorney general for the antitrust division, Makan Delrahim, urged a fresh DOJ review of the consent decrees every five years.

Other concerns will not wait. The calls for racial and social justice heard across the nation, in the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 and the recent condemnations of anti-Asian violence, have resonated within the music business legal community as well. On this year’s list are firms that have shaken up their ranks to become more diverse while acknowledging more needs to be done.

“We have all been forced to reassess racism and social injustice,” says Adam Van Straten of Van Straten Solicitors. “Stakeholders at all levels started taking the extremely necessary and overdue steps to support changes within the industry.”

Perhaps the greatest support that the top music lawyers can offer to bring about change is to advocate for creators and clients as they speak out through their work.

“Use your platform to raise awareness of the causes you care about,” says anti-discrimination litigator Doug Wigdor. “Whether it be politics, racial justice, women’s rights, the environment, corporate malfeasance or some other issue, artists should embrace using the tools they have to fight for what they believe in.”

Major Music Groups

Jeffrey Harleston
General counsel/executive vp business and legal affairs, Universal Music Group
Adam Barker
Director of business affairs, Universal Music U.K.
Saheli Datta
Executive vp/chief compliance officer and employment counsel, Universal Music Group
Steve Gawley
Executive vp business and legal affairs, Universal Music Group
Nicola Levy
Executive vp digital business and legal affairs, Universal Music Group
Alasdair McMullan
Executive vp business and legal affairs/global head of litigation, Universal Music Group
Michael Seltzer
Executive vp business and legal affairs/head of commercial transactions, Universal Music Group
Magda Vives
Senior vp legal and business affairs, Latin America, Universal Music Latin America Entertainment

Reflecting on the past year, Harleston says he takes pride in how the UMG team — its labels, its publishing company and more — came together while working remotely “to not only respond to the impact of the pandemic on our artists and our staff, but also to embrace uncomfortable conversations and lead meaningful initiatives to address systemic issues around racial inequality and social justice in our own company, our industry and the world at large.” In response to calls for racial justice, UMG last June announced its Task Force for Meaningful Change, connecting 40 executives from its different labels and business units around the world, co-chaired by Harleston and Motown Records chairman/CEO Ethiopia Habtemariam. “We have much more work to do,” says Harleston. “But it was rewarding to see Universal Music come together in a way I hadn’t experienced in my almost 30 years.”

Most Lasting Legacy of 2020 Will Be: “Our resilience. While the world was in quarantine and lockdown, artists found the most innovative ways to continue to create and share their voice with the world. From Andrea Bocelli’s inspiring Easter concert to Billie Eilish’s livestreamed show to Justin Bieber’s Valentine’s Day livestream, artists continue to persevere in a time when we need them the most.” —Harleston

Paul Robinson
Executive vp/general counsel, Warner Music Group
Brad Cohen
Senior vp/head of litigation, Warner Music Group
Jon Glass
Senior vp/head of digital legal affairs, Warner Music Group
Maryrose Maness
Senior vp/deputy general counsel, Warner Music Group
Trent Tappe
Senior vp/deputy general counsel/chief compliance officer, Warner Music Group

“In 2020, during the absolute worst of times,” says Robinson, 62, “we managed to go public, to grow our business — both organically and by doing more [mergers and acquisitions] and also by doing innovative licensing deals with emerging digital platforms — and to do our part for social justice and diversity, equity and inclusion. I’m proud of these successes and the efforts of our legal and business affairs team in supporting them.”

Most Lasting Legacy of 2020 Will Be: “A reminder to us to expect the unexpected. It would have been easy to think, given the growth our industry experienced from 2015 to 2019, that nothing could go wrong. This was a wakeup call. But having experienced 15 years of digital disruption and come out the other side, our industry is very adaptable.” —Robinson

Julie Swidler
Executive vp/business affairs/general counsel, Sony Music Entertainment
Stu Bondell
Executive vp business and legal affairs, international, Sony Music Entertainment
Wade Leak
Executive vp/deputy general counsel/chief compliance, ethics and privacy officer, Sony Music Entertainment
Jeff Walker
Executive vp/head of business and legal affairs, global digital business, Sony Music Entertainment
Susan Meisel
Senior vp/corporate deputy general counsel, Sony Music Entertainment

During the pandemic, while ensuring that Sony was “doing everything as a company to protect the health and safety of our people,” says Swidler, the company’s legal team was also working “to protect our artists’ works.” Sony took part in a multicompany industry action against internet service provider Cox Communications, and in January, a federal judge upheld a $1 billion ruling against Cox for infringing 10,000 musical works. In the past year, says Swidler, Sony has closed “several new podcasting joint ventures, partnerships and content deals,” and, in February, Sony’s attorneys worked on the company’s purchase of Kobalt’s recorded-music divisions, including AWAL, offering “another level of service to the independent music community,” says Meisel. At a time of social and racial reckoning, the legal team also was involved in creating what Walker calls “internal programming that responds to the needs of various populations in a year of tremendous challenge.”

What Young Artists Must Ask Their Lawyer: “They need to seek a lot of answers from their lawyers, especially around how they are making money. The [record-company] business affairs team should be able to explain every detail around a contract so that every artist understands how they are getting paid.” —Swidler

Streaming

Gabe Fleet
Executive vp business affairs/chief music licensing counsel, iHeartMedia

Fleet, 40, helped iHeartRadio transition from in-person events, such as its annual music festival, to virtual programming and TV/streaming specials like SeeHer, Hear Her for International Women’s Day and Living Black! for Black History Month, featuring 21 Savage, Jhené Aiko, Kirk Franklin and Roddy Ricch. He also guided iHeartMedia’s investment in podcasts and expects streaming events to survive past 2020. “The most successful artists and companies,” says Fleet, “will be the ones who understand that things will never be the same as they were before.”

Most Lasting Legacy of 2020 Will Be: “Fewer cross-country flights for one 45-minute meeting and, hopefully, also more humility and empathy. This year was a good reminder that we’re all humans, with families and pets and messy offices and spotty Wi-Fi, and it was nice to see a change, where in addition to negotiating with each other, we also learned a little more about each other as people.”

Horacio Gutierrez
Head of global affairs/chief legal officer, Spotify
Eve Konstan
General counsel, Spotify
Kevan Choset
Associate general counsel/head of legal strategy, Spotify
Sofia Sheppard
Associate general counsel/global head of licensing and business development, Spotify

Spotify’s lawyers had an eventful year as the streaming platform dramatically expanded its global reach, making its service available to 93 new countries since mid-2020, a move that “more than doubled the number of markets where Spotify is live,” says Shepard, 45. “That work will continue as Spotify expands its available catalog globally throughout 2021.”

Most Crucial Issue Facing Creators: “With shows being canceled due to the pandemic, finding ways for artists and fans to connect online is more important than ever. It is essential that platform providers and rights holders continue to collaborate [to create] such opportunities and enable new revenue opportunities for artists, songwriters and composers so that they can earn a living off their art.” —Sheppard

Antonious Porch
General counsel/head of people and culture, SoundCloud
Anne-Marie Chirema
Director of business and legal affairs, SoundCloud

On April 1, SoundCloud became the first streaming company to adopt a user-centric royalty system, which will allow musicians to get paid based on how individual listeners divide their attention, rather than on aggregate streams. Since performers have lost touring income during the pandemic, says Porch, 49, “there is an urgency now to help more artists,” especially those who are independent and developing a career, in a more equitable manner. Establishing and maintaining an income, especially in the wake of the pandemic and general economic downturn, is critically important.”

Most Lasting Legacy of 2020 Will Be: “The explosive growth of creator-to-fan engagement across SoundCloud and many other social sharing platforms, propelled by the physical isolation during the pandemic.” —Porch

Robert Windom
Chief counsel, content and services, Apple
Adam Blankenheimer
Senior counsel, content and internet services, NIOR COUNSEL, Apple
Elizabeth Miles
Director, iTunes and Apple Music legal, Apple
Brahim Ait Ben Larbi
Principal legal counsel, music publishing, Apple

Label and publishing colleagues contacted by Billboard endorsed the work in the past year of Windom, Blankenheimer, Miles and the London-based Ait Ben Larbi. (Apple has chosen to not participate in Billboard executive list features.) As the pandemic set in last spring, Windom reported that he and his team worked across divisions at Apple to create a $50 million advance royalty fund to help independent labels weather the COVID-19 crisis. The action provided a onetime advance payment on future royalties for labels and distributors that earn over $10,000 in quarterly revenue from Apple Music and have a direct-distribution deal with the streaming service.

Stephen Worth
Head of legal/associate general counsel, Amazon Music
Cyrus Afshar
Senior corporate counsel, Amazon Music
Khoury Cooper
Senior corporate counsel, Amazon Music
Nicolas Gauss
Senior corporate counsel, Amazon Music

Amazon Music embarked on a new endeavor in 2020: establishing a podcast division as the music industry embraced the format. The streaming platform is well-versed in launching new products after rolling out a high-fidelity service in 2019, but the podcast operation provided new challenges for Amazon Music’s lawyers as it “touched on legal issues that were entirely separate from our music streaming business,” says Afshar. “We worked diligently to make sure that Amazon Music’s podcast experience exceeded [customers’] expectations.”

Most Lasting Legacy of 2020 Will Be: This past year “drove adoption of livestreaming in a way no other year could have. That’s why we partnered with Twitch to introduce livestreaming to the Amazon Music app. Twitch has long been at the forefront of connecting creators and fans through livestreaming experiences, and Amazon Music saw early on that this technology represented a new frontier for artists looking to combine live with on-demand streaming experiences. Even after the pandemic, we expect to see livestreaming play a significant role in the industry and are excited to see what creators do in this space.” —Afshar

Live

Michael Rowles
Executive vp/general counsel, Live Nation Entertainment

One of Live Nation’s most urgent priorities as the pandemic struck, along with supporting its own employees, “was to create a vehicle to help sustain the countless individual contractors who work behind the scenes to make our industry possible,” says Rowles, 55. To meet that need, Live Nation president/CEO Michael Rapino launched Crew Nation, with Live Nation contributing an initial $5 million and matching the next $5 million given by artists, partners and employees. “Our legal team was involved throughout that process, helping our affiliated nonprofit, Music Forward Foundation, work through issues as diverse as international tax consequences to the mechanics of screening applicants. That work was tremendously satisfying for all of us, and we’re proud to be a leader in supporting the broader industry.”

The Song That Got Me Through the Pandemic: “ ‘I Won’t Back Down’ by Tom Petty. I’ve always been a big Petty fan and was fortunate to catch him in one of his final performances at the Hollywood Bowl before he passed away. The title probably speaks for itself, but that sense of resilience in the face of adversity really resonates with me as we’re all trying to get through to the other side of this pandemic.”

Shawn Trell
Executive vp/COO/general counsel, AEG Presents

The pandemic had AEG “essentially in neutral for the last year,” says Trell. That left some tough decisions to make, and the company was forced to furlough numerous employees and reduce salaries for others after keeping many on staff for months during the pandemic. (AEG began rehiring staff in March.) “What I have appreciated the most in how we have handled this situation is the human element and care for the employee base, which has been the most significant part of each major decision,” he says.

Most Lasting Legacy of 2020 Will Be: “The havoc and hurt — financial and emotional — it has caused artists, employees and related third parties. The loss of jobs, work, connection and purpose has been monumental. Some will emerge better and smarter for having gone through it. But the scars will always be there.”

Music Publishing

Danielle Aguirre
Executive vp/general counsel, National Music Publishers’ Association

Even without the pandemic, it was going to be a challenging year for Aguirre, 43, as she led the NMPA’s efforts in building the Mechanical Licensing Collective, which opened for business on Jan. 1 and will begin administering $424 million in unmatched royalties that were turned over to it under the Music Modernization Act. The NMPA also continues to defend a 44% rate increase for songwriters that was approved by the Copyright Royalty Board but which is now under review, while Aguirre and her team are keeping abreast of new technology platforms like Twitch, Snap and TikTok that use music and need the appropriate licenses. “COVID-19 has energized new entrants to the market,” she says, “and they must understand that if they utilize music, they must pay music creators.”

The Songs That Got Me Through the Pandemic: “I have been listening to the music podcast Rivals, and it has led me to relisten to many classics I hadn’t focused on for a while. It has been fun and a great diversion to listen to the likes of Fleetwood Mac, Billy Joel, Guns N’ Roses, N.W.A, The Beach Boys, Neil Young, Oasis, Nicki Minaj, Pearl Jam and more in the context of their music rivalries.”

Peter Brodsky
Executive vp business affairs/general counsel, Sony Music Publishing
Michael Abitbol
Senior vp business and legal affairs, digital, Sony Music Publishing
Jonas Kant
Senior vp business and legal affairs, Sony Music Publishing
Nicole Giacco
Senior vp business and legal affairs, Sony Music Publishing

For Sony/ATV Music Publishing, it was a year capped by rebranding as Sony Music Publishing, including a new logo and mission statement: “Every voice matters.” In step with that mission, the company partnered with Atlanta-based Silence the Shame to launch The Soundtrack of Mental Health. The initiative will provide mental health training and services to better support its songwriters and employees. “I’m proud to be a part of a team that takes these issues seriously and understands that actions speak louder than words,” says Giacco.

Most Lasting Legacy of 2020 Will Be: “The resilience and commitment of creators and those in the industry pushing forward, pivoting and adjusting to continue making and delivering music.” —Giacco

David Kokakis
Chief counsel, business affairs, Universal Music Publishing Group/digital rights management, Universal Music Group
Michael Petersen
Senior vp business and legal affairs, Universal Music Publishing Group

UMPG’s acquisition of Bob Dylan’s iconic catalog of over 600 copyrights — including “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Lay Lady Lay” and “Like a Rolling Stone” — marked a historic moment for the company. But Petersen, 59, also points to the ability of songwriters and artists to “create amazing music remotely” as a 2020 legacy that will also have lasting impact. “This had been an ongoing trend,” he says, “but the pandemic made it the new normal.”

