Women in Music 2016

The Music Industry's Top Lawyers 2016: Who Made the List?

Christopher Patey
John Branca photographed on July 5, 2016 in Beverly Hills.

Guiding the deal that will earn $750 million for ­Michael Jackson’s heirs, John Branca leads the roster of 41 of the top legal minds in the music business.

LAWYER OF THE YEAR

 

JOHN BRANCA, 65

Partner, Ziffren Brittenham

A consultation with the music industry's top lawyer might run you only about $6 if you happen to be at the Beverly Glen Deli when John Branca gets there in the morning. Branca makes the seven-minute drive to the low-key eatery, just south of Mulholland Drive, from his home in Beverly Park, the gated Beverly Hills enclave where he has lived for the past 21 years, and where his neighbors include Sumner Redstone, Rod Stewart and Mark Wahlberg. "It's good to be the poorest guy in the neighborhood," he jokes.

The poorest guy in that neighborhood still drives to breakfast in a $300,000 Rolls-Royce Wraith, though if you're ­picking up his breakfast tab it won't run you much: $2.95 for the Cheerios Branca favors, and an additional $2.95 for some fresh blueberries.

"It's like my office," says Branca of the Beverly Glen Deli, where on any given day he'll see Brian Wilson or veteran manager Howard Kaufman. "I'm shocked they don't charge me rent."

Of course, if they did, he can afford it. Branca, a divorced father of three, has long ­combined rock'n'roll swagger -- as a teenager, he played in a Sunset Strip garage band that opened for The Doors -- with a dangerously sharp business acumen. The mid-March announcement that the Sony Corporation will acquire the Michael Jackson estate's 50 percent interest in Sony/ATV Music Publishing for $750 million caps a stunning revival for the estate, for which Branca has served as co-executor, along with John McClain, since Jackson's death in 2009. At that point, the estate carried debts of more than $500 million. When the Sony buyout gets expected final approval from European regulators later in 2016 or early in 2017, the estate will pay off some $250 million in debts and be left with more than $500 million cash on hand. That's a better than $1 billion turn around.

Among those assisting with the Sony buyout were Joel Katz of Greenberg Traurig -- co-counsel to the Jackson estate -- investment banker Dave Dunn at Shot Tower Capital, Howard Weitzman of Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldisert, and Sony's corporate lawyer Wallace Christner at Venable.

"He knows how to close deals," says Sony/ATV chairman/CEO Martin Bandier of Branca. And "he's a real guy's guy. He loves sports. He loves music."

As the head of the music department at Ziffren Brittenham, Branca's clients include Simon Cowell, Barry Gibb, Rick Rubin, Enrique Iglesias and Santana, and he ­oversees a team that works with Beyoncé, Justin Timberlake, Blake Shelton and Selena Gomez, among others. "We're very involved as business and strategic advisers with our ­clients to help them maximize their income, ­establish a business plan and help grow it," says Branca.

It was Branca who encouraged Jackson to buy ATV Music in 1985, then a 4,000-song collection that controlled the rights to the Lennon-McCartney catalog, as well as songs by Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Presley, Little Richard and The Rolling Stones, among others. Paul McCartney could have taken ownership of his songs but deemed the price -- $47.5 million -- too steep. Jackson and Branca did not.

They were right. Jackson put up $15 million and borrowed the balance of $32.5 million. When Sony and ATV merged in 1995, Jackson received $110 million for his 50 percent stake in the new entity, more than doubling his initial investment. In constant dollars, that initial ­investment would be $106 million in 2016, ­making Sony's $750 million ­acquisition of Jackson's stake a seven-time return. And that's not ­counting the steady annual payouts that totaled nearly $400 ­million. "Our ­investment banker Shot Tower Capital ­analyzed Michael's return on the Sony/ATV investment," says Branca. "It ­averaged in excess of 30 percent per annum from inception in 1985 to sale."

EU Regulators Near Decision on Sony/ATV's Jackson Buyout

When Sony triggered a buy-sell clause in the Sony/ATV contract in October 2015, it surprised both Branca and Bandier. "It was completely unexpected," says Branca, who felt "a little blindsided."

