This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Judy Tint, Attorney, Professor, & Musician.
In fighting for one’s legal rights in the jungle that is the music business, it takes more than a good lawyer.
It takes a dedicated lawyer with a background as a lifelong music fan.
Such it seems is the lesson to be learned from Judy Tint, a hardcore lifetime New York Yankees fan who opened the doors of her law practice in 1984, and who is also full time on the faculty of the Music Business Program, at NYU Steinhardt, teaching there since 2008.
Tint’s considerable list of clients includes emerging to heritage performers, songwriters, managers, producers, engineers, industry executives, radio talent, indie labels, and production companies.
A graduate of Rutgers College and Columbia Law School, Tint currently serves as Chair of the American Bar Association’s Forum on the Entertainment and Sports Industries while being involved with a number of other organizations, including being a member of the board of the Rhythm & Blues Foundation, and from 2011 to 2021, The Recording Academy.
Now here’s the striking, if unexpected, joyous part of her career; in which, being a firm believer in the power of music to change the world, Tint both plays music, and develops live entertainment “jam” club programs every chance she gets, which is how it all began for her.
As a professional musician, Tint has performed at Carnegie Hall, The Apollo Theater, Radio City Music Hall, The Ryman Auditorium, and other venues. Her television appearances include NBC-TV’s “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” and numerous PBS specials.
How did you come to perform as a percussionist at The Apollo Theater in New York in 2005?
The Temptations, and (my clients) the Four Tops were playing The Apollo. (Musical director) Paul Shaffer did an opening set which was a great thrill for all of us. Playing The Apollo Theater was one of the musical highlights of my life, along with playing Carnegie Hall, and the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. The Apollo is such a sacred space. I remember looking at the floor at The Apollo Theater and thinking about James Brown and all of the people that had played on this stage before me. I was toward the back of the stage next to the drummer looking at the backs of the sequined jackets of the Four Tops.
I didn’t feel like I was playing the tambourine, the tambourine was playing me.
A complete out-of-body experience.
Afterward, I received a great compliment from the wonderful Renaldo “Obie” Benson, one of the founding members (and bass singer) of the Four Tops, and the co-writer of “What’s Going On?” He said, “You were smokin’ out there. We wouldn’t have you there just because we like you.”
Which was wonderful coming from him.
Later that week, the Tops were booked on Letterman (“Late Show with David Letterman”). Paul had set this thing up. He got a string section, and he had the whole (CBS) Orchestra because they were going to do “Reach Out” (I’ll Be There), and he wanted to re-create the entire (1966 Motown) record, and he called the legendary Jack Ashford of the Funk Brothers to come, and play tambourine. Sure enough on the day of the taping, I’m there with the Tops in the dressing room going over some contracts or something, and Paul’s assistant comes up and says that Jack Ashford was stuck in traffic, “Paul needs you to come down for rehearsal.”
Of course, I was thrilled and honored to do that. I felt I was at The Garden, and got to do a workout with the Knicks or something because that CBS Orchestra is a group of phenomenal musicians. I didn’t have my tambourine, but one of the other musicians had a tambourine. So I jumped into the pit, and I played the run-down several times. I remember Sheila Rogers, the show’s talent coordinator, saying, “I didn’t know you could do that.” They were ready to have me play the show, and then at the very last moment, Jack Ashford showed up. It was probably better for television that the real deal was there, but It broke my heart. I was this close to appearing on the Letterman show. At least I got to rehearse. To Paul’s ultimate generous credit, they put me on a contract. A couple of weeks later, I got a check for playing the rehearsal. So it was a great validation and a great honor.
You attended the late Four Tops lead singer Levi Stubbs, Jr.’s funeral three years later at the Greater Grace Temple in Detroit where a full complement of the Motown family, including company founder Berry Gordy, Jr., Smokey Robinson, Martha Reeves, Dennis Edwards, Eddie and Brian Holland, Kim Weston, members of the Spinners, Contours, Andantes, Velvelettes, Funk Brothers drummer Uriel Jones, Geno Washington, Sir Mack Rice, and Motown etiquette coach Maxine Powell turned out along with Rev. Jesse Jackson to pay tribute.
Duke Fakir, the sole surviving founding member of the Four Tops, emotionally thanked anyone who’d done anything to support the group, and concluded that “There will always be, through eternity, the four of us.”
I was a speaker at Levi’s funeral, and I presented a proclamation on behalf of the Rhythm & Blues Foundation. I had to follow Reverend Jesse Jackson, so I was a bit intimidated.
Rev. Jesse Jackson, in noting the Motown artists who had passed away, mistakenly mentioned Otis Williams, the last surviving original member of the Temptations, who is now 80.
Oh my God. I just remember Harry (Weinger) telling me at the funeral, “Just speak from your heart. That is what you need to do.” I told a story because the day he died (Oct. 17, 2008) I called Levi’s wife Clineice, (of 48 years), a wonderful woman. We had a beautiful conversation, and she said to me—I knew Levi had been ill for some time; he had had a stroke several years earlier; he was no longer touring with the group. He had been off the road at home—and she had woken up, and he was asleep. So she went back to sleep, and when she woke back up, about an hour or so later, he was gone. She said that his lips were parted. I said to her that day, and I said in my remarks at the funeral, that I believed that when he left this world that he was singing.