The Song That Got Me Through the Pandemic: “ ‘Break My Heart’ by Dua Lipa. It makes you want to dance every time you hear it.” —Petersen

Scott McDowell
Executive vp/head of legal and business affairs, Warner Chappell Music

In addition to helping bring back Quincy Jones to the storied publisher’s roster and representing the late rapper Pop Smoke to “advance his legacy,” McDowell’s team has mostly focused on how to deal with data: “Managing it and harnessing it for good.” This philosophy also applies to young artists’ own budgets, as McDowell suggests they break down every dollar of their personal income and figure out “how many others take a piece of it along the way.”

Most Lasting Legacy of 2020 Will Be: “Racial justice reckoning and the drive for diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Performing Rights

Christos Badavas
Executive vp/general counsel, SESAC

Over the past year, Badavas, 51, oversaw his organization’s efforts to implement the performing rights organization’s shift to an entirely remote work environment during the pandemic. That move included ensuring licenses were signed and fees were collected from major licensees through channels that were not affected too significantly by the global disruption. SESAC also helped spearhead the music industry’s efforts to support the CARES Act, which offered assistance for songwriters and composers whose livelihoods disappeared due to the coronavirus outbreak. “Ultimately, these efforts ensure that royalty payments to our affiliates are not interrupted and governmental aid is forthcoming during this unprecedented time,” he says.

Most Lasting Legacy of 2020 Will Be: “The recognition of the responsibility the music industry has to ensure increased opportunity and, ultimately, full participation of Black Americans in the music industry. In other words, the responsibility to recruit and make room for new voices on the business side of music.”

Clara Kim
Executive vp/general counsel, ASCAP

Negotiations and signings of multiyear licensing agreements continued apace in 2020 between ASCAP and traditional media companies, major music stream-ing services and over-the-top media services. (OTT services provide audiovisual content through the internet instead of cable or satellite, such as Netflix or Hulu.) All of those deals were essential “to drive revenue and help secure the livelihoods and future for our members, especially in light of the pandemic,” says Kim. ASCAP also retained or acquired membership of scores of artists including Jackson Browne, Mariah Carey, DaBaby, Billie Eilish, FINNEAS, Madonna, John Mellencamp and Bernie Taupin.

Most Lasting Legacy of 2020 Will Be: “There’s no doubt there is pent-up demand for live music experiences. But livestreaming and virtual events will be with us in some way for a long time.”

Stuart Rosen
Senior vp/general counsel, BMI

In January it was revealed that the Department of Justice had ended its protracted review of the consent decrees that govern how ASCAP and BMI operate, without taking action or revising those decades-old agreements. Yet BMI’s engagement with the DOJ “should be considered a success,” says Rosen, 61, “in that we avoided not only an expansion of the decree but congressional intervention in the form of compulsory licensing, both of which could easily have occurred.” Rosen praises BMI’s legal team during the pandemic for going “the extra mile in meeting the urgent needs of our affiliates and in addressing the concerns of our licensees.”

The Song That Got Me Through the Pandemic: “Donny Hathaway’s [live] cover of Carole King’s ‘You’ve Got a Friend.’ The audience’s thrilling and complete takeover of the chorus reminds me of the community of live performance and what we’ve lost over this long, long year.”

Colin Rushing
Chief legal officer, SoundExchange

In the past year, SoundExchange maintained business as usual, “never missing a distribution at a time when our royalties are more critical than ever,” says Rushing, 41. “We moved to fully remote work basically overnight; thanks to our extraordinary team, we did so seamlessly. And because of the royalty rates and structures we’ve achieved in past rate settings, as well as the ongoing vitality of digital radio, our collections and distributions have remained basically steady.”

Most Lasting Legacy of 2020 Will Be: “The rapid acceleration toward streaming and away from old-school broadcast FM radio — a platform that still pays artists nothing.”

Talent and Litigation

Kenneth Abdo
Partner, Fox Rothschild
Tim Mandelbaum
Partner, Fox Rothschild
Michael Reinert
Partner, Fox Rothschild
Leron Rogers
Partner, Fox Rothschild
Heidy Vaquerano
Partner, Fox Rothschild
John Rose
Associate, Fox Rothschild

Over the past year, the music department at Fox Rothschild has doubled in size. “We have become one of the most diverse such groups among our peers,” says Mandelbaum. The firm has welcomed Rogers, Rose and Vaquerano to its ranks since Billboard’s 2020 Top Music Lawyers report. Among the artists and companies that Fox Rothschild has represented are 10K Projects, Trace Adkins, Blondie, Cash Money Records, Roberta Flack, Berry Gordy, Hanson, Hipgnosis Songs Fund, Kobalt, Kool & The Gang, Rick Ross, Toto, Universal Music Group, Kanye West, Stevie Wonder and Wu-Tang Clan.

Most Crucial Issue Facing Creators: “The ability of nonmainstream artists to survive in a streaming world dominated by a handful of top-charting artists.” —Mandelbaum

Jenny Afia
Head of entertainment and legal, Schillings International

Clients like Adele, Elton John and Madonna count on Afia, 42, to protect their reputations from media intrusion, with privacy a core concern of her practice. While that means she generally doesn’t share information about her clients, she recently won a high-profile case on behalf of Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, against U.K. tabloid Mail on Sunday, which speaks to her acumen, and has taken on social media as the next frontier in privacy battles. “It takes extraordinary bravery to stand up for your rights so publicly,” she says, “and I love helping empower people to do this.”

What Young Artists Must ask Their Lawyer: ” ‘What are you going to do now to keep me safe in the future?’ If you want to have a successful career and a private life, taking control of your privacy and reputation at the start is an absolute must.”

Lisa Alter
Partner, Alter Kendrick & Baron
Katie Baron
Partner, Alter Kendrick & Baron

In the past year, Alter Kendrick & Baron has represented multiple clients in complex music acquisition deals. They include Primary Wave, for the various interests in the catalogs of Olivia Newton-John, Stevie Nicks and The Four Seasons; Reservoir Media Management, for over 16,000 compositions from legendary music publisher Shapiro Bernstein; Nicky Chinn of the duo Chinn and Chapman in the sale of his copyrights; and Tempo Music Investments “in significant eight-figure deals,” says Alter. Among the firm’s clients are Chinn, Ray Davies, Foreigner, Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff, David Gilmour, Steve Miller and the estates of Ira Gershwin, Ben E. King, Anthony Newley, Billy Strayhorn and Jule Styne.

What Young Artists Must Ask Their Lawyer: “ ‘How can I advance my career while still maintaining control over my work from both an artistic and legal perspective?’ ” —Alter

Peter Anderson
Partner, Davis Wright Tremaine

For Anderson, a litigator whose firm has successfully handled copyright-related suits for The Weeknd, Lil Nas X and Kendrick Lamar — and, with Helene Freeman, achieved a victory in the “Stairway to Heaven” infringement case for his clients Jimmy Page and Robert Plant — the pandemic has been a time of “teaching old dogs new tricks” as the action shifted from courtrooms to Zoom screens. “It has been a busy year,” he says. “Any kind of remote deposition before was a fairly rare thing. But the pandemic forced me and other lawyers to understand the technology and the procedures and actually use them. And I don’t think we’ll stop once it’s over.”

The Song That Got Me Through the Pandemic: “David Gray’s ‘Sail Away’ reminds me that there will be a day when we go back to the beach, when we can sail away, take vacations, visit friends. It makes me feel better.”

Craig Averill
Jeff Worob
Partners, Serling Rooks Hunter McKoy Worob & Averill

Worob counts among his clients Leon Bridges, Maroon 5 and Maggie Rogers, while Averill advises, among others, the FADER Label and artist-producer RAC, a pioneer in the lucrative realm of non-fungible tokens. “Throughout the wreckage of 2020,” says Worob, “it has been fun to help our clients develop new and interesting ways to earn while we’re all stuck at home, including with new technology like NFTs, as well as figuring out how to make more traditional income streams — like live shows — translate virtually.” As the firm closed deals for the recording and publishing catalogs of its clients, he adds, “it’s exciting to see so many nontraditional players come into the [music] space and appreciate the value.”

Most Lasting Legacy of 2020 Will Be: “The need to constantly adapt. This year, we all learned to adapt or die. Creatives learned to make art anywhere and often by themselves, while managers, labels and other executives learned to sign, market and promote in new and really interesting ways.” —Worob

Andrew Bart
Partner/co-chair of the content, media and entertainment practice, Jenner & Block

As counsel for each of the three major labels, as well as SoundExchange, Roc Nation and the RIAA, Bart, 66, has played a leading role in protecting the copyrights of creators in the digital world. One highlight was the victory in November for the RIAA and record labels in its copyright infringement case against hip-hop streaming platform Spinrilla, which resulted in a summary judgment that Bart calls “a significant victory for content owners against an unlicensed music site.”

Most Crucial Issue Facing Creators: “Finding an economic path that permits them to create. Part of it is the pandemic, but part of it is that for 20 years, our legal system has facilitated a massive transfer of wealth from the creative community to the owners of distribution platforms.”

Richard Baskind
Partner, Simons Muirhead & Burton

The London-based firm services a client roster that includes Nick Cave, Grace Jones, Alan Walker and First Access Entertainment and has advised on asset transactions like ICM Partners’ acquisition of Primary Talent International. Muirhead & Burton was named law firm of the year at the 2020 Music Week Awards. “We started the music practice when I joined the firm 10 years ago, so receiving this award from our industry peers was a great acknowledgment of the work we’ve done since then and the support we’ve had,” says Baskind.

What Young Artists Must Ask Their Lawyer: “About their rights, their intellectual property, their career and the business. It is really important that they have a clear understanding of the essentials. At the end of the day, it is the artist’s business.”

David Beame
Brian Mencher
Founding partners, Beame & Mencher

When the pandemic shut down the world last March, Beame, 46, and Mencher, 43, helped lead philanthropic client Global Citizen to one of its biggest years yet, including its pivot from in-person festivals to televised music events. Among those were April’s One World: Together at Home concert curated by Lady Gaga in support of front-line workers and October’s Every Vote Counts, promoting the get-out-the-vote campaign during the 2020 election. Their work touched upon many aspects of the music industry, including artist contracts and publishing clearances.

What Young Artists Must Ask Their Lawyer: “ ‘What does it mean to be the CEO of my career?’ A successful artist will lead with their creative vision and will back it up with smart business savvy. A good CEO is always bringing in and trying new opportunities and pushing the boundaries of themselves and the team around them.” —Beame

Jeffrey Becker
Partner/chair, entertainment and media law practice, Swanson Martin & Bell

Last November, the hip-hop community mourned the loss of fast-rising Chicago rapper King Von, whose estate Becker, 41, now represents and has seen grow, with an uptick in streams and Billboard Hot 100 hits. Among his firm’s clients are a diverse roster of producers, such as BTS collaborator Vincent Nantes, Lil Pump beatmaker Fizzle and Kim Petras producer Vaughn. Recent deals include the signing of singer-rapper Miles to Elektra Records and SoundCloud star Yung Divide to Epic Records.

What Young Artists Must Ask Their Lawyer: “ ‘What is the Mechanical Licensing Collective, and what do I need to do to make sure I am collecting all my publishing revenue?’ “

Jill Berliner
Partner, Rimon Law

Berliner, 63, whose firm represents Beck, The Chicks, Foo Fighters, Nirvana and The Smashing Pumpkins, was well prepared to weather the pandemic professionally, having long served her clients remotely. “We have been a cutting-edge virtual firm since Rimon was founded in 2008,” she says. Of late, she has reflected on the impact of this year’s loss of live events. “Once we have recovered from the pandemic,” she says, “the live-music landscape will have radically changed, but fans will be ecstatic to be able to see live shows.”

Most Crucial Issue Facing Creators: “Songwriters, producers and recording artists must find a sophisticated collection arrangement to capitalize on their work. Streaming is still evolving, rules are changing, and arrangements for collection of the fractions of pennies that fall between the cracks if a creator isn’t well-represented can amount to real losses.”

Audrey Benoualid
Partner, Myman Greenspan Fox Rosenberg Mobasser Younger & Light
Josh Karp
Partner, Myman Greenspan Fox Rosenberg Mobasser Younger & Light
Tamara Milagros-Butler
Partner, Myman Greenspan Fox Rosenberg Mobasser Younger & Light
Robert Minzner
Partner, Myman Greenspan Fox Rosenberg Mobasser Younger & Light
Oren Agman
Associate, Myman Greenspan Fox Rosenberg Mobasser Younger & Light
Steven Arnst
Associate, Myman Greenspan Fox Rosenberg Mobasser Younger & Light
Andranise Baxter
Associate, Myman Greenspan Fox Rosenberg Mobasser Younger & Light
Haley Golding
Associate, Myman Greenspan Fox Rosenberg Mobasser Younger & Light
Lulu Pantin
Associate, Myman Greenspan Fox Rosenberg Mobasser Younger & Light
Andrew Paster
Associate, Myman Greenspan Fox Rosenberg Mobasser Younger & Light

Senior attorneys of Myman Greenspan Fox Rosenberg Mobasser Younger & Light, who previously have been recognized on the Top Music Lawyers list, collectively chose to step out of the spotlight for 2021 to nominate their rising colleagues — a decision Billboard endorsed by giving the firm the largest representation in this year’s report. The firm represents some of the industry’s hottest stars — Justin Bieber, Dead & Co., Ariana Grande, Jennifer Lopez, Brockhampton and Red Hot Chili Peppers, among others — as well as rising talent like CHIKA and Verzache, and its attorneys have guided deals such as Concord’s acquisition of Pulse Music Group, Primary Wave’s purchase of music assets from Disturbed and Godsmack and the sale of songwriter Sean Douglas’ hit-filled publishing catalog to Vine Alternative Investments.