But finding possibilities in the ­unexpected is one of Branca's skills. "We had an opportunity to diversify the holdings of the Jackson estate that would ultimately be for the benefit of Michael's kids," he says.

The estate will maintain a strong ­position in the music publishing business, retaining Jackson's own copyrights in Mijac Music, as well as a 10 percent stake in EMI Music Publishing. "We can turn over a lot of cash to the beneficiaries and stay invested in the music business," says Branca. "I am pleased with the result."

And his fees? They'll pay for an extra serving of blueberries. (Joe Levy)

 

JEFFREY HARLESTON, 55

General counsel/executive vp business and legal affairs, Universal Music Group

 

NICOLA LEVY, 43

Global head of business affairs, digital, Universal Music Group

Harleston, who was promoted in the past year to a global role at UMG, struck a major deal in January for a multiterritory license with SoundCloud to drive revenue from the online audio distribution site. "We were able to find common ground with a service that has a lot of user-generated content and negotiate adequate ­compensation for the artists and labels," says the Los Angeles resident and father of four. Collaborating with him on the pact was the United Kingdom-based Levy, who, in the middle of closing the "intense deal," was also busy relocating to UMG's Santa Monica base with her husband and two sons. "Our goal," says Levy, "is to make sure the digital ecosystem is growing while giving consumers more access to music."

 

PAUL ROBINSON, 58

Executive vp/general counsel, Warner Music Group

In May, WMG announced streaming had become the company's largest recorded-music revenue source, "and only five quarters ago it was our smallest," notes Robinson, a father of two who in 2016 marks a decade with WMG, where he's involved in both recorded music and publishing. The Manhasset, N.Y., resident played a key role in the policy, announced in February, to share with artists the proceeds of any future sale of the equity WMG holds in streaming services Spotify and Deezer. "I see that as all a part of encouraging artists to be as happy about streaming as we are."

 

JULIE SWIDLER

Executive vp business affairs/general counsel, Sony Music Entertainment

Swidler estimates that she and Dennis Kooker, Sony's ­president of global digital business, tallied 50 meetings in 2016 with artist managers, attorneys and business managers of Sony acts to ensure "they understand how they get paid on all digital services; how we, as Sony, have been paying our artists for almost a decade; and how we see the future." The Manhattan resident and mother of three says, "When everyone has the same information, it makes a more even playing field." Supporting that goal is Sony's recent creation of a new online portal that enables its artists and ­managers to analyze each artist's sales and streaming activity and royalties. 

 

DOUG DAVIS, 44

Founder/owner, The Davis Firm

Davis is a seasoned attorney, cancer survivor, philanthropist, art collector and, yes, son of Clive -- but perhaps the title he values most is "trusted friend." "This is a business built on relationships and some clients and colleagues I've known almost all my life," he says of the likes of rapper Lil Jon, producer Swizz Beatz and Apple executive Larry Jackson, just three of the clients his firm represents. With his famed father, the New York-based Davis ­produces the pre-Grammy Awards gala, the hottest ticket in town. Does he ever get to enjoy the bash? "This year -- when members of Nirvana reunited with Beck on vocals for David Bowie's 'The Man Who Sold the World' -- I did!"

 

JOHN FRANKENHEIMER, 70

Partner/chair, music industry practice/chairman emeritus, Loeb & Loeb

When Superfly Events sold a controlling interest in Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in 2015 to Live Nation, Frankenheimer advised Superfly on the deal. (Sources value the festival, in full, north of $100 million.) In 2016, he continues as legal counsel for Superfly and has advised BMG Publishing and Glassnote Entertainment. "I'm focused on what's the next thing that we can do that will be innovative, successful and open up a corridor that perhaps wasn't there before," says the five-decade industry veteran and father of two.

