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THE GRAND PLAN OF GRANDERSON DES ROCHERS

Damien Granderson and Guy Blake, two of the founding partners at the boutique entertainment firm Granderson Des Rochers, met while hammering out a record distribution deal nearly 15 years ago. At the time, Granderson was in-house counsel at Koch Entertainment and Blake was an associate at Davis Shapiro Lewit & Hayes, having recently left Legal & Business Affairs at Warner Chappell.

Soon after the aforementioned deal was struck, Granderson became Blake’s colleague at Davis Shapiro.

“We really just hit it off,” Granderson remembers. “We checked our egos at the door and we just collaborated and brainstormed and worked on clients together.”

When they decided to create Granderson Des Rochers, Granderson says, “We had a vision for having a real collaborative style, where a client wouldn't just have one lawyer; they’d have a team of lawyers to lend their expertise in whatever areas could help that client thrive. We wanted to create a diverse entertainment law practice of talented attorneys with varying legal experiences and backgrounds, who could handle all entertainment transactional needs for clients, including music, film, new media/tech, corporate, branding, fashion and more.”

July will mark the third anniversary of Granderson Des Rochers opening its doors in Beverly Hills and New York. Granderson has overseen deals for J Balvin with UMG, Fortnite, McDonald’s and others, A$AP Rocky’s Gucci endorsement, and significant deals for J. Cole, H.E.R., Nicki Minaj, NE-YO, Young Thug and Quality Control Music. Blake, as Founding and Managing Partner, chairs the firm’s Music Publishing Practice and has handled negotiations for Cole, Young Thug, Balvin, Harvey Mason Jr., Bernie Taupin, Quality Control Music, Timbaland, Beluga Heights Records, H.E.R. and Primary Wave.

The leadership team includes Andre Des Rochers, who oversees film and television; corporate and entertainment finance specialist Corey Martin; new media/technology ace Elizabeth Moody; Colin Morrissey driving the music practice; and Jamie Slade, whose expertise includes fashion and branding.

Aside from the founding partners, the firm hired and trained a crop of homegrown lawyers. "We built up this office in part by starting an internship program; law students would come through that program, start as junior associates and work their way up to associates and then partners,” Granderson said. The team is up to 18 lawyers.

“We're proud of the fact that we service our clients in a seamless way and the clients seem to enjoy interacting with multiple partners in the firm," adds Blake. "The principle was ‘maximize everybody's talent.’ If we can bring our collective strengths to bear in our own little areas, that's going to make us much more powerful representatives for our clients.”

Instead of fielding calls and offering legal advice to clients at hundreds of dollars an hour, Granderson and Blake chose to answer our hare-brained questions about the roles they play in modern dealmaking.

As we look to put many of the COVID-related issues behind us, what’s your focus today and how has that changed over the last two years?
Granderson: It's an extremely interesting time. There are a tremendous opportunities in the current business structure as it pertains to relationships with record companies and publishing companies. But there are also new avenues artists are exploring, whether that be through the metaverse, different branding, partnerships and alliances. It's an exciting time because we’re able to support, on a daily basis, visionaries and forward-thinking artists who are also entrepreneurial.

What’s your approach to potential clients to join the firm?
Granderson: The lens is looking at the long-term goals. When there's a hit record for a client, there's a tremendous amount of opportunity at that moment. Maximize that moment, but also think long term.

What's special here is that there's such a tremendous amount of respect for the clients that we're so fortunate to work with. The attorneys know that in order to provide the best service, the best experience, we should really leverage each partner, each lawyer for what their given talent may be to add value to each client.

"You tend to gravitate, in terms of representation, toward the clients that you admire, the music and the art that you admire, so that you can provide a better perspective in helping them to execute their goals and dreams."

— Damien Granderson

Your roster of clients is dominated by R&B, hip-hop and Latin artists. Do you consider yourself specialists in those areas?
Granderson: We're not pigeonholed in terms of a firm. We have a diverse roster, a diverse set of attorneys and a diverse and impactful skill set.

I grew up on R&B. reggae and hip-hop and those have been my favorite genres of music for a long time. I do listen to all types of music, but [R&B and hip-hop] have been very culturally impactful and very inspirational throughout my life. You tend to gravitate, in terms of representation, toward the clients that you admire, the music and the art that you admire, so that you can provide a better perspective in helping them to execute their goals and dreams. And to have that understanding of the art, I think, certainly helps.

Obviously, brands want to be in business with established stars. But with touring out of the question for two years and release schedules getting shuffled, how are these brand deals helping younger acts break out?
Granderson: I think that when the marketplace realizes they have an opportunity, it starts very early on. I met A$AP Rocky in the early days and thought, here’s an artist who will transcend music and can have a cultural impact. I've been working with him for over 11 years and from the moment we met, I saw the charisma. I saw that he had the vision and the talent—not just in music, but as a video director. He directed his first couple of videos and he had a really interesting palette and a sense of fashion and taste. And I knew that he was incredibly entrepreneurial, being the founder of A$AP Mob. Once I see that vision and hear the goals and dreams, I'm charged with providing counsel and strategy so that they can manifest those dreams and make them reality.

From your perspective Guy, how does music publishing fit in with the brand deals?
Blake: We have a great roster of clients; entertainment companies want to be in business with our clients. They know they need to provide competitive terms on deals we handle because they want access to our clients. They don't want us saying, "Well, that company's difficult to deal with."

It’s about maximizing the client's talent and leverage to make the best possible deals and put them in the best positions. They're the ones that create the leverage—make no mistake. This is not about the lawyers or the managers or the agents or anybody else. It all starts and ends with the client.