Charles “Jeff” Biederman
Partner, Manatt Entertainment, Manatt Phelps & Phillips
Jordan Bromley
Partner/leader, entertainment transactions and finance practice, Manatt Phelps & Phillips
Eric Custer
Partner, Manatt Entertainment, Manatt Phelps & Phillips
Gary Gilbert
Senior partner, Manatt Entertainment, Manatt Phelps & Phillips
Robert Jacobs
Partner/leader, entertainment litigation practice, Manatt Phelps & Phillips
Lee Phillips
Senior partner, Manatt Entertainment, Manatt Phelps & Phillips
Monika Tashman
Partner, Manatt Entertainment, Manatt Phelps & Phillips

Echoing a common theme, Bromley says the biggest takeaway from 2020 is how “we came together to beat back a pandemic, show resilience and achieve meaningful and lasting change inside and outside our industry.” At Manatt, that meant representing “buyers and sellers in more than $1 billion in catalog transactions. We advocated for, achieved and delivered guidance,” says Bromley, in connection with multiple federal pandemic relief channels including PPP, Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation and the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant. “We have worked hand in hand with our artist partners in demanding social justice” through legislative efforts, he adds. The firm’s partners represent a deep client roster that includes Pepe Aguilar, Paul Anka, Burt Bacharach, Dierks Bentley, Jackson Browne, Tracy Chapman, Death Cab for Cutie, Diplo, Dirty Projectors, The Drums, Eagles, John Lee Hooker, Major Lazer, Migos, ODESZA, Steve Perry, Sturgill Simpson, Thievery Corporation, Trap Nation, Brian Wilson, Neil Young and the estates of Rick James and Pop Smoke.

Joshua Binder
Jeremy Mohr
Paul Rothenberg
Partners/co-founders, Rothenberg Mohr & Binder

Representing acts such as Chloe x Halle, Gunna, Kehlani and Marshmello, Rothenberg Mohr  & Binder needed to figure out ways for their clients to push through the pandemic without live events. By shifting the focus to “more long-term strategies and working with clients and managers on catalog sales, virtual appearances and brand partnerships,” says Mohr, the firm found its sweet spot, while also expanding the practice. “Music has been and will always be an incredible tool for emotional healing and bringing people together to effectuate social and other important change,” he says.

The Song That Got Me Through the Pandemic: “Bob Marley’s ‘Three Little Birds.’ Impossible to listen to that song and not feel uplifted.” —Mohr

Jason Boyarski
Partner, Boyarski Fritz

Boyarski’s firm, which marks its 10th anniversary this year, represents artists like Marc Anthony and Joan Jett, producers from Louis Bell to Tainy and companies including BMG, Disney Music and the fast-growing Create Music Group. His work as lead entertainment counsel for the Prince estate led to deals to bring his music catalog to TikTok and Peloton, and the distribution of the Grammy-nominated 1999 Super Deluxe Edition through Warner Music. Boyarski, 46, also negotiated the sale of Bell’s publishing catalog to Universal Music Publishing Group and the publishing/recording catalog owned by the estate of Donny Hathaway to Primary Wave.

Scott Bradford
Of counsel,  DLA Piper

Bradford recently negotiated client Round Hill’s high-level purchase of Triple Crown Records, which gave it over 150 titles. Representing clients like All Time Low, Fetty Wap and Panic! at the Disco, Bradford notes that artists and managers have been “super resourceful in figuring out solutions to the live-event restrictions” during the pandemic. “I have artists who are performing to thousands of fans via websites — they perform to way more fans through this method than they’d reach by touring for two months,” he says. “Overhead is minimal, and they go home after each show. This will just provide a new delivery system for artists moving forward.”

The Song That Got Me Through the Pandemic: “R.E.M.’s ‘It’s the End of the World As We Know It.’ Michael Stipe was just about 30 years ahead of his time on that one.”

John Branca
Partner/head of the music department, Ziffren Brittenham
David Lande
Partner, Ziffren Brittenham
David Byrnes
Partner, Ziffren Brittenham

Among the highlights of a busy year, Branca notes the firm’s “sales and acquisitions of some of the industry’s most acclaimed and profitable music publishing rights,” and Lande adds the sale of Shakira’s publishing catalog to Hipgnosis. Lande also worked on the agreements for two Beyoncé projects that combined business and culture: her musical f ilm and visual album Black Is King, which brought Afrofuturism to Disney+, and a multilayered partnership between Beyoncé and Peloton that highlights her music on the platform and includes Peloton’s commitment to recruit interns and staff from 10 historically Black colleges or universities. Lande and Byrnes worked together on Travis Scott’s deal with Anheuser-Busch InBev to launch an agave-infused hard seltzer, Cacti, this spring. “A lot of activity,” says Lande.

What Young Artists Must Ask Their Lawyer: “ ‘Are you 100% on my side, or are your relationships so intimate with record labels that my needs will be sacrificed in the service of your relationship with the label?’ ” —Branca

William Briggs
Alex Weingarten
Partners, Venable

“It feels important to highlight the work I did in representing the talented singer Kristina Buch in a sexual harassment case against Grammy Award-winning producer Noel ‘Detail’ Fisher,” says Briggs. A Los Angeles Superior Court in late 2019 entered a $15 million judgment against Fisher, whose credits, according to AllMusic, include work for Beyoncé, Drake and Jennifer Lopez. “In May 2018, Buch and another musician, Peyton Ackley, both made public the assaults by Fisher and obtained restraining orders against him,” says Briggs. “Since those original complaints were filed in 2018, Buch and Ackley paved the way for numerous other artists to come forward. I am so proud to help my clients close this awful chapter in [their lives] and applaud [their] bravery in speaking out.” According to court documents, Fisher is appealing the judgment. Venable’s clients also include Steve Angello, Selena Gomez, Wiz Khalifa, Gucci Mane, Mandy Moore, 5 Seconds of Summer, Snoop Dogg, Spotify, Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams, Stevie Wonder, Vevo and the estate of Tom Petty.

Most Lasting Legacy of 2020 Will Be: “The ability of artists to show creativity in how they monetize their content despite the halt to touring.” —Briggs

Vernon Brown
President/CEO, V. Brown & Company

In a year filled with strife, Brown set out to offer some relief. In 2020, he worked on the deal between longtime clients Bryan “Birdman” Williams and Ronald “Slim” Williams, founders of Cash Money, and the city of New Orleans, in which the brothers donated $225,000 to cover rent last June for the residents living in the city’s subsidized housing program. Brown has continued his work in providing aid for important causes, all while brokering deals like a joint venture between electronic label Reckless Republic and Island Records.

The Song That Got Me Through the Pandemic:“  ‘Life’ by Ludovico Einaudi. It’s a beautiful, calming song. He’s one of my favorite artists to listen to while I’m working or thinking.”

Ed Buggé
Partner, Hertz Lichtenstein Young & Polk Carron
Joan Mitchell
Partner, Hertz Lichtenstein Young & Polk
Oswaldo M. Rossi
Partner, Hertz Lichtenstein Young & Polk
Jamie Young
Named partner, Hertz Lichtenstein Young & Polk
Marquis “Quest” Malloy
Associate attorney, Hertz Lichtenstein Young & Polk

With a client roster that includes Céline Dion, Keith Richards, Will Smith, Steely Dan and Gwen Stefani, along with Juan Luis Guerra, Nicky Jam and Will.i.am, the firm focused on campaigns and releases “that lifted people in lockdown,” says Buggé, 34. Young represented the estate of Tom Petty in establishing an “operating structure and team to move forward” with posthumous projects, as well as representing Stevie Nicks in her partnership with Primary Wave. Buggé also cites the firm’s work on MAG’s production of Bad Bunny’s album El Ultimo Tour del Mundo and the partnership of Ari Lennox and Crown Royal to support struggling bars and clubs during the pandemic.

What Young Artists Must Ask Their Lawyer: “ ‘How can I best maximize my chance of success, and what pitfalls shall I look out for on that path?’ ” —Young

Richard Busch
Partner in the litigation section/head of the entertainment and intellectual property sections, King & Ballow

Busch, 54, is regarded as a tough litigator who has scored high-profile wins in the past for Marvin Gaye’s family, Bob Gaudio, Bluewater Music and the Songwriters Guild of America. This year, he turned his focus to securing termination rights for country star Dwight Yoakam, who is seeking to reclaim his rights to recordings “Honky Tonk Man” and “Miner’s Prayer,” among others. These “very important termination-of-rights cases,” says Busch, become an even more pressing concern as more artists near the statutory period for reclaiming their copyrights.

What Young Artists Must Ask Their Lawyer: “ ‘How do I ensure that my work is properly licensed, and how do I ensure not only that I am paid properly but also that I do not give away rights unnecessarily or in a way I will later regret?’ ”

Candace Carlo
Attorney/partner, Kleinberg Lange Cuddy & Carlo

“Our firm has remained cohesive and strong throughout the pandemic,” says Carlo. While working remotely, she and her partners “continue to provide a full spectrum of services” to musician clients, including Peter Cetera, Toby Keith, KISS, Gene Simmons and Hans Zimmer. The firm’s film and TV clients include Mark Hamill, Glen Keane, George R.R. Martin, J.K. Rowling and Sylvester Stallone.

The Song That Got Me Through the Pandemic: “I like the Billie Eilish-Hans Zimmer track ‘No Time To Die’ [the title theme of the upcoming James Bond film]. It’s a fantastic pairing of talent and, given the pandemic, it’s great advice — stay healthy and strong.”

Rosemary Carroll
Michael Guido
Elliot Groffman
Gillian Bar
Rob Cohen
Ira Friedman
Renee Karalian
Partners, Carroll Guido Groffman Cohen Bar & Karalian

In the year leading up to Phoebe Bridgers’ nomination as best new artist at the Grammy Awards, Carroll renegotiated the singer’s administration agreement with Kobalt and set up her new label, Saddest Factory, through Secretly Canadian. Her client The Strokes won the Grammy for best rock album. In the past year, Guido helped guide agreements for Megan Thee Stallion, negotiated catalog deals for Mark Ronson and Richie Sambora, and spearheaded a label deal for Lee Daniels with Warner Music that includes the soundtrack to his film The United States vs. Billie Holiday. Groffman, with strong assists from partner Paul Gutman, worked on several publishing and master catalog deals, including the sale of Big Deal Music to Hipgnosis. His client Brandi Carlile won the Grammy for best country song for “Crowded Table,” and ATO Records, another longtime client, celebrated the Grammy win for Brittany Howard for best rock song. Friedman worked with Guido on deals for 12 Tone, including Dolly Parton’s A Holly Dolly Christmas album and, with Groffman, on a new deal for Tiësto with Atlantic Records. For both Olivia Culpo and Demi Lovato, Cohen supervised the negotiation of new cosmetic ventures and also oversaw legal work for the documentary Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil. Bar “had a blast” working on deals for Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner, collaborators with Taylor Swift on her albums evermore and folklore, the latter of which won the album of the year Grammy. Bar also guided rising young client Rosie (“Never the 1”) to her deal with Arista Records. For Julia Michaels, Karalian struck a new deal with Universal Music Publishing Group. She oversaw agreements for Playboi Carti and guided new projects for Kid Cudi, including album, film and sponsorship deals. The firm’s deep roster of superstar clients also includes Arcade Fire, Sara Bareilles, David Byrne, Dave Matthews Band, Jonas Brothers, The National, Pearl Jam, Phish and Patti Smith.

Jacqueline Charlesworth
Principal, Charlesworth Law

Previously serving as a staunch advocate for songwriters as a partner at Alter Kendrick & Baron and playing a key role in the passage of the Music Modernization Act, Charlesworth set out on her own with her eponymous firm, which officially opened its doors on Jan. 1, representing a crosssection of songwriters, artists, publishers and record labels. The firm has already added two new attorneys to its practice in its first two months of operation, and Charlesworth says she’s “thrilled and deeply honored by the response” so far.

Most Crucial Issue Facing Creators: “For songwriters, it’s the fact that the federal government controls their income through the Copyright Royalty Board and rate-setting processes. In the mechanical area, I know songwriters are hoping for some improvement under the new MMA standard in this next CRB proceeding. We shall see.”

David Chidekel
Partner, Early Sullivan Wright Gizer & McRae

Chidekel recently has been working with SKUxchange to create new revenue streams for producers, promoters and performers of live and virtual events in music and sports. The platform uses “digital incentives embedded in augmented reality and virtual reality advertising provided by brands, and sponsors of such events, to attendees and viewers,” he says. Among the acts that Chidekel represents are The Click Five, The D.O.C., Fall Out Boy, Cee Lo Green, Panic! at the Disco, Kevin Rudolf, Tool and members of Filter, Train and Wu-Tang Clan. He also works with independent labels such as Trustkill Records, Ferret Records, Good Fight Entertainment and Rise Records, and management companies such as Crush Music and Uppercut Management.

Most Crucial Issue Facing Creators: “How to most effectively and efficiently increase direct artist-to-fan engagement and activation — that is, to incentivize fans to interact with artists and purchase content, products and tickets to live performances and events — without the interference of unnecessary intermediaries.”

Jay Cohen
Partner, Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison

Cohen started the year with a big win, brokering a settlement with Peloton on behalf of dozens of independent music publishers that accused the interactive fitness platform of playing their members’ works without securing mechanical licenses. “After getting an antitrust counterclaim against the publishers and the National Music Publishers’ Association dismissed, we achieved a significant settlement of the publishers’ copyright claims,” says Cohen — and in February, Peloton and the NMPA announced they had reached a joint collaboration agreement to work together.

Most Crucial Issue Facing Creators: “Monetization for use of their works in the proliferating digital space.”

