Music Lawyers Who Matter

For these 5 top dealmakers, working with the greats means making contracts sing for everyone from Streisand to Santana.

John Branca
Ziffren Brittenham

Branca reps an astounding 29 members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, including The Rolling Stones, Carlos Santana, The Beach Boys, Fleetwood Mac, The Bee Gees and The Doors. The onetime musician, who collects Ferraris, also consulted for Sony on the $2.2 billion purchase of EMI Music Publishing and serves as the co-executor of the Michael Jackson estate, for which he has helped generate hundreds of millions of dollars via innovative deals for ventures like the Michael Jackson Immortal world tour, the No. 1 touring show in North American history. My legal philosophy: "At the expense of sounding like Charlie Sheen: Winning."

Eric Greenspan
Myman Greenspan Fineman Fox Rosenberg & Light

With two longtime clients inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year (Red Hot Chili Peppers and Slash), Greenspan proves that three-plus decades of experience bridging old-school strategy with future-forward reinvention is the path to longevity. His firm also reps hot young pop star Justin Bieber and multihyphenate Jennifer Lopez. Most satisfying career moment: "Moving the Chili Peppers from Sony's EMI to Warner Bros. in 1990." They have since sold 65 million records.

Joel Katz
Greenberg Traurig

Representing music legends (James Brown and Willie Nelson, among them) and two of music's biggest awards shows -- the Grammys and the CMAs -- Atlanta-based Katz leads an army of 78 entertainment lawyers at one of the industry's biggest firms. The goal, says Katz, who sold his practice to Greenberg Traurig more than a decade ago, is to "have a global entertainment firm." At this year's Grammys, Katz was tasked with clearing rights for songs used during a last-minute tribute for Whitney Houston, who had died the night before. "It's Saturday night in L.A., how do you get the licenses? Who do you talk to? But we got all the licenses done." Best perk: Recording Academy work means Katz gets prime seats at the Grammys, but he rarely takes advantage. "Unfortunately, most of my time is spent backstage handling problems."

Don Passman
Gang Tyre Ramer & Brown

Passman wrote the book on the music industry. His All You Need to Know About the Music Business, now in its seventh edition, draws on his years of experience. During the '90s, Passman negotiated two of the largest signings ever -- R.E.M. with Warner Bros. and Janet Jackson with Virgin/EMI. How I get leverage: "It comes from relationships and from sophistication -- knowing what to ask and how to ask for it and presenting what you want in a way that's compelling."

Lee Phillips
Manatt, Phelps & Phillips

Phillips' track record goes back to Sonny and Cher in the 1960s and Bill Cosby in the 1970s. He's still representing the multihyphenates, recently renegotiating Barbra Streisand's Columbia Records contract that will keep Babs at the same label for an amazing 50 years. Most satisfying moment: Phillips has repped American Idol judge Randy Jackson since 1984, when he was the bass player in Journey. "It's satisfying because I just adore the guy."

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