Are you seeing a shift in the interaction between brands, artists and music publishing?
Blake: Our clients, with our help, push for as much ownership as possible. Traditionally these companies would say, "Look, you're gonna write this for us, we're gonna pay you X, you're gonna record it for us, but we're gonna own it." There's some pushback to that now. Artists are saying "I'll create it for you, you can have it for X amount of time, but after that, it's mine again." That puts pressure on those companies.

While many of your clients have been with you for many years, the touring business shut down within a year of you opening the firm. How do you see touring working now?
Granderson: There were a lot of artists who still found a way to engage and connect with their fan base online, through various Internet and gaming platforms. In addition to that, I think they also found inspiration to create new material and they're sharing that material with their fan base, who experienced similar challenges during the pandemic.

I think the live market is back. Being able to experience a show to me is one of the best ways to be close to the art, to be able to touch the culture.

“From a legal standpoint, our business is still somewhat in the dark ages, which is to say there are still a lot of very long-term contracts with somewhat onerous terms.”

— Guy Blake

How about on the publishing side?
Blake: From a legal standpoint, our business is still somewhat in the dark ages, which is to say there are still a lot of very long-term contracts with somewhat onerous terms. There are still lots of contracts out there that last many years because they may commit to six albums or unrealistic delivery commitments, which are difficult to achieve. But the industry is largely working with us to improve many out-of-date deal terms and make legal obligations better for everyone.

Most artists, even the artists that have signed some of the worst contracts on the planet, still control their own ability to endorse brands that they choose. There are some companies that may get a piece of whatever the artist negotiates for their brand deals. Ultimately, the artist can get in there, take the driver's seat and negotiate the deal to accommodate what they want and need. So whether they want to be a hood ornament for a particular brand or a real brand ambassador, they can control that to a large degree when it comes to their music.

Over the last couple of years your client J Balvin has been everywhere. How much of that owes to what he wants to do and how much is it people requesting his involvement?
Granderson: It always starts with the artists. Their goals, their ambitions, are communicated to the entire team—management, business management, their agents, their lawyers—their trusted network of advisors. From that standpoint, you're then charged to help to facilitate opportunities and help vet out opportunities that may come to them. From there, you add your expertise on other deals that add value and contribute to what their vision is and their goals are. It 100% starts with the talent and their vision.

Blake: We are very humble about what our role is. The clients [need] a good team around them—the lawyers and the managers and the agent and the accountants, and the business managers. But it also means companies—publishers, the record companies, the merch companies and so on. You hope that all of those folks are fighting for that artist, and doing it well.

One of your clients who truly raised her profile during the lockdown is H.E.R., with Oscar and Grammy wins and performances, the “I Can’t Breathe” fund-raiser for Black Lives Matter and so on. And she just announced a sizable tour for the summer. It feels like she’s on the precipice of superstardom.
Granderson:
She's been recognized by her peers and received tremendous critical acclaim—it’s been a fantastic year of discovery for people that aren't aware of her immense talent. She has great management in Jeff Robinson and MBK. They've done a great job in really helping to execute on her goals.

I think when you look at her brand, it signifies the highest of everything—the highest of class, sophistication and art. She’s culturally impactful, a powerful woman pursuing her dreams and inspiring others to dream and to chase after their dreams. She should be commended for all that she's been able to accomplish at such a young age. She should be an inspiration for many to follow.

Tell us about your team of lawyers.
Granderson: Andre Des Rochers has his group work on any type of TV, film and literary publishing opportunities. For instance, their group has used its expertise to handle documentary deals for J Balvin, A$AP Rocky and others.

Elizabeth Moody is our partner who had been general counsel and the head of artists and label relations at Pandora and YouTube. When she went into private practice, we thought it would be a great idea to work collaboratively with her because she sees these new media technology platforms and really understands streaming in a different way. She knows all the people, all the politics, and the market very well, and that's proving to be fruitful given the NFT market.

Then there's Corey Martin, who prior to working with us was an M&A entertainment finance partner at Loeb and Loeb. His practice is completely different from the rest of us, because we primarily represent artists. He analyzes business transactions and helps artists structure their companies as solid businesses so that they now can take in investments from third parties.

Jamie Slade started as an intern and has worked her way up from associate to partner. She really understands the fashion space at a level where she can have high level conversations with artists and the creative directors of the various luxury brands.

Back to the two of you. Was there a specific event or a time in your lives that put you on a path to where you are today?
Blake: My story in the music business actually is kind of contrary to what most music lawyers' experiences are. Most people in the music business start with a background in music and just had to find a way of being around it. You don't see that quite as much in many of the other entertainment disciplines.

Unlike most industry professionals, I had no music training or background. I fell into an internship at Warner Chappell in my first year in law school by accident. My plan was to go into real estate and I had an interest in property law, so I didn't understand the difference between record companies, publishing companies or anything. When I interviewed there, they said, we handle intellectual property. I understood the concept of real property. I learned about copyright law and trademark and other intellectual property elements and that fascinated me. It is still an area of fascination for me.

Granderson: Music has always just been a part of the fabric of my family. It's always been part of our DNA. When I finished undergrad [at Stony Brook University in New York], I was a legal assistant at a really prominent litigation firm that had a small entertainment practice. That's when I discovered that there were lawyers who helped with the transactions, the deals for artists, and to protect artists and add value to what they were hoping to achieve. I had no idea there was actually a job that could combine my love of music and my passion for helping artists and making a difference in their lives.

I always say that even my hardest, most-challenging day is a wonderful day. Every day I get to be a cog in a wheel for such brilliant, wonderful people.

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