Sandra Crawshaw-Sparks
Partner/chair of entertainment, copyright and media practice group, Proskauer
Anthony Oncidi
Partner/head of West Coast labor and employment practice, Proskauer

Proskauer’s clients range from the Recording Academy, the RIAA and Live Nation to Madonna and U2, but Crawshaw-Sparks, 57, cites the firm’s work with the Universal Hip-Hop Museum, which broke ground this year in the Bronx, as a recent highlight. Slated to open in 2023, the cultural center has been a pro bono client since 2016. “This — currently virtual — institution teaches the world about the key elements of hip-hop culture and documents the rise of hip-hop from its creation on the streets of the Bronx to becoming one of the world’s most popular music genres,” she says.

Most Lasting Legacy of 2020 Will Be: “The ability to find revenue streams for creative output despite the global pandemic.” —Crawshaw-Sparks

Sy Damle
Andrew Gass
Alli Stillman
Jonathan West
Joe Wetzel
Partners, Latham & Watkins

Latham & Watkins represent some of the biggest brands in music, including Spotify, Pandora, Live Nation, SoundCloud, iHeartMedia, Twitch and Triller. This year, the firm conducted “an entire trial before the Copyright Royalty Board by video conference to determine the statutory royalty rate for webcasting,” says Stillman. “We’re also proud of our work on behalf of the Digital Licensee Coordinator and its member digital music providers in the rule-making process to implement the Music Modernization Act,” which became effective on Jan. 1.

What Young Artists Must Ask Their Lawyer: “ ‘What is going on with NFTs?’ And, more generally, how best to take advantage of all the available outlets and platforms for gaining exposure and monetizing their works.” —Stillman

Doug Davis
Founder/principal, The Davis Firm
Kim Youngberg
Partner, The Davis Firm

The Davis Firm — whose clients include executives and artists DJ Cassidy (and his Pass the Mic series on BET), Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Academy Award-nominated songwriter-producer Savan Kotecha, LL Cool J, DJ Snake, Swizz Beatz and Verzuz — made a key hire in November when Youngberg came aboard as a partner. For the past nine years, she had been general counsel at Screenvision Media. “Kim’s addition bolsters the growing film and TV practice, [which] experienced incredible growth in 2020,” says Davis. “Kim will be the seasoned pro with the experience to lead this division to be among the best in the business.”

Most Lasting Legacy of 2020 Will Be: “A large portion of the industry will never forget the lessons they have had to learn about diversifying their streams as a measure of income insurance.” —Davis

Lawrence Engel
Head of music group, Lee & Thompson

The London firm, whose notable clients include Craig David, Jessie J, Little Mix, Liam Payne, Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson, focused in 2020 on becoming a more inclusive and representative place to work, says Engel, adding, “We’re really pleased with the young talent we have coming through the firm.” The pandemic year proved that “remote communication can work globally; it’s easier than ever for us to deal with our U.S. and international contacts.”

Most Crucial Issue Facing Creators: “How to get heard above the noise. Connecting their journey as an individual with their music and fans.”

Tim Epstein
Partner, Duggan Bertsch

Epstein is a key attorney in the live-music industry, representing major festivals such as Pitchfork, Riot Fest, Life Is Beautiful and Baja Beach Fest, among many others. And when live music stopped, his efforts escalated. “We are proud to have counseled our clients through this most difficult of years providing guidance and support on reconfiguring venues for new purposes, securing financing [from government and private sources], conducting livestreams, setting up drive-in shows and renegotiating existing contracts to meet the moment,” he says.

What Young Artists Must Ask Their Lawyer: “The overwhelming majority of promoters and venues use friends and family and real estate and liquor license counsel for contracts in live performance. You should ask your lawyer: What other promoters, venues or buyers do you represent in this space, and what value add can you bring to my business?”

Simon Esplen
Managing partner, Russells
Jo Brittain
Chris Gossage
Gavin Maude
John Reid
Steven Tregear
Partners, Russells

“Fair remuneration for writers and performing artists on streaming income” is the most pressing issue facing creators today, says Esplen, 57, whose firm represented Kobalt in its sale of 42 catalogs — including works by 50 Cent, Lindsey Buckingham and Steve Winwood — to Hipgnosis for $323 million in November. The Russells music team also provides business and legal advice to a wide range of new and established acts, including Coldplay, Dua Lipa and Roger Waters, in addition to representing the estates of George Michael, Prince and Amy Winehouse.

The Song That Got Me Through the Pandemic: “ ‘The Tracks of My Tears’ by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, because it’s one of the greatest songs ever written.” —Esplen

Ilene Farkas
Partner/executive committee member/co-chair of the music litigation practice, Pryor Cashman
James G. Sammataro
Partner/co-chair of media and entertainment group, Pryor Cashman
Benjamin K. Semel
Partner, Pryor Cashman
Frank P. Scibilia
Partner/co-chair of copyright, music and digital media practice groups, Pryor Cashman
Donald Zakarin
Co-chairman of litigation department, Pryor Cashman

Pryor Cashman, as an adviser to the National Music Publishers’ Association, helped set up and now represents the Mechanical Licensing Collective, created under the Music Modernization Act to collect digital mechanical royalties in the United States. The firm is engaged in the latest legal rounds before the Copyright Royalty Board to establish rates that Spotify, Amazon, Google and Pandora pay publishers and, through them, songwriters. “Securing fair compensation [for creators] as the marketplace continues to move to an access model from the long-existing ownership model” is crucial, says Zakarin, 70. For litigation, Pryor Cashman represents Luis Fonsi, Ariana Grande, Ed Sheeran, the estate of Chris Cornell and the three major record companies and their publishing divisions.

The Song That Got Me Through the Pandemic: “  ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ by Sam Cooke, because we so needed a change in how we treat one another.” —Zakarin

Sid Fohrman
Partner/head of music industry team, Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton

Fohrman has worked with high-profile clients like Spotify, Peloton and Vevo. But the recent accomplishment he is most proud of is the pro bono representation of American Song Archives: The Bob Dylan Center and Woody Guthrie Center in connection with the Fire in Little Africa project. The multimedia hip-hop collaboration commemorates the 1921 massacre in Tulsa, Okla.’s Greenwood neighborhood known as Little Africa that “included an exclusive license agreement with Capitol Music Group for release on Motown Records,” says Fohrman.

Most Lasting Legacy of 2020 Will Be: “The year live concert streaming broke through — juxtaposed with the reminder that the in-person live concert experience can never be replaced.”

Russell Frackman
Partner, Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp
Christine Lepera
Co-chair, entertainment/IP litigation group; member of the governing board committee, Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp
Eleanor Lackman
Partner, Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp

Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp in the past year focused on bolstering its diversity and inclusion efforts. The goal, says Lepera, is “positive firm culture with social connection, designed to create safe places for our citizens to share their experiences and feelings during this time of crisis. In times of challenge we can rise to be better, and that is a good place to be.” Among the firm’s clients are Post Malone, Drake, Timbaland, JAY-Z, Eminem, Dr. Luke, Dark Horse songwriters, Warner Music Group, Universal Music Group, Kobalt, Prescription Songs, Tresona Music, Advanced Alternative Media, Fitz & The Tantrums and multiple other artists, songwriters and music companies.

The Song That Got Me Through the Pandemic: “ ‘Whipping Post’ by the Allman Brothers. Sometimes that is how it feels during the pandemic — being tied to a whipping post — but it is the best groove ever.” —Lepera

Leslie Frank
Partner, King Holmes Paterno & Soriano
Marjorie Garcia
Partner, King Holmes Paterno & Soriano
Howard King
Partner, King Holmes Paterno & Soriano
Jacqueline Sabec
Partner, King Holmes Paterno & Soriano
Laurie Soriano
Partner, King Holmes Paterno & Soriano
Peter Paterno
Partner, King Holmes Paterno & Soriano
Henry Gradstein
Of counsel, King Holmes Paterno & Soriano

“We had one of our busiest years ever in 2020,” says Soriano, who handled the sale of Calvin Harris’ song catalog to Vine Alternative Investments for a reported $90 million to $110 million. Paterno oversaw two song catalog sales to Round Hill Music, for Goo Goo Dolls frontman Johnny Rzeznik and Bryan Adams’ songwriting partner Jim Vallance. As popular as these deals have become, says Soriano, artists need to ask “whether it is worth it to give up ownership in their music because of the benefits they get back in each offered deal.” The firm represents, among others, Dr. Dre, Metallica, Sia, Van Morrison, Calvin Harris, Carole King, Bon Iver, Frank Ocean, Steve Aoki, Zedd, Skrillex, Ghostmane, Juanes, Los Tigres del Norte, Gloria Trevi, Jesse & Joy, Jason “Poo Bear” Boyd,” The Audibles, Alanis Morissette and Jerry Garcia Music Arts.

The Song That Got Me Through the Pandemic: “ ‘Level of Concern’ by twenty one pilots. It exemplifies the creativity that sprung up all over while artists were in their basements trying to stay safe.” —Soriano

John T. Frankenheimer
Partner/chair of music industry practice group/chairman emeritus, Loeb & Loeb
Debbie White
Vice chair, music industry practice group, Loeb & Loeb
Derek Crownover
Co-manager, Nashville, Loeb & Loeb
Tiffany Dunn
Office administrative partner, Nashville, Loeb & Loeb

Loeb & Loeb had a busy year across genres and industry sectors. The firm represented Primary Wave in the acquisition of the Nicky Chinn and Mason Levy catalogs, guided Duran Duran’s agreements with S Curve/BMG, landed deals for Cannons with Columbia Records and Mills with Keep Cool/RCA Records, and renegotiated Melanie Martinez’s contract with Atlantic Records. In Nashville — where its clients include Luke Combs, Carrie Underwood, the estate of Otis Redding Jr. and the Grand Ole Opry — the firm advised Hillary Lindsey in the sale of her catalog and worldwide co-publishing deal with Concord and helped songwriter-producer Jeremy Stover and RED Creative Group close a catalog sale and co-publishing deal extension with Anthem Entertainment. On the international stage, White remains counsel to BTS and Big Hit Entertainment, and Loeb & Loeb continues to serve as outside counsel to China’s largest media company, Tencent, in ongoing music, film, TV and gaming matters.

Most Lasting Legacy of 2020 Will Be: “The unprecedented influx of sophisticated financial support throughout the industry, the maturation of financial models that not only enabled the largest companies to achieve astronomical valuations but also provided much needed capital for independent entrepreneurs and creatives to build new, forward-thinking models reflective of a more diversified music industry.” —Frankenheimer

Helene Freeman
Partner, Phillips Nizer

While its role in achieving a copyright-dispute victory for Led Zeppelin (along with co-counsel Peter Anderson) has drawn headlines, Phillips Nizer has a long history of representing music industry clients in litigation. It has offered advice to other music attorneys in the areas of contract interpretation, trademark and copyright ownership, and termination rights, says Freeman. In March 2020, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” did not infringe on the copyright of the Spirit instrumental “Taurus.” One year later, Freeman says that the case “appears to have had a significant impact on music copyright-infringement litigation.”

Most Crucial Issue Facing Creators: “Whether the changes made by the Music Modernization Act will afford them a fair share of the revenue generated by digital exploitation of their music.”

Kenneth Freundlich
Founding principal, Freundlich Law

Freundlich represented a group of 15 musicologists who filed amicus briefs in such high-profile copyright cases as those involving Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” and Pharrell Williams’ “Blurred Lines.” In the lattermost action, his brief warned of curtailing creativity “in the field of popular music, inhibiting songwriters by the threat of far-fetched claims of infringement.” The litigation firm also won dismissals for Pandora in a copyright infringement case brought by Wixen Music Publishing and for LyricFind in a lawsuit filed by Genius, both involving lyrics shared online.

What Young Artists Must Ask Their Lawyer: “ ‘How do I organize my ownership of content with co-creators, register and protect my content at all points of distribution and ensure proper payment for its use?’ ”

Sasha Frid
Louis “Skip” Miller
Partners, Miller Barondess

The firm’s founders stepped up “through the challenges of the pandemic,” says Frid, 44, on behalf of clients including Five Finger Death Punch, Journey, Mötley Crüe, Smokey Robinson, Nile Rodgers, Trey Songz and Rod Stewart. The experienced trial lawyers took on tasks including securing government loans, assessing tour cancellations and negotiating payment obligations. The firm is representing Robinson in a suit brought by the Motown legend’s former manager seeking past commissions.

The Song That Got Me Through the Pandemic: “ ‘I Will Survive’ by Gloria Gaynor, because no matter how bad it gets, the human spirit always prevails and overcomes.” —Frid

Leah Godesky
David Marroso
Partners, O’Melveny & Myers
Dan Petrocelli
Partner/trial practice committee chair/vice chair, O’Melveny & Myers

O’Melveny & Myers represents Global Music Rights — the performing rights organization for acts including The Beatles, Bon Jovi, Drake, Eagles, Post Malone, Bruno Mars, Ava Max, Shawn Mendes, Metallica, Nicki Minaj, Travis Scott, Bruce Springsteen, Harry Styles and Pharrell Williams. In ongoing litigation against the Radio Music Licensing Committee, says Petrocelli, the firm has defeated a motion to dismiss, “winning the argument that performing rights organizations are not per se antitrust violations and convincing the Department of Justice to weigh in on the artists’ side on [market-based] price fixing.” Godesky also continues to represent Kesha as the defendant in the suit brought against the singer by Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald for defamation, with the trial set for fall.

What Young Artists Must Ask Their Lawyer: “Put it in writing!” —Petrocelli

Damien Granderson
Partner, Granderson Des Rochers
Guy Blake
Managing partner, Granderson Des Rochers
Elizabeth Moody
Partner, chair of new media practice, Granderson Des Rochers
Colin Morrissey
Partner, Granderson Des Rochers

Launched in 2019, Granderson Des Rochers identifies itself as “one of the most diverse transactional entertainment law firms in the country,” says Blake. “We built the firm to service the needs of a clientele as diverse as our partnership, associates and staff.” Those clients include A$AP Rocky, J Balvin, blackbear, J. Cole, H.E.R., Lil Baby, NeYo, Paramore, Shaggy, Bernie Taupin, Hayley Williams and Young Thug, as well as Quality Control Music, Sessions, Live Triller and Wave XR. They are served by practice groups in the areas of music, film/TV, comedy, new media and technology, fashion, branding and entertainment finance. “Our mission is to continue to champion diversity and advance our professional and social objectives,” says Blake.