You and Harry Weinger, who oversees Motown archival releases for the Universal Music Group, are close friends.
That’s true. Harry and I look like we could be brother and sister. Apparently, there’s a resemblance between me, and one of Harry’s sisters. So for years, we have referred to each other as brother and sister. He asks about my son, and he says, “How’s my nephew?” But I refer to Harry when it comes to all matters Motown. He’s the keeper of the catalog. He’s the keeper of the flame. We talk, and we have conversations about this and that. I work with the Four Tops, and I also represented Mary Wilson (of The Supremes), and I still represent her family, and her estate. So we have had many conversations.
I loved Mary Wilson as did most everyone of our generation.
Mary was a Goddess. I am still heartbroken over her passing (on Feb. 8, 2021, at age 76). She was so warm and funny and approachable. I brought her to do a panel at Music Biz several years ago. The people at Music Biz asked me to put a panel together. They had these legendary songwriters called the Love Junkies, Hillary Lindsey, Lori McKenna, and Liz Rose. Among the biggest songwriters in Nashville, and they wanted an artist. They came to me, and said that they wanted a female artist. I suggested Mary. They kinda went, “Nashville songwriters and Mary Wilson?” But I just had a hunch that it would work, and it did. It was an amazing panel that I moderated with these three incredible songwriters and Mary. The funny thing is that I brought Mary to Nashville, and I don’t think that there was a single person in the state of Tennessee over those four days who didn’t stop her, hug her, and take a selfie with her. And she could outlast all of them. She was like the Energizer Bunny. Just full of personality, full of laughs, full of spark, truly engaged with every single person that crossed her path. And, of course, she still sounded great, and she was gorgeous well into her 70s. So that was a terrible loss. It was really sad to lose her. A wonderful woman.
As you probably know, Mary and Duke Fakir of the Four Tops were an item for a number of years, in the early days of Motown. They were very, very close. Eventually, they went their separate ways, but they stayed dear, dear friends throughout their lives. After this experience in Nashville with Mary, I was speaking to Duke, and I told him about it, and I was sort of laughing about it. I said, “She makes me look like a wallflower. She just wore everybody out.” Duke cracked up and said, “She was always that way. That is who she is. When she was a teenager she was just a bundle of personality. She was a people person, and a real sweetheart.”
And I miss her. I miss talking to her. She was just a lovely person.
So I talk to Mary’s daughter pretty regularly now, and I’ve been helping with various things. New releases, and things like that.
Estates, in many cases, often have little idea how to deal with music rights Are you doing much estate work?
I am not an estate lawyer per se, but I am representing the family and the Estate in entertainment law. So I am doing the music work on behalf of the Estate.
While Patty Wilson Aden was president & CEO of the African American Museum in Philadelphia, one of its most popular exhibits was, “Come See About Me: The Mary Wilson Supremes Collection” in 2012, which featured more than 30 of the Supremes’ gowns, videos, images, and artifacts.
As a co-founder of the Supremes, Mary became the guardian of the dresses as other members left. Some of the dresses vanished when Motown moved from Detroit to Los Angeles in 1972, but occasionally they’d show up for sale on eBay, and Mary purchased back the gowns. Mary had earlier presented the exhibit on tour in the UK. and Ukraine, and in several American cities.
Yes, I did the deal for that, and I was at the Philadelphia opening. I worked very closely with Patty Aden (now president and CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance) who I had known. She had been the executive director at the Rhythm and Blues Foundation before she went to the African American Museum. So she came to me, and that’s how we got that deal. It was wonderful.
I wanted to interview you, if only for one reason. That I had heard you sang backup in 1997 for the legendary bluesman Little” Milton (Campbell), best known for his #1 R&B hit “We’re Gonna Make It,” on Checker in 1965, as well as for “Who’s Cheating Who,” “Feel So Bad” and “Grits Ain’t Groceries.”
Well, I hope that this doesn’t disqualify me, but in the interest of accuracy, I did not sing backup with him. I played percussion. I played tambourine behind Little Milton. It was one of the great thrills of my life. I performed on Conan O Brien’s TV show (“Late Night with Conan O’Brien”) with Little Milton, and my Rhythm and Blues Foundation colleague, Miss Bonnie Raitt, who has been a long-time idol of mine for her music, and her activism. I‘ve known Max Weinberg for a long time. Max used to come and sit in when I ran the jam at the China Club (in the basement of the Beacon Theater in New York) for a number of years.
I started off as their entertainment attorney and before I knew it I had a tambourine in one hand, and a clipboard in the other, and I hosted, emceed, and promoted that jam. Max used to come by, and occasionally sit in with my little blues band called Jude and the Dudes.
So Max knew that I was competent as a percussionist, and he did me a great honor when Little Milton and Bonnie Raitt were to appear on the Conan O’Brien show back when it was still on the late-night shift. He called me out of the blue one day and said, “I’m going to have Bonnie and Little Milton on the show, and I need some tambourine. Would you do it?” I said, “Would I? Where do I sign?” So I can’t claim to have backed Little Milton as a backup singer. So if you want to end the interview now.
