Julie Swidler, Sony Music Entertainment’s top lawyer, dealmaker and policy formulator, is a powerhouse, with an unassailable reputation among her peers. Perhaps less well known is how personally engaged she is in the world in which she works. The native New Yorker is a lifelong music lover who took great pleasure in her extracurricular activities as a singer, radio DJ and talent booker as a college undergrad. She got a close-up view of Woodstock ’94 as the fest’s lead counsel from her trailer office just behind one of the two stages, and she was onstage for Crosby, Stills & Nash’s set. She looks back on solving the myriad logistical puzzles of that event as a great career accomplishment.

The Long Island native—born Julie Greifer—has been passionate about music for as long as she can remember, dating back to the time her dad returned from an overseas business trip with a U.K. pressing of The Beatles’ just-released Rubber Soul, which she treasured throughout her childhood. While studying political science at Union College, she was a DJ for the school’s radio station, WRUC, hosting what she described as “a pretty eclectic show. I played everything from Hot Tuna to Bruce Springsteen to old rock ’n’ roll, and some jazz that was popular at the time, like Chuck Mangione. And then I’d throw in The Supremes.”

Swidler also ran the campus coffeehouse, for which she booked live entertainment. She toyed with the idea of singing professionally after college but soon realized that wasn’t a realistic option. “Unless you have a voice like Whitney Houston or Vanessa Williams, you have to write your own songs,” she noted, “and I’m not a songwriter.” Her ample skills could—and would—be put to far better use.

After earning her law degree from Yeshiva University’s Cardozo Law School in 1982, Swidler spent six years litigating for two of New York’s most powerful firms. While working 80-hour weeks at Shea & Gould, she was approached to host a nationally syndicated radio show. “I wanted to continue my show from WRUC,” she recalled, “but I realized I had no time.”

She did a stint on Madison Ave. as operations counsel for J. Walter Thompson, where she recalled frequently having to hit the brakes on the agency’s creative department, quipping, “They’d call me into the meeting and ask me just how far over the edge they were going.”

Her talent-contract work at JWT introduced Swidler to the world of entertainment law, and following a hostile takeover at the agency, she plunged into the deep end at PolyGram, where she spent 11 years, rising from Senior Attorney in 1988 to VP/Assistant General Counsel in 1992. Three years later—after getting back to the garden, as Joni would put it, with Woodstock ’94—Swidler became SVP of Business & Legal Affairs for relaunched Mercury in 1995. That situation required her to build the label’s business and legal affairs department from the ground up, integrating it into the company’s operations, which deepened her understanding of the nuances of label infrastructure...

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