Most Crucial Issue Facing Creators: “Lack of control and ownership in their creations and lack of transparency as to the economics of how their content is monetized.” —Blake

Gary Greenstein
Member, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati

Greenstein, 55, counts among his clients tech giants such as Google, as well as streaming service Pandora and artist-friendly music marketplace Bandcamp, which pays artists 80% to 85% of revenue from sales when fans buy music and merchandise through its site. Bandcamp in particular stood out during the pandemic, waiving its revenue share in favor of artists for all sales on the first Friday of each month, acknowledging the hardships brought about by the lack of touring opportunities. Greenstein also represents Feed Media Group, which aims to help businesses improve user experiences with music.

Most Crucial Issue Facing Creators: “The ability to grab a greater share of the amounts already paid by licensees for the use of music. If 70% of revenue is being paid for the use of music by streaming services, why is more of that not flowing down to creators?”

Allen Grubman
Senior partner, Grubman Shire Meiselas & Sacks
David Jacobs
Partner, Grubman Shire Meiselas & Sacks
Kenny Meiselas
Named partner, Grubman Shire Meiselas & Sacks

The tens of millions of fans who watched The Weeknd’s Super Bowl LV performance on Feb. 7 saw Grubman Shire’s work in action: The firm negotiated the singer’s Pepsi halftime show agreement as well as his Mercedes-Benz endorsement deal that launched his single “Blinding Lights” to a historic run of over a year spent in the top 10 of the Hot 100. “The Weeknd and his team showed not only could new music be released successfully during the pandemic but that great music could serve as an inspiration to everyone suffering through the scary and uncertain days of COVID-19,” says Meiselas. Other power deals that the firm brokered include Bruce Springsteen’s Super Bowl Jeep commercial and Lady Gaga’s endorsement deals with Valentino and Oreo, as well as her starring role in Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci.

What Young Artists Must Ask Their Lawyer: “The best way to protect their intellectual property and their creative works in a crowded marketplace where over 100,000 albums and singles are released per year.” —Meiselas

Pierre Hachar
Founding attorney, The Hachar Law Firm

With an international roster that includes Chayanne, Elvis Crespo, Leo Dan, Deorro, Gente de Zona and Saga WhiteBlack, as well as entertainment companies Loud & Live and 300 Entertainment, Hachar, 41, has spent the pandemic resolving immigration and touring cancellation issues resulting from travel restrictions and embassy shutdowns. The Miami-based litigator also launched Redcarpetlaw, a free online resource with legal information for underserved creative communities.

Most Crucial Issue Facing Creators: “Keeping up with technology, in particular as it relates to rights management through concepts such as non-fungible tokens and blockchain.”

David Hecht
Founding/managing partner, Hecht Partners

In its first year, Hecht’s firm achieved a milestone by assisting JaQuel Knight in copyrighting his iconic dance routine in the music video for Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).” He is believed to be the first commercial choreographer in pop music to obtain copyright registration for his work. “Choreography is not only entitled to strong copyright protection, but creators of choreography should be more fairly compensated for their contributions to music videos and live performances,” says Hecht, whose team specializes in intellectual property and represents other clients including dancer Aisha Francis and musicians 2 Milly and Leo P.

What Young Artists Must Ask Their Lawyer: “ ‘How can I protect my creative expression and enhance its value?’ ”

Jonas Herbsman
Managing partner, Herbsman Hafer Weber & Frisch
Michael Frisch
Partner, Herbsman Hafer Weber & Frisch 
Elliot Resnik
Senior counsel, Herbsman Hafer Weber & Frisch

Herbsman Hafer’s longtime client Terence Blanchard, the renowned trumpeter and Academy Award-nominated composer, in collaboration with librettist Kasi Lemmons, has adapted Fire Shut Up in My Bones, the memoir of New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow, as an opera that will open the 2021-22 season of the Metropolitan Opera this fall. “It is the first opera by a Black composer to be presented in the 137-year history of the Metropolitan Opera,” says Herbsman, 56. “As a firm, we are proud to be involved with this ground-breaking production. My father, who is 92, has had season tickets to the Met for close to 60 years, and I was the youngest member of the audience on a number of occasions growing up. I’m looking forward to attending with him.” Resnik helped another client, the National Independent Venue Association, to organize the Save Our Stages Festival with Foo Fighters as headliners. The event raised nearly $2 million and brought “greater attention to NIVA’s Capitol Hill advocacy efforts,” he says, which led to $15 billion in federal pandemic relief for venues.

What Young Artists Must Ask Their Lawyer: Explain what they are signing. “Young artists need to understand their rights, their obligations and where their income comes from. It isn’t enough to simply rely on your advisers. As the saying goes, knowledge is power.” —Herbsman

John Ingram
Head of music, Goodman Genow Schenkman Smelkinson & Christopher

Korean label JYP Entertainment, home to the girl group TWICE (which struck a strategic partnership in February 2020 with Republic Records), has engaged Goodman Genow to advise on “its music and entertainment affairs in North America,” says Ingram. The firm — which represents Virgil Abloh, Daniel Caesar, JID, JoJo Siwa, Bryson Tiller and Don Toliver — also secured record deals in the past year for Claire Rosinkranz with Republic and Sara Kays with Atlantic Records.

Most Lasting Legacy of 2020 Will Be: “Never taking the ability to see a show for granted again.”

Lawrence Iser
Managing partner, Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump
Howard Weitzman
Partner, Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump

In December, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the estate of Michael Jackson, represented by Kinsella Weitzman, stating that its dispute with HBO must be arbitrated. A 1992 agreement granted a license to the cable network to broadcast Jackson’s performance. The deal included confidentiality provisions that contained a nondisparagement clause. The estate claims HBO violated that deal by producing the documentary Leaving Neverland. The federal appellate court found that the contract’s arbitration provision is still valid, 28 years after it was agreed upon. In addition to Jackson’s estate, the firm’s clients include Jackson Browne, Del Records, Nicki Minaj, Justin and Jeremiah Raisen, Reach Music Publishing, Roland Corporation and Third Side Music.

What Young Artists Music Ask Their Lawyer: “ ‘How can I protect my creations when collaborating with others?’ ” —Iser

Erin M. Jacobson
Attorney/CEO, Erin M. Jacobson

Jacobson does not disclose her client list but works with a variety of award-winning artists, estates, publishers and other music companies, including recent matters “involving Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke, Gene Vincent, The Crusaders, Ray Gilbert, Perry Botkin Jr., Frank Sinatra, Prince, The Ronettes and Johnny Burnette,” she says. In November, Jacobson published Don’t Get Screwed! How To Protect Yourself As an Independent Musician to help indie artists protect their intellectual property and maximize their revenue, especially in the absence of touring income.

What Young Artists Must Ask Their Lawyer: “ ‘What am I signing?’ A lot of young artists come to me without a decent understanding of the contracts they’ve previously signed, despite being represented by other counsel for those deals.”

Neville Johnson
Founding partner, Johnson & Johnson

Johnson claimed a recent win in settling a class action suit for the Rick Nelson Company — the estate of the 1950s teen idol — against Sony Music Entertainment over deductions on foreign streaming royalties. A court filing in September put the amount of the settlement at $12.7 million. And Johnson has found strength in numbers with other class action suits. “This has been a tremendous boon to the music industry as the clients could not afford individually to vindicate the rights at issue,” he says. “As a result, tens of thousands of musicians have been helped.”

Most Lasting Legacy of 2020 Will Be: “The dominance of social media and new methods of promotion.”

Russell A. Jones
Attorney, Law Offices of Russell A. Jones Jr. and Associates

As the country looks forward to emerging from the pandemic, Jones sees 2020 as the year people learned “the importance of music in maintaining public morale.” Jones represents country stars Garth Brooks, Toby Keith, Tim McGraw and Trisha Yearwood, and those artists have been among those lifting the public mood by continuing to entertain: Brooks and Yearwood took requests on their CBS TV specials; McGraw served up a musical call for unity in “Undivided,” a duet with Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard; and Keith has kept up fan morale with his Furniture Store Guitar Sessions, selfie videos where he covers a variety of well-known tunes.

What Young Artists Must Ask Their Lawyer: “ ‘What doesn’t the contract say?’ ”

Wale Kalejaiye
Associate, Sheridans

Since joining Sheridans in 2018, Kalejaiye, 30, has overseen global deals for trailblazing talent, including next-generation creators from Africa. Among the agreements he has guided: an international partnership between Universal Music Publishing Group and Spaceship Publishing for Nigerian Afrobeats megastar Burna Boy; a joint venture between Cruel Santino, another African superstar, and Interscope Records; and the appointment of London-based Nigerian fashion maven Mowalola Ogunlesi as design director at Yeezy GAP, Kanye West’s joint venture with the retail behemoth. His tip: an “obscene focus on treating each artist that I represent as a business.”

The Song That Got Me Through the Pandemic: “ ‘Bank On It’ by Burna Boy. The song is very spiritual and has a multitude of deep, meaningful messages about survival.”

Joshua A. Kamen
Founder/owner, The Law Offices of Joshua A. Kamen

Kamen, 42, takes pride in the deals his firm has struck on behalf of the next generation of talent. Besides helping close Arizona Zervas’ “monumental deal with Columbia Records,” Kamen also secured a licensing deal between 23-year-old songwriter Nija and Capitol Records. After “penning hit records for everyone from Ariana Grande to Cardi B to ZAYN, I’m proud to have helped her negotiate a partnership that will allow the world to hear her voice,” he says.

Most Lasting Legacy of 2020 Will Be: “The renewed interest across the business in social issues, racial justice and politics. I’ve also noticed that many younger creatives are incredibly forward-thinking and becoming more actively involved in their business, which has encouraged established companies to consider unique deal structures and more artist-friendly arrangements.”

Jason Karlov
Partner/chair of entertainment, media and sports practice group, Barnes & Thornburg
Joel Katz
Senior counsel, Barnes & Thornburg

Barnes & Thornburg, which marks its 10th anniversary this year, has built “a multidisciplinary approach to practicing music law,” says Karlov, “whether you have needs regarding publishing, recording, merchandise, copyrights … However you want to make money in this business of music, we have experience that caters to that topic. That’s hard to build across the board and something about which we are very proud and happy for our clients” — a roster that includes Michael Bolton, T Bone Burnett, Bob Dylan, John Fogerty, the Grateful Dead catalog, the NFL and Rufus Wainwright. Katz, the founding chairman of Greenberg Traurig’s global entertainment and media practice, joined Barnes & Thornburg in March. He reports that he continues to work with long-term clients including acts Little Big Town and Why Don’t We, industry organizations from the Recording Academy to the Country Music Association and Big Machine Records, and a number of executives including Sony Nashville’s Randy Goodman and Universal Music Group Nashville’s Mike Dungan.

The Song That Got Me Through the Pandemic: “ ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ by Bob Dylan. The concept of universal change so aptly described by the lyric and the concept that life goes on eternally, even with abrupt change. The answer is just blowin’ in the wind.” —Katz

Lauren Kilgore
Partner, Shackelford Bowen McKinley & Norton

Kilgore, 39, whose firm’s clients include Dan + Shay, Tanya Tucker and Steve Winwood, says that throughout the pandemic, labels and publishers have been “aggressively” signing new talent. Her firm has been just as active in obtaining, negotiating and closing such deals, with an eye on helping young artists retain as much ownership as possible. “It is rewarding to facilitate that process and collaborate with clients on ways to maximize artist and writer exposure,” she says.

Most Crucial Issue Facing Creators: “The missing revenue generated and the fallout from live performances are continuing to mount, with a devastating impact on large swaths of the business, artist branding and music consumption. The sooner we can safely bring back live music, the better.”

Christiane Kinney
President, Kinney Law

After closing $36 million in catalog sales in late 2018 and early 2019 at a previous firm, Kinney went solo in 2020 just as the pandemic struck. She dove into the world of virtual reality and built the legal infrastructure for BRCvr, an official virtual Burning Man experience on behalf of client Big Rock Creative. She represents legacy artists in renegotiations triggered by rights terminations and heirs of legacy artists in seeking money they’re due. She has also represented LGBTQ+ business enterprise-certified public benefit corporations to help struggling LGBTQ+ artists during the pandemic.

The Song That Got Me Through the Pandemic: “ ‘Lean on Me’ by Bill Withers. So many people have been crippled by this pandemic — mentally, spiritually and financially. For me, some of that melts away whenever I hear that song.”

Mark Krais
Partner, Bray & Krais Solicitors

“Earth shattering” is how Krais describes the pandemic’s impact on the live-music business. But the shutdown also forced the industry to rapidly adjust how “it delivers live content, most notably by shifting to livestreaming,” he says. The livestreaming platform Driift, a Bray & Krais client, grew its business in 2020. The firm also represents a who’s who of the British music community, from The Rolling Stones to Ed Sheeran, Gorillaz, Elton John, Skepta and more. In a challenging year, says Krais, one positive note was in “continuing to provide business and legal support to our emerging young artists and writer clients as they continue to find ways of recording and releasing music during the pandemic.”

What Young Artists Must Ask Their Lawyer: “ ‘Should I be aiming to self-release music or sign a longer-term deal with an established label? And in either case, which manager would best look after my interests?’ ”

Simon Rust Lamb
COO, Bulldog Digital Media; co-founding partner, Curiosity Preservation Society

Lamb counseled promoters of independent festivals on strategies for cancellations, ticket refunds, insurance and force majeure, the conditions that prevented parties from fulfilling contracts. He also worked with longtime festival promoter James “Disco Donnie” Estopinal Jr. to acquire his company Disco Donnie Presents back from dance conglomerate LiveStyle, making DDP the first promoter to return to indie status following the consolidation of the sector in the early 2010s. Lamb also completed a five-year goal of raising $1 million for the nonprofits Film2Future and Pablove.