As a rule, I don’t interview tambourine players.
(Laughing) Well, it was fun while it lasted. Nice talking to you.
Though Little Milton, who passed in 2005, never enjoyed the kind of crossover success that B.B. King or Bobby Bland had, he was such a forceful performer.
He was a lovely, lovely man. I can’t claim to have known him very well, but in my few interactions with him, both with the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, and just kind of being around him, he was gracious, he was humble, and it was an incredible thrill for me to be on that program.
Check out Little Milton & Bonnie Raitt performing “Grits Ain’t Groceries.”
You and Paul Shaffer together developed the program at Sullivan’s, the restaurant in New York’s landmark Ed Sullivan Theater. How did that come about?
In 1996, I saw an ad In Billboard that they were looking for a music coordinator for this new high-end restaurant in the Ed Sullivan Theatre. Paul had already been hired as the marquee name to be associated with it, and they wanted somebody to work with him to do all of the day-to-day. To do the bookings, and to do the production co-coordinating.
I love Paul. I can’t say enough good things about Paul, professionally, and personally. He is such a generous and gracious guy.
He and I already were friendly, and I had gotten him on the Board of the Rhythm & Blues Foundation because we both share a deep love for R&B and early heritage artists.
So Sullivan’s wanted somebody to put the shows together, and work and collaborate with Paul.
The owner of the restaurant said that he wanted a rotating house band and because it was this fancy restaurant, I came up with calling it Group Du Jour. I was able to get the crème de la crème of New York musicians. Many of them were waiting to go out on the road with other artists or they were playing in Broadway shows. They might not necessarily be available every Friday, and every Saturday but because we mixed it up it was, “I can come next week; I can come three weeks from now; I can’t come tomorrow.” So, I was like a mad scientist three nights a week trying to put together combinations of different players, and the hook was they also had the opportunity to play with one another.
New York City is the magical ground zero for all types of music. There’s the clubs, the revues, Broadway, off-Broadway, and the studios attracting musicians of all genres. There’s always something going on. Even if musicians are playing in a theatrical show or if they are seasoned club players, they are still seeking outside gigs, if only just for the sake of performing with others on their level or better.
And that’s why we had so much success and had so much fun with these various bands from around town. Because, particularly in the music community, New York is really a small town — Mayberry NYC. After a while everybody sort of knows everybody, and the players, of course, they are working, and they want to do their gigs. But part of how we were able to build some of these jams was that once word got out that there was a high level of musicianship, whether in the house band or with the core people who were coming to sit in, people would talk to each other.
It (New York) is just such a crazy melting pot musically and that is one of the things that is so much fun about it (the jam) and so much of what makes it exciting for the audience is that the musicians are so happy to interact with one another, particularly people who don’t get to play together.
There was a night at the China Club where we had Steve Winwood, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Ron Wood on the same stage. It was just this spontaneous thing. I didn’t put that one together as I did with “Paul Night,” and the others, but I was lucky enough to be there.
You’d better explain “Paul Night.”
It was one night where we had Paul Young coming in to play, and our house drummer was Paul Pizzuti, and other frequent guests included Paul Stanley (of Kiss), and guitarist Paul Pesco. Paul Shaffer was around, and (Paul) McCartney happened to be playing that night in town. So I had this crazy idea, “Why don’t we do “Paul Night.” We invited Paul McCartney. Unfortunately, he didn’t make it, but all these other Pauls did. Paul Pesco was in the studio that day working with Steve Winwood. So Steve Winwood also showed up.
You invited Les Paul, the virtuoso guitarist, and inventor, whose solid-body electric guitar and recording studio innovations changed the course of 20th-century music.
Sadly, he was recuperating from an ear infection, but I was thrilled to have had two long conversations with him on the phone. Just talking about life and music and everything. A memory I will treasure always.
Amongst the Broadway pit orchestras are seasoned vets, but also the young players who just want to get out and play once their show is over. It’s, “Show me the club, let’s go.”
Absolutely. It’s funny that you mention that because when the Sullivan’s thing was happening there were a lot of Broadway people that used to come in for that, particularly if we started a little bit late then they could do their hit on Broadway, especially if it was an early curtain, and still just walk up the street to the Ed Sullivan Theatre (1697 Broadway in Manhattan) and play for us. And we had a lot of fun with that.
I’m a musical theatre freak since childhood. When I was in college (at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey) I used to do a radio show for 3 years called “Original Cast” at WRSU. It was all Boadway and film music. I love show tunes. And for many years, as you know, Broadway wasn’t necessarily considered cool, but now thankfully, there has been such a convergence between contemporary music, rock and roll, and hip-hop and Broadway that Broadway is hip again. I love going to see shows. I go every chance that I get.
As I said, New York is a big playground. I’m not going to quit my day job, but I was a musician first. So for me to be able to sing background, and play percussion, it’s special. And I got to sing background for Steve Winwood, Paul Young, Nicky Hopkins, and Chaka Khan, and a few years later with Bill Murray at the Cutting Room.