 

GARY L. GILBERT, 69

Partner/co-chairman, entertainment and media practice

 

L. LEE PHILLIPS, 78

Senior partner, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips

Gilbert's client roster is deep and varied. The Long Beach, Calif., native has worked with the Dixie Chicks on their current world tour, expanded Manatt's EDM practice (the firm represents Diplo and Mad Decent), gained new business with British partners and tapped Manatt's new digital experts for clients like a nascent video channel. "I didn't know if I had the expertise before," he says of the digital sector. "Now we have the team." For Phillips, this summer brings the return to the road of Barbra Streisand, a client for 45 years, after he negotiated her deal with Live Nation. For Don Henley and Steve Perry, he has worked on publishing pacts with Irving Azoff's Global Music Rights and renewed publishing or performing rights agreements for Burt Bacharach, Paul Anka and Jerry Lieber's estate. The Santa Barbara resident is optimistic about digital music's future. "When the dust settles five years from now," he predicts, "there [will be] much more money than there was before."

 

ERIC GREENSPAN, 66

AARON ROSENBERG, 39

Partners, Myman Greenspan Fineman Fox Rosenberg & Light

Greenspan, who promoted campus concerts while an undergraduate at Duke University by the likes of The Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers and The Beach Boys, was backstage again in 2016. Many of his top clients -- Dead and Co., Red Hot Chili Peppers, Prophets of Rage and Guns N' Roses members Slash and Duff McKagan -- went out on tour. "I'm a lawyer; I don't have to go to shows," says Greenspan. "But that's the reason I do this." Rosenberg was part of the team involved in the 2015 resurgence of client Justin Bieber with his hit album Purpose. "It was a team led by Justin himself and, of course, Scooter Braun, and it covered all areas, the album and the world tour. It's been extremely rewarding." Based along with Greenspan in L.A., the father of a 1-year-old son also counts Jennifer Lopez, Meghan Trainor, Jason Derulo, John Legend and Diane Warren among his clients. In the wake of the Orlando, Fla., nightclub attack, Rosenberg oversaw legal work to launch the all-star charity single "Hands" with Britney Spears, Pink, Selena Gomez and others.

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ELLIOT GROFFMAN, 62

Founding partner, Carroll, Guido & Groffman

Groffman, who guided the Windish Agency in summer 2015 into its partnership with Paradigm Talent Agency, counts super manager Coran Capshaw, Dave Matthews Band and Pearl Jam among his many clients. With Frankheimer, he advised Superfly Events in its sale of a controlling interest in the Bonnaroo festival to Live Nation. A Greenwich Village resident and father of two, Groffman says one of the greatest ­problems facing the music business is the move by record labels to demand rights to more revenue streams from artists -- while acts need ­independence and control over their careers. "We need to find a balance," he says.

 

ALLEN GRUBMAN, 73

Partner, Grubman Shire & Meiselas

 

KENNY MEISELAS, 59

Partner/head of music department, Grubman Shire & Meiselas

Although Grubman still counts Bruce Springsteen, Madonna and Elton John among his clients, the Brooklyn native also is advising a newer superstar -- Spotify -- as he diversifies his firm. Amid the debates over digital music, says Grubman, ultimately "the streaming companies will do well, record companies will do well, artists will do well." And he intends to be at the center of talks to make that happen. "I consider myself a brilliant negotiator," he says. Meiselas, who is marking 18 years at the firm, advises The Weeknd, Nicki Minaj, Usher and Lady Gaga, among others. But the father of four is pushing beyond music. Gaga and Usher boast lead film roles (in A Star Is Born and Hands of Stone, ­respectively); Future, who scored three No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200 between August 2015 and February 2016, narrated a Beats commercial; and Priyanka Chopra received rave reviews for her starring turn in Quantico. Even Meiselas landed a TV show: He's an executive producer of ABC's Notorious, about the intersection of media and criminal justice. "Both systems," he says, "are equally dysfunctional."

 

RUSSELL A. JONES JR., 66

Principal, Law Offices of Russell A. Jones Jr. & Anjlee Khurana

Long before he was ­representing Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, Tim McGraw and Toby Keith, New Orleans native Jones spent time as a river guide, a hotel clerk in Switzerland, a banjo player in a bluegrass band and a deputy sheriff. "When I got into the music business, I was told by somebody very wise, 'It will take you 10 years to become a player. It will take you 10 years to really become a part of it,' " says Jones of his adopted Nashville music community. Brooks, who has been a client for nearly 30 years, has Jones working on his extended tour, which launched in 2014 and played New York's Yankee Stadium July 8-9. 