The Song That Got Me Through the Pandemic: “The Sierra Nevada alpine wilderness symphony: heavy, wall-shaking wind solos balanced with moments of deep silence.”

Greg Lapidus
Managing partner, Lapidus Root & Sacharow
Henry Root
Partner, Lapidus Root & Sacharow
Jeff Sacharow
Partner, Lapidus Root & Sacharow
Lynn Quarterman
Senior associate, Lapidus Root & Sacharow 
Jerry Butler
Of counsel, Lapidus Root & Sacharow
Leigh Zeichick
Associate, Lapidus Root & Sacharow

The firm represents entertainment and media companies, executives, creators, technology companies, live-event producers and more, and during the recent boom in music-asset acquisitions, it has represented both buyers and sellers of high-profile music publishing and master recording catalogs, says Lapidus. “We’re proud of our work with the Disney Music Group that has helped bring some joy into our homes at a time when the world outside can seem bleak and whose work has helped us remember that we can still come together in some way to make magical moments for our families and friends,” he says. The firm is also the longtime representative for Special Olympics in connection with entertainment initiatives like its A Very Special Christmas album series, launched by producer Jimmy Iovine in 1987. Since its debut, the releases have raised over $130 million for the organization and its programs helping people with intellectual disabilities.

What Young Artists Must Ask Their Lawyer: “ ‘Do I need legal advice before signing this document?’ ” —Lapidus

Dina LaPolt
Founder/owner, LaPolt Law

LaPolt, 54, worked with Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., to ensure songwriters, artists and other music industry professionals were eligible for unemployment benefits under the CARES Act during the early days of the pandemic. “By the time the bill passed, my voice was hoarse because I had been on the phone so much,” says LaPolt, who celebrated 23 years sober in March. “We’ve moved the [Alcoholics Anonymous] meetings to Zoom, and I’m attending meetings taking place all over the world. It’s great for me, but folks new to sobriety have really struggled with the isolation.”

Most Crucial Issue Facing Creators: “NFTs. I represent deadmau5, who was an early pioneer, and we’ve identified so many important legal issues, from the [intellectual property] embodied in the tokens to the regulatory issues of selling the coins on securities markets.”

Todd Larson
Benjamin Marks
Partners, Weil Gotshal & Manges

Last summer, Marks and Lawson represented SiriusXM and Pandora in the six-week Copyright Royalty Board trial — held entirely online — to set per-stream royalty rates for programmed music webcasters for 2021-25. While the CRB continues to deliberate, Marks and Lawson also represent clients including AEG Live, Entercom, iHeartMedia, SoundCloud, Facebook and Twitter in music licensing and other copyright-related matters.

Most Lasting Legacy of 2020 Will Be: “For all our advances in online and virtual communication, live music — people packed in a dark, sweaty room dancing and singing along to their favorite band — remains the beating heart of the music business. We didn’t how much we missed it until it was gone.”—Larson

Shay M. Lawson
Managing attorney, Lawson McKinley

Lawson, 36, is an adviser for top hip-hop clients, brokering recent deals including Offset’s apparel collaboration with New Era and the recent credit for producer Sheldon Ferguson (Travis Scott, Lil Baby) on Lil Wayne’s Billboard 200 No. 1 album, Funeral. And as advocacy chair for the Recording Academy’s Atlanta chapter — her second consecutive term — Lawson led local efforts for legislative COVID-19 relief for artists as well as the passage of the HITS Act with members of Congress. Additionally, Lawson is a partner of the Black Music Action Coalition and was recently elected to the board of Songwriters of North America.

What Young Artists Must Ask Their Lawyer: “For an easy-to-understand written breakdown of the terms of any deal. Most are so allured by the opportunity, they skip over critical details and terms that can impact the life span of their artistry.”

Bill Leibowitz
Founder/partner, The William R. Leibowitz Law Group

In a year that brought a surge of song-catalog royalties rights sales, Leibowitz did a number of big deals with big stars — and with the highest-profile acquisition fund of them all. “As the lawyer for Hipgnosis Songs Fund Limited, I closed some major acquisitions during 2020,” he says. Those included the catalogs of Blondie, Lindsey Buckingham, Jimmy Iovine, Rick James, Journey, Barry Manilow, Nelly, Mark Ronson, RZA, Richie Sambora and Neil Young. But the biggest issue, he says, is songwriters’ share of streaming revenue: “Without songwriters, there are no hit records, and it is terribly inequitable that they are the lowest on the totem pole when it comes to compensation.”

What Young Artists Must Ask Their Lawyer: “ ‘How do I structure my deals so I am building equity for the long term? And, in this regard, how do I maintain ownership of my intellectual property?’ ”

Jeff Levy
Partner, Ritholz Levy Fields
Chip Petree
Managing partner, Ritholz Levy Fields
Matt Greenberg
Of counsel, Ritholz Levy Fields

For Levy, his firm’s most significant accomplishment in 2020 was internal: holding weekly “all hands” Zoom meetings with each member of the staff. “It got us through the ups and downs everyone experienced due to the pandemic and political crises, and strengthened our firm’s interpersonal relationships,” says Levy, whose firm reps Brothers Osborne, Chris Stapleton and Downtown Music Publishing, among others. “Happy lawyers and happy staff create better experiences for our clients.”

The Song That Got Me Through the Pandemic: “The New York Mets’ cable channel theme song. Baseball’s return gave me hope that one day things would go back to normal.” —Levy

Robert Lieberman
Michael Perlstein
Partners, Fischbach Perlstein Lieberman & Almond

Lieberman and Perlstein successfully negotiated the biggest songwriter music publishing catalog deal in the history of the music industry — selling the Bob Dylan song catalog to Universal Music Group — bringing in upwards of a reported $400 million for the legendary singer-songwriter. But that’s not all they did in the past year: They also guided the estates of Mac Rebennack (aka Dr. John) and Peggy Lee; corporate clients like GoDigital Media Group, Cinq Music, Strange Music and Wise Music Group; and artist-songwriters like Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians, Eddie Holland and Tech N9ne.

What Young Artists Must Ask Their Lawyer: “ ‘How do you make any money in this business?’ Because if they are counting on streaming income, they should look elsewhere. The young artist needs to build a social base and do everything possible on a daily basis to build that social base.” —Lieberman

Simon Long
Partner, Trainer Shepherd Phillips Melvin Haynes & Collins Long

Long and his colleagues advised the Indian film production company and record label Tips Industries on the licensing of its entire catalog to Warner Music, “forming an alliance to better represent this repertoire of mainly Bollywood hits from the last four decades outside India,” he says, describing the deal as “a strategic partnership with Warner Music for global exploitation of [the company’s] music assets.” The firm counts among its clients famed India film composer A.R. Rahman, as well as Eric Bibb, David Guetta and Wang Chung, and producers Marius de Vries and Mike Spencer.

Most Lasting Legacy of 2020 Will Be: “Learning how to be optimistic, especially for British artists [post-Brexit] facing the loss of freedom of movement in Europe and crippling visa fees for touring in the U.S.”

Kent Marcus
Jeff Colvin
Partners, Marcus & Colvin

Marcus & Colvin navigated a turbulent year on behalf of clients including Jason Aldean, Black Pumas and Kings of Leon. The lattermost act has “been on the forefront of the developing NFT world and how this will shape the future of distribution of art,” says Marcus, 51. But he adds that his firm’s most important accomplishment was rallying behind partner Colvin after he and his 3-year-old son sustained serious injuries during the tornado that swept through Nashville in March 2020, leaving 25 dead and $2.5 billion in damage. “Watching Jeff and his son fight like champions was an achievement far more important than any plaque,” says Marcus.

What Young Artists Must Ask Their Lawyer: “The simple but loaded, ‘Do I sign this?’ But more so, ‘Is this step back worth the potential of five steps forward?’ ” —Marcus

Doug Mark
Founder/partner, Mark Music & Media Law
David Ferreria
Partner, Mark Music & Media Law

Mark Music & Media Law represents Billie Eilish, who has just released the Apple TV+ documentary The World’s a Little Blurry, and Mötley Crüe, which has announced an upcoming stadium tour. Its client roster also includes Benny Blanco, Danny Elfman, Epitaph Records, FINNEAS, Loma Vista Records, Rhiannon Giddens, Guns N’ Roses, Public Enemy, Tegan and Sara, and Tool. “The music business is, fundamentally, based on the exploitation of intangible property rights,” says Ferreria, “and one of our main duties as counselors and stewards of clients’ business is to help them understand the ecosystem that has been built around their creative endeavors.”

What Young Artists Must Ask Their Lawyer: “How their legal rights correlate to the monies they earn.” —Ferreria

Angela N. Martinez
Attorney at law, Angela N. Martinez

After spending months doing legal work on livestream concerts for her clients including Luis Fonsi and Pitbull, Martinez, 44, took the virtual stage in November to receive one of the Latin Recording Academy’s Leading Ladies of Entertainment honors alongside Selena Gomez and Gloria “Goyo” Martinez. Marquee client Ozuna presented her with the award. “I was flattered to be honored alongside women I highly respect,” she says. “I shared the moment with family and friends in my living room.”

What Young Artists Must Ask Their Lawyer: “ ‘[Can they] really dig in from the beginning to ensure that they have corporate planning, tax planning and family planning to ensure that [artists] properly protect their assets?’ ”

James E. McMillan
Managing partner, James E. McMillan

McMillan’s hip-hop-heavy client roster has included acts from 8Ball & MJG to Machine Gun Kelly, but the attorney put most of his efforts in 2020 toward his Art@War music label, which partnered with Atlantic Records in 2019. McMillan signed new talent, including Lebra Jolie, Prince Taee and Traetwothree, and focused not only on promoting his artists but also on “managing their personal challenges caused by the pandemic,” he says. In order to offset touring losses, he found new revenue streams for his acts by linking with brands like Coca-Cola, LiveXLive and Fashion Nova.

What Young Artists Must Ask Their Lawyer: “ ‘What is the best way to create a sustainable career?’ ”

Ed McPherson
Founding partner, McPherson

In the past year, McPherson’s firm has represented its clients in multiple high-profile cases, including a class action suit against Universal Music Group over the 2008 fire that destroyed up to 500,000 master recordings; a suit by Dr. Dre’s estranged wife, who claims she co-owns his stage names; and a multimillion-dollar copyright infringement action over Travis Scott’s single “Highest in the Room,” which debuted at No. 1 on the Hot 100 in 2019. “Getting sued for copyright infringement is inevitable these days if you have a hit song,” says McPherson. “We recently won a motion for bifurcation in the case, staying all discovery on damages until liability is established.”

What Young Artists Must Ask Their Lawyer: “ ‘How do I become an old artist?’ ”

Mike Milom
Partner, Milom Horsnell Crow Kelley Beckett Shehan

With a roster that includes Alabama, Russell Dickerson, Mickey Guyton, Emmylou Harris, Rascal Flatts, Keith Urban, the estate of Hank Williams Sr. and the Country Music Hall of Fame, business is brisk for Milom. “Our greatest achievement of the past year may have been helping our clients and their team identify and implement innovative ways to remain in the public eye and create new income streams as a temporary replacement for touring revenue. It’s usually not sexy or publicist-worthy, but it is essential,” says Milom. “Currently, we are helping several clients analyze and manage the new risks of post-COVID-19 touring.”

Most Lasting Legacy of 2020 Will Be: “While in-person appearances will return, the virtual performance and cyber connection with fans will continue to provide an important option, particularly for beginning and midlevel performers where travel expense renders many in-person gigs unprofitable.”

Zia F. Modabber
Managing partner, California/media and entertainment practice group chair, Katten

Katten As chair of Katten’s media and entertainment practice, with clients including André 3000, Céline Dion, the Michael Jackson estate, Lil Nas X, Trent Reznor and Usher, Modabber says he spent the past year addressing the challenges touring clients faced “to create the live experience in the post-COVID-19 world.” Meanwhile, he protected Reznor’s legal interests on projects such as the Golden Globe-winning score to Pixar’s Soul and Nine Inch Nails’ intellectual property.

What Young Artists Must Ask Their Lawyer: “I strongly believe that young artists must know how to pay attention to their business so that if/when the fun stops, they won’t be left wishing they had paid more attention.”

Martin Ochs
Partner/head of music, Hamlins

Navigating the licensing challenges created by the boom in livestream concerts has kept Ochs, 38, busy throughout the pandemic. Two of his long-term clients are the leading British collection societies PPL and PRS for Music, which launched a joint-venture company to administer public performance royalties in 2018. That partnership plays a “crucial” role in ensuring “the continued recognition and protection of creative rights,” he says. Other clients include Northern Irish instrument maker Lowden Guitars and Universal Music Group’s merchandise division, Bravado.

The Song That Got Me Through the Pandemic: “ ‘Only You’ by Yazoo, because it was meant to be played at my wedding, which has been canceled twice during the pandemic.”

Matt Oppenheim
Managing partner, Oppenheim + Zebrak
Scott Zebrak
Founding partner, Oppenheim + Zebrak

Launched in Washington, D.C., a decade ago, Oppenheim + Zebrak represent major labels and their publishing companies in copyright infringement cases against internet service providers. In January, a federal district judge upheld the $1 billion jury verdict for copyright infringement that the firm helped obtain for its clients against Cox Communications. Along with co-counsel at Covington & Burling, the firm is leading similar cases against two other ISPs, Charter Communications and Bright House, “that could further shape the landscape when it comes to ISPs turning a blind eye to subscribers’ repeated infringement of copyrighted music,” says Zebrak, 50. They are also representing major labels in actions against FLVTO.biz and 2conv.com, two of the world’s most popular stream-ripping services.