I love that 2019 photograph of Bill Murray playing with singer/guitarist Felicia Collins’s band at the JukeBox Live Jam on your Facebook page.
That was the Spring or Summer of 2019. I guess they must have known each other for a while because of all of his appearances on Letterman. He loves Felicia. Who doesn’t? He was a riot. He came down, and he did a very spirited rendition of “Gloria,” G-L-O-R-I-A” (written by Van Morrison, and originally recorded by his Them in 1964, and a Top 10 hit in 1965 for The Shadows of Knight). He brought the house down as one would expect of Mr. Murray, and that was a lot of fun.
I will tell you something that he did.
He did his performance, totally tore the roof off the place, knew all the words, got a standing ovation, and then when he finished, he made a point of walking across the stage, and thanking, and shaking hands with every single one of the musicians. Between the horn players, the background singers, and several guitar players, there were at least a dozen people in the band at the moment, and he went around, and he acknowledged and thanked and shook hands with every single person there before he left the stage. That was a lovely touch. Such a class act.
You have performed often with the fantastic Felicia (of Bitchslapp aka Collins & The Life), best known for her work on the “Late Show with David Letterman,” as part of the CBS Orchestra for over 21 years where she backed the likes of Warren Zevon, Sheila E., James Brown, Dolly Parton, Big Boi, Rod Stewart, Little Richard, Ray Charles, and Snoop with Warren G and Nate Dogg.
Felicia is so incredible. She has been my friend for many, many years, and my client for quite a few years as well. She came to me a couple of years ago because she was asked to put together a jam at The Cutting Room which is a great club in New York. She wanted to do a weekly get-together. So she said, “Do you know anything about running a jam?” And I said, “Well, funny you should ask” because, as I said before, I had done this for quite some time. I always liked being around live music. I was into music long before I ever became a lawyer. So for me, it’s just natural to want to be around it. So we started doing this weekly jam (JukeBox Live Jam). We did it for, I want to say, close to a year at The Cutting Room, and then we did it for a few weeks at the legendary Cafe Wha? on MacDougal Street. Then unfortunately COVID hit so we are all missing doing this. God willing before long things will really start to normalize. I am a huge fan of Felicia as well as being her lawyer, and any chance I get to sit in the deep end of the pool and make music with her and her friends, is a great joy for me.
New York City has also long been one of the greatest radio markets on earth.
It’s funny that you mention that because I still have my first transistor radio which I consistently refer to as my start in the music business. And I got into it at a very very early age, and like many people, I was there with my ears glued to the transistor radio.
I grew up as a teenager in Toronto listening to Cousin Brucie on WABC at night on a transistor radio with the covers over my head so my mother wouldn’t hear me.
I am absolutely right there with you. Tuesday nights with the Super Hit Survey I had my transistor under my pillow. I kept a chart on my bulletin board every week with the Top 20, and the Pick Hit Of The Week.
Did you know this or is this a very smooth segue to the fact that I have represented Cousin Brucie for close to 20 years, and typically speak to him several times a week? That is something that I will never get over. If you had told me as a child that I would have been able to take this voice that was coming into my room night after night, and I would be his representative, I never would have believed it. He is just the most incredible, vibrant…I can’t say enough good things about him. I grew up listening to him.
I’m a fan, forever.
For decades, Cousin Brucie Morrow has been as part of our lives, our traveling companion, helping us to pass the time by playing the songs of our time. Working at such New York City stations as WINS, WABC-AM for 13 years, WNBC, WCBS-FM, and at SiriusXM Radio for 15 years before returning to his roots last year hosting “Cousin Brucie’s Saturday Night Rock & Roll Party” on 770 WABC in New York.
I have been with him forever. There’s not a manager or an agent. It’s me and him, and we work together very, very closely. I negotiated his deal with SiriusXM Radio when CBS shut down their format in 2005, and last summer I put together the deal when he decided to leave SiriusXM Radio, and go back to WABC. It was really a homecoming for him. It was such a karmic act for me. As I said I still have my transistor radio. So he’s back at WABC where it all started.
How did you come to work with Cousin Brucie nearly two decades ago?
We started bumping into each other at various events and industry circles. Then we were both in Pittsburgh. I was there with the Four Tops. I had done legal work for the Four Tops for many, many years, and then around 2003, I started playing percussion with them. They were doing a show for one of the PBS sweeps programs in Pittsburgh. So I was flown out there. At the last minute, there was a hiccup with the contract and something with the union. So I got called into a high-level negotiation just before the taping started, and I was there hammering it out with the TV station lawyers, and with the people from the union, and resolving all of these issues. We got it done just in time, and then I picked up my tambourine and went to hair and make-up to tape the show. What happened is that Bruce had been there. They had bought him in as one of the on-air hosts. The next day, I ran into him at the airport in Pittsburgh, and there was a terrible wind storm in New York. Our flight was delayed by several hours. So Bruce and I ended up sitting in the airport chatting together for several hours. At that time, we’d known each other very casually for a few years, but had rarely had the opportunity to say more than, “Hello, how are you?” But that day, we spent several hours in the airport. Not long after that he called me and asked me to represent him. I’m a believer that there are no coincidences when it comes to things like this. So I have always been grateful for that plane delay because it possibly led me to end up working for him.