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JOEL KATZ, 72

Chair, global media and entertainment practice

 

BOBBY ROSENBLOUM, 47

Co-chair, Atlanta entertainment and media practice, Greenburg Traurig

Atlanta-based Katz works on the largest of deals. As co-­counsel to the Michael Jackson estate, he collaborated with John Branca on the sale of the estate's share of Sony/ATV Music Publishing. His negotiating savvy in 2015 kept Big Machine Label Group part of Universal Music Group -- and gave Big Machine founder Scott Borchetta ownership of Republic Nashville. The Bronx native and father of two is the go-to attorney for executives' contracts, including "the current leadership of Sony Music Nashville," he says. And his latest ­international venture brought AEG in to book and run the Queen Elizabeth Sports Center and Thomas A. Robinson stadium in Nassau, the Bahamas. Rosenbloum's recent deals included a new agreement for CBS to air the Grammy Awards (which drew 25 million viewers in February) and pacts between SoundCloud and the major labels and publishers. A leading expert in digital rights, the Atlanta native and father of two is negotiating for the Digital Media Association in setting streaming rates with music publishers. His mantra: "We try to make deals happen, and we speak the language of tech and music."

 

DAVID LANDE, 49

Senior partner, Ziffren Brittenham

A former tour manager and accountant, Lande this past year was Beyoncé's adviser in negotiating terms with Live Nation for her blockbuster worldwide stadium tour and also restructured Queen Bey's agreement with Columbia Records. "Whereas records and publishing don't drive as much revenue as touring does, they're still very much an awareness and ­promotional driver," says Lande. "And clients still have a need to focus on that area." The Philadelphia native and father of three also negotiated a deal for Justin Timberlake to executive-produce the Trolls soundtrack on J.T.'s own Villa 40 Records in conjunction with RCA and DreamWorks. The album will include Timberlake's Billboard Hot 100 chart-topping song of the summer, "Can't Stop the Feeling!"

 

DINA LAPOLT, 50

President, LaPolt Law

LaPolt, whose clients include Steven Tyler, Deadmau5 and formerly the estate of Tupac Shakur, most recently restructured the management team of Fifth Harmony, paving the way for the group's hit album 7/27. "My rule of thumb [for clients] is never sign anything [but] an autograph for a fan, unless I say it's OK," she quips. When not advocating for her own clients, the mother of 3-year-old twins speaks up for the rights of all artists; she serves as an adviser to the Grammy Creators Alliance and Songwriters of North America (SONA), which seeks fair compensation for creators in the digital age.

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W. MICHAEL MILOM, 73

Partner, Milom Horsnell Crow Rose Kelley

While he advises established acts like Luke Bryan, John Prine, Alabama and Hank Williams Jr., as well as rising star Kelsea Ballerini, Nashville-based Milom says the greatest issue facing the music business is "the loss of our 'middle class' of artists and songwriters." The grandfather of five looks beyond the debate over payment rates for digital services to a broader "devaluation of music and those who create it. The essence of the problem is cultural and won't change quickly -- if at all."

 

DONALD PASSMAN, 69

Partner, Gang Tyre Ramer & Brown

Passman cites attorney-client privilege in declining to divulge specifics about recent deals but says he has "been involved with some good-size stuff" of late. Not ­surprising, considering that the Beverly Hills resident represents such superstar clients as Taylor Swift and Adele, both of whom made waves in the digital music business in the past year. "I like being able to come up with a completely different model of how to do something or go into an area where nobody's ever been," says Passman, the author of the must-read All You Need to Know About the Music Business, now in its ninth edition. "Those are the exciting parts" of the law.

 

PETER PATERNO, 65

Partner, King, Holmes, Paterno & Soriano

Paterno negotiated Dr. Dre's producer deal for the 2015 N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton, and he represented '90s pop-punk hitmakers Offspring for the sale of its song catalog to Round Hill Music for some $35 million, a deal announced in January. It looks like he'll have an even busier year ahead with his new client Kanye West, helping to set up the Life of Pablo Tour of arenas for the superstar rapper. "Everything he does is interesting," says the New York native, who grew up in Orange County, Calif. West, he adds, "has got 20 different things going on at any given time."

