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JOEL KATZ IS READY FOR HIS CLOSE-UP

Joel A. Katz, Chair, Global Entertainment and Media Practice for the law firm of Greenberg Traurig, will receive the City of Hope’s 2016 Spirit of Life Award at a gala on 11/10 in Los Angeles. We tracked him down in his Atlanta office to discuss his charity work and the issues that are impacting today’s music business.



How did this honor come about?
This is the first time they have offered it to me, and it was offered to me by a friend of about 45 years—someone you really can’t say no to—my friend Irving Azoff. Irving called and said, “You’ve made many contributions over the last 25 years, and I’d like to give you this.” We’ve been contributors for many years and I admired many of the previous honorees—they’re all friends. Charles Goldstuck, Doug Morris, Rob Light, Eddie Cue.

What other charities are you active with?
I’m involved very much with the TJ Martell Foundation. I was Tony’s lawyer while he was at CBS [Records] and Sony Music. In Atlanta, we do a dinner for them every year, and I’m still on the board. We do some things for the Winship Cancer Institute here in Atlanta, which is part of Emory University’s hospital. I’m very active in the Country Music Hall of Fame and am an adviser to that organization. And I am general counsel on the Grammys; I’ve being involved with the Recording Academy basically for a dollar a year and have been for about 30 years.

Why do you think the music industry is so consistently involved with charity?
I think it a charitable group of people who feel blessed to be involved in this industry. The business people, of course, get the chance to deal with so many creative people, and we all make a pretty good living being involved with people who are supremely interesting. I think the industry has been extraordinarily generous.

How did you build your company?
We built a business that is a little different from other law firms. We have lawyers in nine offices covering new media and entertainment; we have almost 80 lawyers doing this. I began as one person in Atlanta, then quickly grew as a regional business with clients like Willie Nelson and George Strait and Jimmy Buffett. And James Brown. Our business grew, and in 1998, we were acquired by a firm of about 220 lawyers, which now has 2,000 lawyers, which was Greenberg Traurig.

Your company bio refers to you as “the dealmaker who thinks outside the box.” What do you see are the challenges that require you to think outside the box now?
Many of the challenges, first of all, are caused by technology. Record companies controlled the creative and the distribution and the advent of mobility has changed that. I remember cassettes, I remember 8-tracks and I remember Black Friday at CBS, when Walter Yetnikoff diminished the staff by 25% when he feared something called the compact disc. He should have hired 25% more people. Everything has changed because distribution is not controlled by the record companies and is instead in the hands of independent companies like Apple, etc.

What’s your take on digital distribution?
Deals are in a constant mode of change because the distribution is constantly changing, I think [stream-ing] companies need to make profits because every company has to make a profit and has to have a way to survive. New distribution entities like Spotify are not making money—they’re surviving on outside investors’ money. Eventually they have to make money because investors will stop putting in money. It’s just a question of time and I think that time is rapidly coming.

In this new model, does an artist ever have any leverage? What about a new artist—do they ever have leverage in a deal with label?
Great talent—simple as that. If you have great talent, you will have competitive companies looking to sign you. That’s leverage.

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