Your legal clientele ranges widely, from individual newcomers to heritage performers, songwriters, managers, producers, engineers, industry executives, radio talent, some independent labels, production companies, and so on.
Working mostly on the talent side, and servicing such activities, you are drawing on your knowledge of a wide range of legal areas, including labor and employment; corporate/commercial law, and intellectual property, particularly copyrights, and trademarks.
Do you operate on your own?
I have been on my own for a number of years. I was at Pryor Cashman when I first graduated from law school, and I spent several years there. I also did a stretch at Grubman, Indursky. I’ve been out on my own ever since. I was lucky that I got the training and the experience. I spent my time in the trenches learning from more experienced lawyers. I have been on my own for a long time.
When did you open on your own?
In reading Jane Sherron de Hart’s recent book “Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Life,” the definitive account of an icon who shaped gender equality for all women, I was struck that at the start of her legal career, she encountered difficulty in finding employment. She was not, in fact, offered a job by any of the 12 firms that invited her for interviews.
In 1960, Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter rejected Ruth Bader Ginsburg for a clerkship because of her gender.
A top graduate of Cornell University, Ginsburg enrolled at Harvard Law in 1956. Her class at Harvard Law had 552 men, but just 8 other women.
In a story that’s become part of Ginsburg’s legend, the school’s then-dean asked those women, at a dinner party, how they justified taking a place that would have gone to a man.
She left Harvard Law after her second of three years, transferred to Columbia University, and she was denied a Harvard degree, despite having received the majority of her legal education there.
“There was nothing I could do to open the door guarded by a university employee who said, ‘You can’t enter that room,’” she testified in one of her Senate confirmation hearings.
Two decades later, when you attended law school, had things changed much for young women seeking to be lawyers?
Well, I have to tip my hat to her, and some of the women who went before me because she and others really did pave the way. By the time I got to law school in 1979, my class was about one-third women. By that point, there were a fair number of women. And just looking at my own background, I have a sister; I don’t have brothers. And to my late parents’ great credit it was always a foregone conclusion that we would go to college, and we would have careers. My mother, in her day, certainly did not have the opportunities that I did. When she was growing up, It was assumed that her older brother would go to college, but she would be a homemaker. But I was raised by parents who believed differently, and particularly my father, who was a musician himself, felt that I would have whatever opportunities and whatever career path that I wanted. I wasn’t raised to think that the road ahead would be limited by the fact that I was a woman. Not that it was as easy, obviously. There have been experiences along the way that occurred that made it clear to me that it wasn’t as equal as it needs to be. But, to my knowledge, it wasn’t appreciably more difficult to get into law school.
After decades of being overlooked and undervalued, there now are more women in the business side of entertainment than ever. There are many women agents, women label executives, women publishers, women lawyers, and finally more women in music production than ever before.
I tend not to think about it (being a woman) until it hits me over the head. I go into situations assuming that I am as capable as anybody of any gender or that my abilities are not because of gender. I am just going to do my thing, and hopefully do it well, and people will appreciate my work on its own merit, and not because I’m a woman; or not despite my being a woman. That has been my experience. There are people out there who don’t see it that way, but I try not to pre-judge situations. I try and go into situations confident that, if I am doing good work, it will speak for itself.
By the way Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a professor at Columbia Law School before she was appointed a justice or even a judge. While I did not have her as a professor, one of my great moments at Columbia was that there was an annual event called The Rites of Spring in which there was a student and a faculty musical. Not surprisingly, I was very involved with the lighting, producing, and performing of the student musical; but I also got to be one of the directors of the faculty musical. So I had the distinct privilege of directing Professor Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the Columbia Law School Faculty musical. She was delightful. I was at a law school reunion a couple of years ago, and I was looking at some old copies of the Columbia Law School News, and I found a picture of her dressed up in one of the musicals, after her performance of a song with parody lyrics written specifically about Columbia Law School. I’m not making this up. She was noted for her love of the arts and opera. She was a great sport.
Through the years, you have extensively lectured on various topics in the entertainment field, appearing at events at The Practicing Law Institute, South by Southwest, Women in Music, The Columbia Law School, NOLA Music Tech, and Grammy in The Schools.
You are also on the faculty of the Music Business Program, at The New York University Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development (aka NYU Steinhardt), teaching there since 2008.
Has the teaching of entertainment law changed substantially within the program over the years?
Well, the program is ever evolving. I started as an Adjunct (professor) at NYU Steinhardt in 2008, and then I was asked to begin a full-time teaching role which I started in 2016, although I still maintain clients and I am involved with various boards and different things that I do. One of the things that I think is fantastic about our program is that the full-time faculty, and the adjuncts, are people who are still very engaged in the music industry. We are very involved with what is going on, whether it’s me having served on the Recording Academy board or my role as Chair of the ABA Forum on the Entertainment and Sports Industries.
