Power Lawyers 2017: Hollywood's Top Music Business Attorneys

6:00 AM 4/26/2017

by THR Staff

Eleven pros whose clients range from Adele to Beyonce to John Legend.

Joel Katz, Dina LaPolt and Kenny Meiselas
Joel Katz, Dina LaPolt and Kenny Meiselas
Courtesy Photos

Profiles written by Ashley Cullins, Mia Galuppo, Gary Graff, Steve Knopper, Robert Levine, Gail Mitchell, Melinda Newman and Kate Stanhope. 

  • John Branca

    Ziffren Brittenham | UCLA

    Bryan Steffy/Getty Images

    If there's ever a musical based on the late King of Pop's catalog, Branca would be the legal mastermind behind it. He spends much of his time managing the Michael Jackson estate, including building on last year's sale of its interest in Sony ATV for $750 million. "There are a number of things one can imagine in the future, without confirming, announcing or denying — a Broadway play, a biopic, some others things," Branca says. "We do things we love and we think Michael would love." He also represents more than 30 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees or their estates, including The Doors, Carlos Santana, Janis Joplin and Otis Redding. "Authenticity is the key," Branca says. "You have to stay true to who the artist is, or was."

  • Allen Grubman

    Grubman, Shire & Meiselas | Brooklyn Law

    Larry Busacca/Getty Images

    Once exclusively focused on music, and clients like Bruce Springsteen and Madonna, Grubman has adapted to the post-Napster digital era by expanding his practice to include film and TV. The firm that bears his name is also headed in that direction, working with Facebook, Spotify and Book of Mormon Broadway producer Scott Rudin. "The superstars now, like the Bruces and Madonnas and Stings and U2s, they're generating an enormous amount of money from their live performances and endorsements," he says. “The issues have changed — as these new sources of revenue become very, very important, that requires additional negotiation."

  • Joel Katz

    Greenberg Traurig | Tennessee

    Courtesy Photo

    CBS will be the home of the Grammys for the next decade, all thanks to Katz. The Atlanta-based lawyer was the architect behind the $600 million, 10-year pact between the Recording Academy and the broadcast network. He also negotiated the sale of ownership in Sony/ATV on behalf of the Michael Jackson estate and negotiated a historic licensing agreement that allows, for the first time ever, Russians to license music from international music rights holders UMG, Warner Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment.

  • David Lande

    Ziffren Brittenham | UPenn

    Courtesy of John O'Boyle

    When Beyonce needs legal advice, she turns to Lande, who structured and negotiated the deal for Queen Bey's most recent visual album Lemonade to debut on HBO — with special viewing windows, followed by exclusive distribution on Tidal — and oversaw all material agreements for the Formation Concert Stadium Tour, one of the top 20 highest-grossing tours of all time. The UPenn grad also handles deals for superstar Justin Timberlake, which this year included the sale of health drink Bai Beverages (the *NSYNC alum is a part owner) to Dr. Pepper, and the creation of the Pilgrimage Festival, a music and cultural event that's set in his home state of Tennessee.

  • Dina LaPolt

    LaPolt Law | John F. Kennedy University

    Courtesy Photo

    LaPolt signed pop superstar Britney Spears last year, adding to an already impressive client roster that includes electronic music icon deadmau5, girl group Fifth Harmony and Aerosmith's Steven Tyler. She recently inked an RCA record deal for Kirstin Maldonado, the only female in the Grammy-winning a cappella group Pentatonix, and assembled the singer's solo management team. (Maldonado's first single drops in May.) The music lawyer is currently shopping a reality series for client Eddie Money — tentatively titled Real Money — about the rocker's life at home with his wife, five musical children and small herd of dogs. Her songwriter advocacy work also continues, as she tries to help artists navigate the uncertain waters where technological innovation meets antiquated laws. "There's no rules," she says. "It's the wild wild west. Everything is a negotiation."