Most Crucial Issue Facing Creators: “There are many important issues, but the impact of online infringement remains at the top.” —Zebrak

Ed Pagano
Partner, public law and policy practice, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld
Casey Higgins
Senior policy adviser, public law and policy practice, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld

Akin Gump worked tirelessly amid the pandemic to support the newly formed National Independent Venue Association. NIVA’s advocacy work led Congress to pass the bipartisan Save Our Stages Act in December, which provided $15 billion in grants to live-entertainment venues, performing arts centers and movie theaters to survive the live-entertainment shutdown. “Live-music venues were the first to close and will be the last to reopen,” says Higgins. “Without this support, venues in cities and small towns across America would have closed permanently.”

Most Lasting Legacy of 2020 Will Be: “Strong bipartisan recognition now exists in Washington that concerts and live performing arts create vital economic activity not only in our big cities, but in our small towns as well. This new appreciation for the economic benefits the industry provides in communities across America, coupled with its cultural contributions, will serve as a springboard for future efforts in Washington to support and grow the industry.” —Higgins

Don Passman
Partner, Gang Tyre Ramer Brown & Passman
Gene Salomon
Managing partner, Gang Tyre Ramer Brown & Passman
Ethan Schiffres
Partner, Gang Tyre Ramer Brown & Passman

The firm of Gang Tyre is said to represent superstars such as Adele, Taylor Swift and Stevie Wonder, and recently added Elton John to its client roster. Salomon has worked with Camila Cabello, Neil Diamond, Green Day, P!nk and R.E.M, among others, while Schiffres, who works with Anthony Ramos and Ludwig Göransson, negotiated Jeff Vaughn’s move to the position of chairman/CEO of Capitol Music Group. “It has been a good year,” says Passman, remarking that the pandemic “required artists to look inward and dig deeper emotionally” — much like Swift did with folklore, which won album of the year in March at the Grammy Awards. And although 2020 was not a year for book signings, Passman published the 10th edition of his must-read guide, All You Need To Know About the Music Business.

What Young Artists Must Ask Their Lawyer: “ ‘Protect me from getting involved in long-term agreements that I can’t get out of if they don’t work out.’ ” —Passman

Adrian Perry
Neema Sahni
Jonathan Sperling
Partners/co-chairs of the music industry group, Covington & Burling 

The firm works with all three of the major music groups and their respective publishing companies. Sahni, 37, says she’s most proud of the firm’s work in response to the pandemic in the past year, both within and beyond the music industry. “This has ranged from advising life-sciences companies in their efforts to develop and produce therapeutics, vaccines, diagnostics and [personal protective equipment] to assisting entertainment companies as they navigated thorny contractual and employment issues in resuming operations,” she says.

The Song That Got Me Through the Pandemic: “ ‘Lawyers, Guns and Money’ by Warren Zevon. A song about misadventure seemed pretty exotic in the midst of lockdown, where a trip to the gas station was exciting.” —Perry

Vince Phillips
Managing partner, Arrington & Phillips
Aurielle Brooks
Associate attorney, Arrington & Phillips

Phillips, 49; Brooks, 29; and their firm advocate for clients including Bow Wow, Fredo Bang, Kevin Gates, Lil Baby, Lil Keed, Mooski, Nard & B, Maaly Raw, RMR, Sukihana and YoungBoy Never Broke Again. In response to the pandemic and calls for social justice during 2020, says Phillips, “we orchestrated sending thousands of boxes of fresh produce to grocery-desert areas in Kentucky during the civil unrest taking place throughout the nation.”

Most Lasting Legacy of 2020 Will Be: “Even when everything else in the world stops, music carries on. Although other industries may have sadly become crippled from the trying times that came with 2020, the music business actually thrived, finding new ways to stream, monetize and reach passionate fans.” —Brooks

Tabetha Plummer
Attorney, Plummer Law Group

Plummer’s client list includes a wide swath of hip-hop and R&B artists spanning multiple generations, from Snoop Dogg and India.Arie to BJ the Chicago Kid and JoJo. A highlight of her work in the past year, however, involved advising Dwayne Abernathy — better known as the producer Dem Jointz — in the signing of 13-year-old Keedron Bryant after the teen’s George Floyd protest anthem, “I Just Wanna Live,” went viral, leading to a recording contract with Warner Records.

Most Lasting Legacy of 2020 Will Be: “Verzuz, D-Nice and the emergence of TikTok. Reprioritization of how to create and monetize content while touring is suspended.”

Michael Poster
Partner, Michelman & Robinson

In October, Poster, 49, counseled Vine Alternative Investments in its acquisition of DJ Calvin Harris’ song catalog for a reported $100 million. However, the lawyer, who also represents music publishers Concord and Spirit Music Group, is especially proud of Michelman & Robinson’s firmwide effort to provide its client base with “a daily flow of current, easily understandable information,” free of charge, about economic relief programs and legal matters related to the pandemic. Says Poster: “We believe it is critical that they be well-informed about the pressing issues arising out of COVID-19.”

What Young Artists Must Ask Their Lawyer: “ ‘Before I enter into a deal, what are the likely short- and long-term impacts of the transaction, and what can I do to change my position if those impacts are not what I anticipated?’ ”

Gregor Pryor
Stephen Sessa
Partners/co-chairs, global entertainment and media industry group, Reed Smith
Edward Shapiro
Partner, global entertainment and media industry group, Reed Smith

Reed Smith reports adding over 200 clients during the pandemic — including Grammy winner Jacob Collier and MelodyVR — while developing new tools for clients, including a livestreaming guide published within two weeks of the national lockdown in the United States and a tracker that logged regulatory trends affecting digital platforms. “The tracker assists our clients in identifying the complex intertwining regulatory initiatives currently in play and proposed across the U.K. and European Union,” says Pryor, 46.

What Young Artists Must Ask Their Lawyer: “In the words of Janet Jackson, ‘What have you done for me lately?’ The best clients also ask: ‘Based on your experience, what would you do if you were me?’ ”

Rollin A. Ransom
Partner, Sidley Austin

Ransom, 51, is co-leader of the global commercial litigation and disputes practice of Sidley Austin and managing partner of the Los Angeles office, and offers guidance to the RIAA and major labels. During the pandemic, he continued to serve as outside counsel to The Music Center — the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the Ahmanson Theater and the Mark Taper Forum — as the L.A. venues moved to virtual events.

Most Lasting Legacy of 2020 Will Be: “Continuing to call attention to and honor the critical contribution of artists, songwriters, producers and other professionals [who are Black, Indigenous and people of color] to the historical and ongoing evolution of the music industry.”

Berkeley Reinhold
Owner, Business and Law Office of Berkeley Reinhold

As a legal adviser to Live Nation, C3 Presents and music festivals like Lollapalooza, Reinhold saw her clients severely affected by the live-music shutdown of 2020. That’s one reason why she takes particular pride in the TV and digital negotiations she worked on for Global Citizen — including the One World: Together at Home broadcast, which she says set two Guinness World Records: “the most musical acts to perform at a remote music festival, and the most money raised for charity by a remote music festival.”

Most Crucial Issue Facing Creators: “More than ever, it’s essential that creators be educated about their ownership rights and how these are licensed and conveyed. In addition to traditional deals, there are so many exciting new platforms and business models, and it is really important to understand how to best protect your rights when exploiting lucrative opportunities.”

Jaimie Roberts
Founding partner, Roberts & Hafitz
Harry Roberts
Attorney, Roberts & Hafitz

As boundaries between the entertainment sectors continue to blur, the father-and-son team are proud to foster the firm’s growth with multihyphenate entertainers. “While music has always been our core, our clients — and our firm — are now active across all entertainment mediums,” says Jaimie, pointing to Robin Thicke’s spot as a judge on The Masked Singer, Donnie Wahlberg entering his 11th season on Blue Bloods and various upcoming projects for The Chainsmokers’ production company Kick the Habit.

Most Lasting Legacy of 2020 Will Be: “The continued growth of TikTok and its ability to catapult careers has sped up the shift of power away from major corporations and into the hands of creators.” — Jaimie Roberts

Carlos Rodriguez-Feliz
Founder/managing partner, RodFel Law

“A large part of our firm is dedicated to supporting and protecting emerging talent,” says Rodriguez-Feliz, 31. For client Rapetón Networks, the firm negotiated a joint venture with Yandel to create a platform “for increasing exposure for Latin artists from the start of their careers. I particularly enjoyed this opportunity to utilize my skills within the Latin music industry in the areas of technology, digital rights, music monetization and expanding artists’ global reach,” he says.

What Young Artists Must Ask Their Lawyer: “More questions. Emerging talent needs to learn how the music industry works and know the key players that they need on their team to successfully work with record labels, publishers, booking agents and other industry professionals.”

Angela Rogers
Owner, Rogers Law Group

Rogers says her law group expanded during the pandemic. The firm — whose clients include Pi’erre Bourne, Lil Durk, Jay Electronica, EST Gee, Shy Glizzy, Havoc, Lil Skies and Nardo Wick — “recently opened a television practice,” she says. “We now have an attorney specializing in television transactions so we can fully service our clients in both music and television.” She tells young artists who want to stay focused on their creative output, “I’m here to help them make a living doing what they love.”

Most Crucial Issue Facing Creators: “There are many distribution providers for independent artists that give access for them to upload their music directly. Therefore, it becomes highly competitive to stand out and get their music heard and marketed.”

Nick Rosenberg
Founder/principal, Rosenberg Law

In the past year, Rosenberg’s successes have included working closely with independent concert promoter Move Forward Music to negotiate a deal with Twitch; watching the debut of YouTube original series Released, hosted by Little Bacon Bear, after he encouraged her to audition for the role; and representing producers Rafeal “Audio Anthem” Brown and Anthony Kilhoffer as they landed credits on new albums from Nas and Kid Cudi, respectively. Aside from assisting current clients — a list that also includes his brother, radio/TV personality Peter Rosenberg, and rapper IDK — he’s helping educate the next generation of talent, talking with high school students over Zoom to discuss “some of the issues young creators need to think about as they begin their careers in entertainment.”

Most Crucial Issue Facing Creators: “The playing field for creators remains uneven. There are many powerful stakeholders that play a role in the recorded-music business with interests that are frequently at odds with other stakeholders. This has resulted in a complex system that makes it hard for creators to understand how they are getting paid for their work.”

Bobby Rosenbloum
Chairman, global entertainment and media practice, Greenberg Traurig
Jay L. Cooper
Founder, Los Angeles entertainment practice, Greenberg Traurig
Jess L. Rosen
Shareholder/co-chair, Atlanta entertainment and media practice, Greenberg Traurig
Paul D. Schindler
Shareholder/senior chair, New York entertainment and media practice, Greenberg Traurig

Greenberg Traurig’s global entertainment and media practice led by Rosenbloum is one of the preeminent legal teams in the music industry, with a stacked client list that includes major corporations and organizations like Spotify, TikTok, Live Nation and the Recording Academy, as well as artists ranging from Jennifer Lopez and Future to Kacey Musgraves and Miranda Lambert. The past year saw “the sale of many significant music publishing and sound recordings on behalf of artist clients as well as smaller companies, which has proved to be an important income stream, especially since touring income evaporated due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Rosenbloum.

Most Crucial Issue Facing Creators: “Understanding the value of your work in new digital exploitations, particularly given the expanding use of music in innovative online media, such as social media, fitness applications and gaming.” —Rosenbloum

Brian Schall
Chair, entertainment department, Wolf Rifkin Shapiro Schulman & Rabkin

Schall, 55, advised Christopher Braide on the sale of his catalog to Downtown Music Publishing in December. The deal involved his work with Sia — which includes titles from her breakout solo album, 1000 Forms of Fear, and the soundtrack to her film Music — as well as hits he co-wrote for Beyoncé (“God Made You Beautiful”), Lana Del Rey (“Million Dollar Man”), Selena Gomez (“Camouflage”), Halsey (“Trouble”) and Britney Spears (“Perfume”). The firm also represents acts such as Illenium, songwriter Dave Bassett and production-songwriting duo Rock Mafia.

The Song That Got Me Through the Pandemic: “ ‘Eat Sleep Rave Repeat’ by Fatboy Slim and Riva Starr. I changed the title to ‘Eat Sleep Work Repeat.’ Every day during the pandemic was the same, no matter what day of the week.”

John Seay
Partner, Carter + Woodard

Seay negotiated Priscilla Block’s recording and publishing agreements with Universal Music Group Nashville and Warner Chappell Music, respectively; Theophilus London’s recording agreement with Secretly Canadian; and of Montreal’s catalog agreement with Polyvinyl Records, among other deals. Seay, 41, says it’s more important than ever for artists to know their publishing and master rights, as “artists are aware of how valuable those assets are,” he says. “It’s not always practical to maintain ownership of those assets, but any transfer of rights should be entered into very carefully.”

What Young Artists Must Ask Their Lawyer: “ ‘Can you explain this agreement to me before I sign it?’ It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of being offered a deal.”

Michael Selverne
Managing partner, Selverne & Company

Selverne, 61, hit a professional high point when he helped Round Hill Music launch a publicly traded song-catalog royalty fund — Round Hill Music Royalty Fund — on the London Stock Exchange. The lawyer-musician also honed his artistic muscle by co-producing and mixing the album Be Still Moses by Steep Canyon Rangers & Asheville Symphony (featuring Boyz II Men), which reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Bluegrass Albums chart last April.

Most Crucial Issue Facing Creators: “Innovation and sustainability. So much music is now a soliloquy with a producer in a room with Ableton talking to themselves. What keeps music fluid is the conversation between artists in the writing and recording process.”