The director of the program, Professor Larry Miller, sometimes says that one of the things that we do is that we train the students for jobs that don’t exist yet. Because the program is very robust. It has an undergrad and a graduate component, and some of the subjects have not changed as much. When you talk about management or music publishing or the career of a touring artist. Obviously, technology has changed things a lot, never mind the years of the COVID pandemic. Clearly, those issues are game-changers, but there are still certain things that are fairly static. So what we try and do is adapt the curriculum to take into account domestic and international trends while keeping track of the essentials.
One of the core principles that I bring into all of my courses is that no matter how much technology or changes in distribution or social media becomes a factor, you still have to have great music. All of those other things will evolve but, at the end of the day, if you don’t have great songs, and great performances—and an artist may have a hit or two, but then to have a sustained career as an artist, it has to be about the music. So that is something, as far as I am concerned, that is timeless. And I know that people spend a lot of time talking about algorithms, how many followers they have, and all of the trappings of being successful as an artist, but I am an old-school kind of girl. I still think that if the song is there, the rest can happen. If the music isn’t there, the rest ultimately isn’t going to matter. Certainly not for long.
Meanwhile A&R, particularly with the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic, has dramatically changed. Two decades ago, A&R research was, ‘There’s a radio station playing an unsigned artist, and the phones are ringing” or “There’s a record store selling a record that’s flying out the door.” It was about talking to local radio, clubs, and management contacts in different cities, a lot of phone calls; going to different clubs night after night, and seeing artists live interacting with enthusiastic audiences.
The global impact of services like Spotify, Apple Music, and social media have broadened the scope of where artists can be found, as well as how.
Even before COVID-19, labels were signing artists often largely based on their social media numbers. In an ecosystem of constant content, and an insatiable demand for new talent, A&R executives are also now following TikTock phenomenons, signing them up quickly, and following up via Zoom video conferencing due to COVID restrictions.
Even as technological shifts continue to alter how the music industry functions, A&R executives preserve the funnel of talent into their companies. They are still the decisive gatekeepers. But good A&R still is like trying to find a needle in a haystack: Signing an act, and then weighing in on the recording, photoshoots, video treatments, directors, the launch and setup of record.
Absolutely. But the techniques to finding that needle in the haystack have changed. But just like back in the day when you would see 27 A&R people out at a club looking for that next buzz band, you have them scouring the internet, and there still has to be something musical that grabs you. It is just a gut thing. It is obviously very subjective and different people love different things. The good news is that anybody can make a record in their bedroom, and get it heard. To some degree, the bad news is that anyone can make a record in their bedroom and get heard. It has become harder to find that needle in the haystack.
But it’s still about great music.
Back to the conversation about the Music Business Program at NYU. One of the things that I think is really cool about it is that our students, as part of the program, need to take straight up music courses, and straight up business courses, in addition to all of our music business courses. I’ve always felt like there are people who are incredible musicians, and there are people who are incredible business people. I’ve always have felt that my greatest strength is that I am conversant in both languages. I have the background, both creatively and business-wise because I don’t think that you can entirely separate the two.
You need to be somewhat fluent in both languages, and our program really emphasizes that.
Students don’t need to be virtuosos, but they need to understand the basics of music theory, and know some music history as well as things like accounting, and basic business principles; as well as diving into the many different core requirements, and electives that we have that are specific to the music business. So I think that our students come out of it (graduate) really well prepared, both for the job that is now, and for the job that they will help create as the time comes.
I tell newcomers that like a store owner, they need to understand on some level each aspect of what they do, from recording and music publishing to working around tours, to being able to read and understand contracts.
No musician, songwriter, or manager today should be able to plead ignorance of the legal issues in music because there are so many places to find out about such matters; ranging from a spate of entertainment law books, conference panels, and presentations and education programs on the internet including by ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, and SOCAN in Canada. Nobody has to be uninformed anymore about contracts.
One of the things that I do with my clients is that I always insist that they read the agreements that they are bringing me–a contract to review or to write. I am not going to be the lawyer who says, “I’ve read it, you can sign it.” I always tell them “You read it. You make sure you understand it. You ask me your questions because ultimately your name is going to be on it not mine.” I never want to feel that somebody signs something without really knowing what it meant. I am a big believer in that if people understand what they are getting into then they can make informed decisions. I don’t want somebody coming back to me three years later saying, “Well, I didn’t know that is what it said.” You try to understand before you sign, and not after.
When I started out as a music trade journalist, the only available legal books on the music industry were Diane Sward Rapaport’s “How to Make and Sell Your Own Recording,” published in 1979; and the rather daunting “This Business of Music” (Billboard Books, first published in 1985).
Since then I’ve pored over the continually updated versions of Donald Passman’s “All You Need To Know About The Music Business,” and Jeff and Todd Brabec’s “Music Money and Success,” as well as Paul Sanderson’s “Musicians and the Law in Canada.”
Also, I’ve done extensive interviews with Los Angeles entertainment lawyers Donald Passman, Owen Sloane, and Jay Cooper.
