Interview: Julie Farman
It’s no great shocker that Eric Greenspan and Aaron Rosenberg of Myman Greenspan Fineman Fox Rosenberg & Light regularly turn up on lists of the most powerful attorneys in the entertainment business—they represent myriad superstar artists as well as a formidable crew of label execs, including Steve Berman, Joel Klaiman, Rob Stevenson, Lee Leipsner, Dennis Blair, Gary Spangler, Todd Glassman, Wendy Goldstein, Jacqueline Saturn, Aaron Bay-Schuck, Brandon Creed, Dominic Pandiscia, Mike Flynn, Ethiopia Habtemariam and Karen Kwak. Greenspan, who’s long been one of the most respected attorneys in the music industry (repping such acts as the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Christina Aguilera), has broadened his practice to include prominent chefs (Giada D’Laurentiis, for starters), as well as film luminaries like screenwriting phenom David Koepp (Spiderman, Mission Impossible), while Rosenberg, regularly described as "the newest hotshot lawyer in town" continues to grow his reputation via clients including Justin Bieber and John Legend. Both give considerable credit to the firm, with Greenspan pointing out the contributions of his partners and the expertise of MGFFR&L’s deep bench of nine attorneys who specialize in film and TV, and both attribute their success not only to what they know but to who they know. In an industry where it’s as much about legal chops as it is about relationships, Greenspan and Rosenberg have it gloriously covered.
Given that you come from two different landscapes in terms of the entertainment industry, what are the benefits of working together?
EG: We have a number of outstanding attorneys at our firm, and they all bring different skillsets to the firm. When Aaron joined the partnership, it complemented the skillsets of my long-term partners like Jeffrey Light and Francois Mobasser. Although his musical interests are different and a complement to our existing client base, the similarities, rather than the differences, are apparent.

I came from a large corporate firm with an entertainment practice that was run by real heavy hitters. The junior lawyers there had a reputation for being gofers and timekeepers focused on churning hourly bills; the firm wasn’t looking for a younger generation to grow business, they were only looking for them to service existing client accounts. Here, at every generation level, we have attorneys who contribute to the overall business practices. It’s not all about one person; everyone brings something to the table. It’s a real team mentality.

What about executives? How do you determine who you’re going to work with?

AR: We prefer ambitious and aggressive clients, but try to steer clear of those who have unrealistic expectations—any schmo can ask for the sun, the moon and the stars. We look for clients with a real plan for success.

Our clients know that we have specific knowledge, and that’s what they come to us for. We can tell our clients what we think is appropriate, what the market will bear and what we think we can get.

Doesn’t representing artists and label executives sometimes create a conflict of interest?
EG: I think that’s a misnomer. When we represent an executive, we’re negotiating the executive’s deal with a company; when we represent an artist, we’re negotiating an artist’s deal with the company and not with the A&R executive. The only time there’s a conflict is when we represent two executives at two different companies who both want to sign the same artist. It is a not a legal conflict per se, because the executives understand—hopefully—that we’re just trying to do what is best in the particular circumstances for that client.

As Jews, we generally have a lot of experience in internalizing and dealing with guilt. In the instance of repping artists and execs, though, Eric’s right that it’s not a conflict per se. Our client John Legend had his biggest hit to-date with Rob Stringer and our client Joel Klaiman at the helm of Columbia Records. But Eric is right that some of our exec clients put us in the doghouse when they lose out in a signing derby for an artist client—and it can make for some difficult seating arrangements when hosting industry functions.

For the lawyers that operate at the top of our business, the currency isn’t solely legal acumen, although that is the most important thing—but it’s also about relationships. You rely on those relationships when it comes to negotiating points or terms. Those relationships are the backbone of the business. If we represent a band that needs extra money, or an additional advance, it helps that I can call someone who’s a client. It doesn’t mean that they are going to give it to us, it just means we that we’re going to get a fair hearing. That’s not a conflict at all.
Since we’re talking about conflict, Aaron, you represent Justin Bieber. That’s got to be difficult, given that he gets so much attention from the media.
AR: The biggest challenge is the amount that’s out there that’s just not true. It’s shocking how press outlets will pick up and run items that are patently false. We keep very, very busy sending out cease-and-desist letters and coordinating legal action with his litigators. Listen, it’s obviously difficult growing up in the public eye for anyone —that’s nothing new—but at the end of the day, those of us who know the real Justin know that he’s a truly kind and compassionate young man and an extremely talented musician. The next chapter for him is going to be one of real growth, and the music will speak for itself.

How involved are you in seeking out opportunities for your clients that aren’t strictly about music?

EG: It’s rewarding, and we like to do it and it is good for our clients, but we’re not engaged to obtain licensing deals for our clients. We’re in the business of adding value. We have relationships at the highest levels, so if we can put artists with brands or brands with artists, by all means we take advantage of that. That’s part of what sets us apart from the pack.

It goes back to relationships. The thing is, part of what we do best is to be modern-day yentas for our clients—establishing the right blueprint for their goals and objectives and putting them with the right partners to help them execute that blueprint.

What do you look for in a label deal?

EG: The truth is that, first and foremost, we’re looking for the most enthusiastic label partner—it’s about what’s on paper and what’s not on paper. As lawyers, we all analyze many factors, including the length of the term, the most lucrative front- and back-end deals, and all of the bells and whistles, like discretionary marketing funds and tour support, and the stability of the label. Who’s going to do the most for an artist’s career?

That said, sometimes it’s not even about a label deal. More and more of our clients are finding success outside of the label system, and it may be that the best label deal for a client is to not do one at all. The landscape here is changing. Rapidly.

What about 360s?
AR: What about them? At this stage, it takes so much time, money and manpower to break an act, it’s understandable that a label would want a piece of multiple revenue streams. We have a hard time, though, with label partners that feel entitled to the share without really investing the time, money and manpower—and we have had great success in making sure that our clients’ deals are structured in a way that ensures that label commitment.

As for 360s, to use a food analogy, we don’t object to a record company taking a taste of ancillary income, but not the whole meal. A deal that’s too good for one party is not good for the either party, and there must be a balance in labels financial objectives and the band’s career. It’s a battleground right now.
What are your thoughts about revenue splits with the streaming media services?
EG: Artists must receive their fair share of revenue for streaming services. There is very little transparency. Labels have been receiving significant advances from those streaming services, and the artists generally do not have the right to share in those advances until they are earned. There is no reason why artists could not participate in those advances. For over 100 years ASCAP and BMI have established a methodology to distribute revenue from public performance income, and there’s no reason that labels couldn’t establish a similar methodology. The labels have a vested interest to increase the advances they receive that they don’t share with the artists at the expense of higher royalties, which they do share with the artists. This may or may not be the case, but absent transparency, the artists can only speculate on the structures of those deals.

We recognize that at some point in the near future consumers will be able to receive whatever music they want on whatever device they want, and artists must receive their fair share. Companies like Pandora have taken the position that they do not have to pay royalties for pre-1962 recordings, and that is unconscionable. Streaming companies, labels and artists should have a seat at the table so our business can continue sustain and flourish.

This is our firm’s hot-button issue.

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