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THE BUILDERS:
JOEL KATZ

Chairman, Global Entertainment + Media, Greenberg Traurig

Clients: Willie Nelson, Michael Jackson Estate, Jimmy Buffett, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Coca-Cola

Highlights: Spent the last two years working with UMA (United Music Agency) on licensing agreements with UMG, Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music, thereby ending music piracy in Russia. Established the African Music Institute with the Berklee College of Music, drawing students from 14 African nations. Negotiated the McGraw, Hill and McGraw-Hill contract with Sony. Negotiated Willie Nelson’s Lifetime deal with Legacy. Negotiated the Monument Records return on behalf of Jason Owen and Shane McAnally. Chairman of the Board, TJ Martell.




How have changes in Nashville in recent years affected you?
I’ve been doing this for 40 years. I may have a different view of Nashville, which used to be a hillbilly town with hillbillies making music. It’s changed to a very sophisticated city with many creative people all coming there to make music, because former mayor Karl Dean and current mayor Megan Barry are running it to make a cultural entertainment center.

How does country music achieve a wider global audience?
Over the last 15 years, country has become America’s pop music. I believe it should be exported as that, because it makes the music more available to the minds and tastes of Europeans. There’s a great deal of interest in things that are American, things that are pop music. Even in China and Russia. Garth pushed the envelope in Ireland, England, Germany. BMG having a country label says something. Take the festivals, put them on television and create demand for these artists just like pop stars.

How will streaming affect Nashville going forward?
There’s going to be a renaissance, making music available. Investment companies and private equity firms are looking to the entertainment business, including music, as a place to invest. Country music is one of the few places where artists have 30-year careers, which is extraordinary. The artists put out more music and tour more frequently than acts in rock, pop and R&B—and they endure.

What big changes do you see on the horizon?
We’re going to see much more sophisticated touring systems, more big shows, big attendance shows. Kenny Chesney has artfully done this. He’s kept his audience secure and coming out to big shows. Louis Messina has been doing some things that really have changed what’s possible.

I think there’s more of a blend of producers, including some you’d call “pop,” moving to Nashville. Ron Fair is one of them. I remember the most important recording artists getting $75,000 for a record. Now they can receive millions of dollars. The whole base of economics and touring has changed, the branding of these artists and how they exhibit themselves.

What are the constants amid all this change?
The Willie Nelson Picnics are still happening, and Farm Aid. I hope the older country artists, who were fantastic, endure. There was never a singer like George Jones, or a Willie Nelson, who’s still making great music; I hope Merle Haggard is never forgotten.

Even Johnny Paycheck or David Allen Coe—they were unique. They were great, great characters. I was at The Country Music Hall of Fame talking to Kyle Young recently, telling stories.

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