Jay is such a great guy. Also a musician. I love him. In fact, many of my favorite lawyers to deal with are also musicians. You don’t have to be a full-time working musician, but I think that the people who came out of some real passion for the music itself are easier to deal with because they understand the nuances of what their clients need. All kidding aside, my experience as a working musician, I believe wholeheartedly, has made me a better lawyer because I get it in a way that I would not get it if I hadn’t lived that life, or hadn’t had those experiences. They are all intertwined. Jay, I think, is still playing (alto) saxophone, Every time I see him, we sort of joke about the fact that one of these days we have to jam together.
Jay began practicing law in 1956 because his musician friends were being busted at a nightclub in West Hollywood. The club would close down at 2 A.M., musicians would pack up their cases, walk out the back, and the cops would be there waiting. They’d say to the trumpet player, “Open up your cases.” A lot of the musicians kept marijuana in their cases. So off they would go downtown to be booked. They’d call Jay, and say, “Can you help me out?” Or he would be working on a recording date, and someone would say, “I just got busted for possession.”
There you go.
A former professional musician Jay Cooper is chairman of the entertainment department of the Los Angeles law firm Greenberg Traurig. He is recognized internationally as a leading expert on copyright law pertaining to music.
In 2004, I worked with Owen Sloane representing The Zappa Estate in an infringement case in Quebec City before The Federal Court of Canada. Owen is an entertainment and sports attorney at Eisner, LLP who often assists clients with Intellectual Property issues.
I haven’t talked with him in a long while. He’s a lovely man.
An out-of-court settlement in the copyright infringement case involving Frank Zappa was reached with the 10-store Quebec City furniture retailer Ameublements Tanguay Inc. nearly a decade after the original two television commercials aired, and more than five years after the lawsuit was first filed. The Zappa guitar solos that aired in the furniture commercials were from “Watermelon in Easter Hay,” a song from his 1979 concept album, “Joe’s Garage.” Ameublement Tanguay formally apologized to Frank’s widow Gail Zappa and her four children for using the late musician’s work.
You mention the Zappas and that is sort of a sentimental note for me personally. My husband, Bob Lampel, worked for Frank Zappa for a number of years as his production designer and doing lighting. Unfortunately, my husband passed away last year (January of 2021) from a sudden and shocking diagnosis of glioblastoma (brain cancer). It was a nightmare I wouldn’t wish on anybody. But anytime that somebody mentions Zappa that comes to mind. And so many of my friends over the years would be beside themselves when they found out that my husband had worked for Zappa for years because people are such freaks for him. My husband was a Zappa person for quite some time, and he stayed in touch with the family.
Bob was the technical manager of ABC-TV’s “The View,” and “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.”
He was involved in the early days of MTV and worked with Todd Rundgren, Frank Zappa, Hall & Oates, and a number of other artists. He directed over 100 episodes of “Gotham Comedy Live” for AXS-TV as well as directing many shows for Comedy Central, ESPN, VH-1, Nickelodeon, PBS, and lots more.
So it’s been a tough time for you.
The last two years, between COVID and his death, it has been a bumpy time. I’ve had a great deal of support. My friends, clients, and students have been very kind. In an unexpected way, teaching proved to be very cathartic and very therapeutic in the immediate aftermath of my husband’s passing. At that point, we were all teaching on Zoom but even being in front of a Zoom screen for however many hours—and I was back teaching literally a week and a half after he died because of the school’s schedule—it just got me out of my own head. To focus on students, and taking care of them and my clients, I needed to give myself a little bit of time to get back on my feet emotionally, but the students were so sweet. Just to be able to focus on somebody else’s needs turned out to be an important part of my own emotional recovery from tragedy. I’ve always liked teaching. It taps in on my nurturing instincts. and I feel that a big part of my role as an educator is not just delivering the curriculum, but also being a source of support, a source of nurturing, and a source of the pep talk when it’s needed. In an unexpected way, during the time I was going through a difficult period, it helped me a lot to be able to be there and try to help my students. Just being in COVID was difficult enough.
Tell me of the goodness of singer Ben E. King whom you also represented for years. He was with the Drifters on Atlantic Records and recorded as a soloist for the label. Atlantic was one of the first labels to bring about royalty updates to heritage artists after Ruth Brown, once its biggest star with such hits as “Teardrops From My Eyes,” “5-10-15 Hours,” “Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean,” came down legally on the label for unpaid royalties.
Which is how the Rhythm and Blues Foundation came to be.
As a result of an action, Ruth Brown triggered industry changes after years of effort.
In 1988, she received her first check in 28 years for royalties that Atlantic had claimed weren’t due her; moreover, the royalty status of many other R&B; veterans were reexamined and other artists or their estates received payments.
Atlantic Records kicked off the royalty reform movement in 1988 by reconfiguring payments due to 35 of its classic R&B acts and expanded its reform in 1997 to include all artists who recorded for Atlantic from the time it was founded in 1948 through 1969, by paying all its artists a royalty rate of 10%. in many cases, Atlantic also eliminated performers’ debts to the label. Universal Music, BMG, and most recently Warner Records have initiated similar programs for their heritage artists.