  • Christine Lepera

    Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp | New York Law

    Courtesy of Alex Kaplan Photography

    Lepera made news last year representing Dr. Luke in his dispute with Kesha, who accused the producer of sexually assaulting her. A New York judge denied a preliminary injunction that would have released Kesha from her recording contract with Luke’s (now former) label and dismissed her abuse claims; Kesha is appealing. "He vehemently denies the allegations and he wants to restore his reputation," Lepera says of Luke, who is suing the singer for defamation and breach of contract. Lepera also is representing Timbaland in the copyright fight over "Big Pimpin'," which will soon be argued in the Ninth Circuit. She doesn't only know music law, she knows the tunes themselves — and has performed onstage with former client Dickey Betts.

  • Kenny Meiselas

    Grubman, Shire & Meiselas | Hofstra

    Courtesy Photo

    Meiselas is the man with the plan to pair his clients with brands. He matched The Weeknd with Puma, Bacardi and H&M — and Lady Gaga with Tiffany (not to mention negotiating her Super Bowl, Coachella and A Star Is Born contracts). "The diversity of the branding is an example of what the current music business is about," says New York-based Meiselas. Though many acts once shied away from such corporate associations, he says it's worth it "as long as the branding opportunity is consistent with who they are as artists." Developing clients that Meiselas calls "potential superstars in the making" are Bebe Rexha — the go-to guest vocalist for G-Eazy, David Guetta and Martin Garrix — and Republic Records' Stanaj.

  • Don Passman

    Gang, Tyre, Ramer & Brown | Harvard

    Mark Sullivan/WireImage

    Passman wrote the book on the music industry — literally. His All You Need to Know About the Music Business, now in its ninth edition, has become the go-to reference for musicians. He won't talk about his A-list clients, who are said to include Adele, Taylor Swift and Stevie Wonder. Although both Adele and Swift were Spotify holdouts, Passman says creators have a bright future in a business increasingly dominated by streaming. "I think we're at the beginning of the ascent," Passman says. "And as streaming grows, artists will get more bargaining power." Naturally, that will figure into the next iteration of his book — the 10th edition comes out next year.

  • Peter Paterno

    King, Holmes, Paterno & Soriano | UCLA

    Courtesy Photo

    In addition to being the real-life counsel for some of the world's biggest music stars, Paterno also occasionally plays a music lawyer on TV. He showed up in Metallica's classic documentary Some Kind of Monster, 30 Seconds to Mars frontman Jared Leto's Artifact, and he'll appear in HBO's The Defiant Ones, about Apple Music exec Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre, which is due out later this year. "I'm typecast," says Paterno, who in 2016 put together the spring Game of Thrones tour and Metallica's summer run.

  • L. Lee Phillips

    Manatt, Phelps & Phillips | Cornell

    Courtesy Photo

    Phillips' recent business for his rolodex of musical talents includes brokering Smokey Robinson's multimillion-dollar pact with Primary Wave Entertainment that includes rights to "My Girl" and "Cruisin'." The dealmaker also negotiated clothing and eyewear deals for American Idol alum Randy Jackson and orchestrated new publishing deals for Steve Perry and Kenny Loggins, the former with BMG Rights Management and the latter an extension at Universal Music Group. Last — but far from least — Phillips negotiated additional performance dates for Barbra Streisand's recent U.S. tour, which coincided with the August release of her latest album. The final box office gross? A cool $46 million.

  • Aaron Rosenberg

    Myman Greenspan Fineman Fox Rosenberg & Light | Harvard

    Greg Doherty/Getty Images

    With a superstar roster that includes Justin Bieber, Future, Meghan Trainor, Ariana Grande and Jason Derulo, Rosenberg is cementing his status as one of the music industry's next-gen young guns. Over the past 12 months, the Harvard Law-educated attorney renegotiated John Legend's Columbia Records contract and counseled him in connection with his musical work on La La Land. Rosenberg also handled the legal logistics for the 2016 all-star charity single "Hands" — featuring Britney Spears, Pink and Selena Gomez, among others — which benefited the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando.

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