Nyanza Shaw
Owner/managing attorney, Shaw Esquire

Shaw cites two independent clients who she says “thrived” during the pandemic with her guidance. She helped negotiate a Lexus brand deal for singer-actor Trevor Jackson and secured a seven-figure deal for rapper-mailman Bfb Da Packman with The Lunch Crew Company after a label bidding war following his viral hit “Free Joe Exotic” (featuring Sada Baby), which reached over 33 million views on YouTube. “Bfb Da Packman is such a talented, smart and super-hardworking artist,” says Shaw. “It is a pleasure to see him win.”

What Young Artists Must Ask Their Lawyer: “There is no risk in an artist soliciting a music lawyer’s advice. Most lawyers will not charge for an initial consultation, and if they do, then you probably shouldn’t be working with that lawyer.”

Daniel Shulman
Owen Sloane
Andrew Tavel
Partners, Eisner

Eisner helped its clients earn money in areas other than touring “to compensate for the loss of live revenue,” says Sloane. Tavel says the music community showed up during the pandemic “when the country needed them the most, whether raising significant dollars for charitable needs or performing virtually in many different configurations to lift everyone’s spirits.”

Most Crucial Issue Facing Creators: “How to turn two minutes of TikTok fame into a long-lasting career. Success and sustain should remain the goal, not just that initial seven-figure check.” —Tavel

Simran A. Singh
Managing partner, Singh Singh & Trauben
Christopher R. Navarro
Partner, Singh Singh & Trauben

Singh Singh’s recent achievements include negotiating recording and publishing deals for clients such as Natti Natasha; Pina Records’ new album agreement with Sony Music Latin; Ozuna’s publishing deal with Kobalt and multi-album deal with Sony Entertainment; and Rauw Alejandro, Chris Jedi and Gaby Music’s publishing agreements with Warner Chappell. Singh, 42, also executive-produced the 2020 Netflix program Selena: The Series, which chronicled the life of the late Mexican American star Selena Quintanilla and “was No. 1 in multiple countries, including the United States,” he says.

The Song That Got Me Through the Pandemic: “ ‘Baby Shark,’ because my son would make my wife and I dance to this every day during the lockdown.” —Navarro

Stanton “Larry” Stein
Partner/head of media and entertainment, Russ August & Kabat
Diana Sanders
Senior associate, media and entertainment, Russ August & Kabat

In September, Russ August & Kabat reached a settlement in an action brought against Vivendi, Universal Music Group and StudioCanal on behalf of This Is Spinal Tap co-creators Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Rob Reiner and Harry Shearer. The suit related to “complicated copyright termination and accounting issues associated with the film’s sound recordings and soundtrack album,” says Stein. (The settlement amount was not disclosed.) The Los Angeles-based firm also represents Mary J. Blige, Simon Cowell, Drake, Post Malone and TikTok star Chase “Lil Huddy” Hudson.

What Young Artists Must Ask Their Lawyer: “What could be the long-term effects from the early agreements they sign.” —Stein

Rachel Stilwell
Founder, Stilwell Law

Stilwell — whose clients include songwriter-producer Darrell Brown, LeAnn Rimes and singer-songwriter Al B. Sure! — led advocacy meetings with members of Congress and representatives of the recording industry during the pandemic to argue for financial relief and fair pay for music creators. On behalf of the musicFIRST Coalition and the Future of Music Coalition, Stilwell offered comments to the Federal Communications Commission regarding discrepancies in music licensing between audio delivery platforms that were later cited in the FCC’s Communications Marketplace Report to Congress.

Most Lasting Legacy of 2020 Will Be: “Audiences’ pent-up demand to see live concerts — and the start of the implementation of the Music Modernization Act.”

Michael Sukin
President, Sukin Law Group

Sukin Law Group has helped negotiate some of the largest sales in music publishing — including Universal Music Group’s $2.2 billion acquisition of Bertelsmann/BMG Music in 2006 — and the coronavirus did not slow it down. Sukin cites the May 2020 sale of “iconic, world-famous music publishing company Shapiro Bernstein,” which included over 16,000 copyrights and titles by The Beatles, Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra, to Reservoir “for maximum price at the height of the pandemic and the bottom of the stock market.” The firm has represented Charles Aznavour, The Rolling Stones, the estate of George Gershwin and the creators and rights holders for classic American musicals from Man of La Mancha to Porgy and Bess.

The Songs That Got Me Through the Pandemic: “Harry Chapin’s ‘All My Life’s a Circle,’ because it is, and George Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue.’ ”

Ron Sweeney
Founder/owner, Ron Sweeney and Company/Digital Disruption Entertainment

Across four decades as a music attorney, Sweeney, 67, has represented Clarence Avant, James Brown, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, DMX and Lil Wayne/Young Money, among others. In 2020, he stepped up as an adviser to the Black Music Artists Coalition, commenting last spring that he had initiated talks with the chairmen of every music company “to hold them accountable for the meaningful and sustainable changes required to end the systemic racism that exists in our industry.” At his firm, during the year of the pandemic, he said recently, “We realized we should work to live and not live to work.”

Most Lasting Legacy of 2020 Will Be: “An artist must diversify so they are not dependent on touring income to support their lifestyles.”

Stephanie Taylor
Attorney/owner, Taylor Guttmann

Taylor’s firm reimagined the concert experience during the pandemic for The Caverns, a concert venue known for hosting Bluegrass Underground in a cave at the base of Tennessee’s Cumberland Mountains. “We worked as a team to create an above-ground, outdoor amphitheater adjacent to the cave venue,” says Taylor, who guided the legal protocols for the endeavor, which already has booked multiple sold-out concerts in 2021. “The Caverns was among the first venues in the country to launch a pod-based model with four sold-out Jason Isbell shows.”

Most Lasting Legacy of 2020 Will Be: “We will all forever cherish the live-music experience. I’m going to shed a tear or two next time I’m in a good bluegrass jam, sitting in a circle, fiddle in hand.”

Adam Van Straten
Principal, Van Straten Solicitors

Amid last year’s publishing-rights sales frenzy, Van Straten’s firm advised KT Tunstall and Leo Sayer on partial catalog acquisitions by Primary Wave. The firm “always finds time for emerging talent,” too, says Van Straten, and after Scottish singer Nathan Evans’ sea shanty renditions went viral on TikTok, the firm closed his record deal with Polydor in just 24 hours. “He was a postman one day and topping charts globally the next,” he says, adding of his firm: “Despite being small in size, we continue to punch above our weight and provide the key services that our clients require.”

What Young Artists Must Ask Their Lawyer: “All young artists need clear, impartial advice from their lawyers as to how the business works so that they are better able to manage their expectations.”

Doug Wigdor
Founding partner, Wigdor

Wigdor, 52, represents former Recording Academy president/CEO Deborah Dugan, whose suit against the organization over her 2020 dismissal remains in arbitration negotiations. Dugan’s case helped bring about “a renewed focus on diversity, equity and inclusion,” he says. “Her complaint shined a spotlight on how women and people of color are often completely excluded from rooms where important decisions are made.”

Most Lasting Legacy of 2020 Will Be: “A renewed focus on diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Richard Wolfe
Senior partner, Wolfe Law Miami

With what he describes as a “self-deprecating” courtroom demeanor that jurors “eat up,” Wolfe, 62, is a go-to litigator for top artists and executives when it comes to touchy cases. Recent achievements: He obtained a dismissal of claims against Yandel by his former manager and litigated complaints for Maluma, T-Pain, Wisin, independent label/management firm Big Ligas, catalog company Essential Media and Menudo’s trademark owner. Wolfe notes that his financial skills as a former certified public accountant come in handy for cases where “everything comes down to dollars and cents.”

What Young Artists Must Ask Their Lawyer: “The difference between net and gross, and explain all the deductions to my revenue stream.”

Andrea Yankovsky
Founder, Yankovsky Law

Yankovsky helped launch the OutHouse Counsel program in 2020 to provide creatives with “the same kind of access to legal counsel that the big labels and publishers have in-house,” she says. “With ongoing, consistent counsel, we can take a much more proactive approach to deal-making, strategic partnerships and positioning, and packaging intellectual property.” The firm also closed a number of deals for its clients including Sonicly’s launch of its fan-funding platform for music creators, Jane Ira Bloom’s deals with NativeDSD and Immersive Audio Album, and Jim Anderson and Ulrike Schwarz’s agreement for recording and mixing the Judas and the Black Messiah score.

What Young Artists Must Ask Their Lawyer: “All too often an artist or business only consults a lawyer when they think it really matters. Traditional hourly billing makes it even more difficult. Many law firms, including ours, are changing their billing practices so that starting out doesn’t mean second-rate legal.”

Helen Yu
Principal, Yu Leseberg

Yu reports that her firm handled legal agreements for songs contained on 25% of the top 20 most-sold albums of 2020. The tracks included Ariana Grande’s “Safety Net” and Eminem’s “Favorite Bitch,” which featured her client Ty Dolla $ign. Another client, Jess Jackson, produced four songs for the late rapper Pop Smoke, along with 32 tracks from his posthumous release Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon, which she says “went No. 1 worldwide and dominated the charts for half the year.”

Most Lasting Legacy of 2020 Will Be: “How the music business became the voice of change in driving diversity and inclusion. It was always very male and white-dominated, but for real change to be implemented, we need to hire people of diverse ethnicities, gender, race and sexual orientation.”

Adam Zia
Founder, The Zia Firm

Among the client achievements that Zia, 42, celebrated in the past year were Machine Gun Kelly’s first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 with Tickets to My Downfall, Starrah’s sharing the Grammy Award for best rap song as co-writer of Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage,” Tierra Whack’s creating and starring in her own Apple commercial and Polo G’s sophomore album, The Goat, going platinum. He has seen his firm expand from “a solo practice to a rapidly growing boutique with a diverse staff that is inclusionary of race, culture, gender and sexuality,” which Zia says has allowed it to “break the barriers and stigmas of what a music lawyer ‘looks like.’ ”

Most Crucial Issue Facing Creators: “Ownership and what role that plays in the deals artists make — from record deals to publishing deals to even brand deals, where the artist is creating designs and coming up with ideas and products.”

Leslie Jose Zigel
Partner/chair, entertainment, media and technology industry group, Greenspoon Marder

Zigel, whose firm represents a deep roster of Latin talent — including Ana Gabriel, Sergio George, Alejandra Guzmán, Arthur Hanlon, Maffio, Mario, Pitbull, Carlos Vives, The Wailers and Wisin — kept active in managing pandemic protocol for TV and festival clients. He has been involved in projects such as the documentary Jimmy Carter: Rock and Roll President; John Leguizamo’s directorial debut film, Critical Thinking; Univision’s toprated show Enamorandonos; and the III Points Festival planned for October in Miami. “Adaptation must include novel strategies and partnership-building across the board, including with governmental agencies,” he says.

Most Crucial Issue Facing Creators: “Survival. Lockdowns have forced artists to adapt [with] new avenues for creative expression. However, adaptation must include partnership-building across the board.”

Contributors: Rich Appel, Cathy Applefeld Olson, Megan Armstrong, Chuck Arnold, Katie Bain, Steve Baltin, Alexei Barrionuevo, Karen Bliss, Lars Brandle, Dave Brooks, Dean Budnick, Anna Chan, Ed Christman, Tatiana Cirisano, Leila Cobo, Jonathan Cohen, Mariel Concepcion, Stephen Daw, Frank DiGiacomo, Thom Duffy, Deborah Evans Price, Griselda Flores, Adrienne Gaffney, Gab Ginsberg, Josh Glicksman, Gary Graff, Paul Grein, Lyndsey Havens, Cherie Hu, J’na Jefferson, Gil Kaufman, Steve Knopper, Juliana Koranteng, Katy Kroll, Carl Lamarre, Joe Levy, Jason Lipshutz, Joe Lynch, Heran Mamo, Geoff Mayfield, Gail Mitchell, Mia Nazareno, Melinda Newman, Paula Parisi, Glenn Peoples, Bryan Reesman, Jessica Roiz, Claudia Rosenbaum, Dan Rys, Micah Singleton, Richard Smirke, Eric Spitznagel, Jaelani Turner-Williams, Andrew Unterberger, Christine Werthman, Natelegé Whaley, Jewel Wicker, Deborah Wilker, Nick Williams, Stereo Williams, Xander Zellner

Methodology: Nominations for Billboard power lists open not less than 120 days in advance of publication. (For a contact for our editorial calendar listing publication dates, please email thom.duffy@billboard.com.) The online nomination link is sent to press representatives and/or honorees of companies previously featured on any Billboard power list, as well as those who send a request to thom.duffy@billboard.com. Nominations close and lists are locked not less than 90 days before publication. Billboard’s Top Music Lawyers for 2020 were chosen by editors based on factors including, but not limited to, nominations by peers, colleagues and superiors. In-house counsel were limited to the companies shown. Otherwise, Top Music Lawyers focused on outside counsel. In addition to information requested with nominations, editors consider the attorneys’ representation of clients with notable music industry impact. That impact is measured by metrics including, but not limited to, chart, sales and streaming performance as measured by MRC Data and social media impressions using data available as of Feb. 15.


Leading Law Schools Of The Top Music Lawyers

The most frequently cited alma maters of the 2020 class of honorees.

Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University (New York)
Enrollment: 925

Columbia Law School, Columbia University (New York)
Enrollment: 1,244

Fordham University School of Law (New York)
Enrollment: 1,093

Harvard Law School, Harvard University (Cambridge, Mass.)
Enrollment: 1,740

New York Law School (New York)
Enrollment: 872

New York University School of Law (New York)
Enrollment: 1,379

Southwestern Law School (Los Angeles)
Enrollment: 611

University of California, Berkeley, School of Law (Berkeley, Calif.)
Enrollment: 986

University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law (Los Angeles)
Enrollment: 975

University of Southern California Gould School of Law (Los Angeles)
Enrollment: 590

Enrollments source: U.S. News & World Reports

This article originally appeared in the April 3, 2021, issue of Billboard.


Credit: Original article published here.

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