I’ve often said that Ben E. King was certifiably the nicest guy in show business; you could talk to anyone from promoters to backup musicians to the doorman in my building, and they would all tell you the same thing: he was a sweetheart. My son’s middle name is Benjamin, in fact, largely as a nod to him.
Ben E. King co-wrote “There Goes My Baby,” a multi-chart international hit by the Drifters in 1959, and co-wrote his 1961 solo hit “Stand By Me” with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. There have been over 400 recorded versions of the song.
He sure did.
Over the years were there attempts on his behalf to recover royalties from his recordings or his publishing?
I am not at liberty to divulge specifics about client matters.
Okay. Over the years you have represented a number of heritage acts. Are past royalties still an ongoing concern still with labels and publishers in general?
I think it reveals itself in a number of ways. The people who should have received certain royalties, either the contracts got lost or the contracts expired or the small labels were bought up by big labels, and the paper trail went cold. There are also some areas where the deals are still very much present; that people just signed bad deals. It is not as if a label is welching on its commitment, but the commitment in itself was so miniscule back in the day. That, unfortunately, was very much the order of the day back then.
Most of the deals that we are talking about were made way before my time. Some before I was born. Certainly long before I became a lawyer.
And the Rhythm and Blues Foundation had a lot to do with how some of those trends were reversed, either in terms of increasing royalty rates or providing grants to people who were down on their luck; who needed help with their rent or finding an instrument and, unfortunately, some times with funeral expenses.
So I think it is fair to say that very few of the heritage artists were paid what they should have been paid back in the day. I think as time has gone on those who are signing new deals are now likely to have competent representation. Back in the day, it might have been, “We’d like to buy your publishing rights. We will give you this Cadillac.” Artists that are songwriters might not have appreciated what the value of those rights turned out to be. They could have bought a fleet of Cadillacs from what their songs ended up earning.
It has been well documented that in the ‘50s and ‘60s labels would create bogus writer credits and would switch royalties to another artist or take backing tracks from one session and use them on other sessions, and charge for each use.
Well, all that was before my time, Almost nothing would surprise me. But, yes unfortunately a lot of the records of what happened, and the when and how either weren’t committed to writing at the time or they have since been lost or somehow disappeared. So there isn’t the level of documentation that one could have. There was no internet back in the day, right? So it’s not as if this information could be digitally maintained.
This dereliction worsened over the years with continual recording industry consolidations. label purchases, and re-sales yet again. Plus a lot of significant indie labels and multinationals moved their operations.
Fortunately, much of the music survived
Today, catalog preservation is a priority for the major labels only following decades of untold numbers of recordings being thrown away, mislaid, left behind in warehouses, or even sold for scrap.
You will remember the 2008 fire that tore through a movie set at Universal Studios in Hollywood, and spread to a warehouse. Inside was a vault containing the master tapes to hundreds of thousands of recordings including by Louis Armstrong, Buddy Holly, and Ella Fitzgerald to Eminem, Nine Inch Nails, and Nirvana.
By no means was that the recording industry’s first mass demolition of masters. There was wholesale destruction of an RCA warehouse in Camden, New Jersey, in the early ’60s, and the fire at the Atlantic Records storage facility in Long Branch, New Jersey, in 1978 when nearly 6,000 reels of unreleased masters, alternate versions, and other session tapes recorded between 1948 and 1969, were destroyed.
I guess I should retract that statement. I knew about the fire at Universal. I wasn’t aware of Atlantic’s fire in New Jersey.
Recordings from long-defunct or inactive small indie labels– metal record manufacturing parts, disc acetates, test pressings, and disc copies—still lie unattended in storage vaults, basements, and garages all over the world.
It sort of reminds me of “Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised),” the Questlove movie because the footage from the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival apparently sat in a basement for decades before it was discovered, and brought to peoples’ attention. The movie is amazing. It just got nominated for an Oscar.
The reason hardly anyone knew about the footage is that network TV executives back then passed on the opportunity to package the concert footage into a TV special. That fact explains the film’s subtitle, “(…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised).” The original concert footage, shot by Hal Tulchin, remained essentially dormant for half a century, a goldmine of performances by leading Black American artists including Stevie Wonder, David Ruffin, Sly and the Family Stone, Mahalia Jackson, Nina Simone, and others.
It was such a joy to watch that movie, particularly after two years of lockdown, and losing my husband, being confined to one’s walls, and having to be so careful and vigilant about going places. I saw that movie, and it just reminded me of who I am, and what I do, and why I do it. Because I wear all of these different hats within the music industry, but it really comes from a place of just believing so deeply in the power of music to make the world better. Whether I’m producing an event, teaching, writing or having someone sign a contract, whatever it is I am doing in my various capacities, it all comes from the belief that if good music is in the world, the world will be better. Seeing that movie “Summer of Soul” was such a beautiful reminder of that. It was really inspiring for me to see that. I’m glad those tapes surfaced when they did.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-80. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record.
He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is a co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide,” and a Lifetime Member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
He is the recipient of the 2013 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who have made an impact on the Canadian music industry.