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LESLIE JOSÉ ZIGEL, 53

Chair, entertainment law group, Greenspoon Marder

Zigel is a key player in Latin music, with a roster that includes Pitbull, Carlos Vives, Maluma and reggaeton artist Wisin (for whom he negotiated his role as a judge on Univision reality show La Banda). An attorney who plays jazz bass, Zigel joined Greespoon Marder in January with plans to bring national stature to the Miami firm's ­entertainment law group. To do so, he's representing both acts and rising companies, such as the music tech startup Joox Music. "They launched in November," says the Miami Beach resident, "and have had over 1.5 million users and more than 150,000 registered users in their first four months." 

 

PETER BRODSKY, 52

Executive vp business and legal affairs, Sony/ATV Music Publishing

 

In 2016, Brodsky has been dealing with the regulatory agencies that will decide whether to approve Sony's acquisition of the Michael Jackson estate's share of Sony/ATV. That's in addition to the Manhattan resident's efforts, on several fronts, to seek higher rates for Sony/ATV writers from streaming music services. "As a result of what we have done," he says, "there is increased awareness of how important the issue is, among artists and songwriters who might not have been engaged" in the discussion. 

 

DAVID KOKAKIS, 43

Executive vp/head of business and legal affairs, business development and digital, Universal Music Publishing Group

Kokakis has helped lead efforts by UMPG to improve ­compensation for songwriters for digital use of their work. Beyond the royalty battles in the ASCAP and BMI rate courts and other venues, Kokakis has closed UMPG deals with Apple Music, Genius, SoundCloud and Musical.ly. The Manhattan native, who now lives in Marina Del Rey, Calif., also has handled ­negotiations with songwriter-artists including Nicki Minaj, DNCE, Nick Jonas, Maroon 5, Jeff Bhasker and R.E.M. "It's clear," he says of UMPG, "that we are shaping the industry in ways that will benefit our songwriters in years to come." 

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SCOTT MCDOWELL, 48

Senior vp/head of legal and business affairs, Warner/Chappell Music Publishing

Warner/Chappell saw a legal setback in early 2016 in a case that will let "Happy Birthday" leave the company's catalog and enter the public domain. But in June McDowell celebrated the music ­publisher's victory in the "Stairway to Heaven" suit, after a jury ruled Robert Plant and Jimmy Page did not plagiarize the rock classic. The Chicago native coordinated Warner/Chappell's defense in the case. "The decision," he says, "was great for us and for copyright in general." 

 

PATRICK DONNELLY, 54

Executive vp/general counsel, SiriusXM

SiriusXM's $210 million ­settlement in 2015 with record companies over its use and payment for sound recordings created before 1972 "was good for the industry and bought us peace with the major labels," says Donnelly. "We want a fair system where everybody pays artists," adds the New Jersey resident and father of three. But unlike SiriusXM, terrestrial radio in the United States makes no royalty payments to recording acts, under existing law. "There are historical anachronisms [in the copyright law] which need to be corrected," says Donnelly. "I think we're due for a major revision of the Copyright Act, which should make this a more fair and equitable system." Or at least require terrestrial radio to pay the same royalties as satellite radio.

 

HORACIO GUTIERREZ, 51

General counsel, Spotify

After 17 years at Microsoft, in April Gutierrez joined Spotify, which now has more than 100 monthly million users, 30 million of whom are paying subscribers. The world's most popular streaming service has had problems paying ­mechanical royalties (owed to songwriters and publishers), which has resulted in a class-action lawsuit and a separate $30 million settlement with the National Music Publishers' Association. "Mechanical royalties are very important," says Gutierrez, a native of Venezuela and father of three, who worked on intellectual property issues during his long tenure at Microsoft. "We're very focused on ensuring there are ­outcomes that benefit everyone."

 

ANDREW BART, 61

Partner, Jenner & Block

Bart's twin victories in the past year -- one in defense of Jay Z in a sampling case and another that led to the demise of streaming service Grooveshark -- were only the latest in a string of wins for the veteran litigator. "It's still fun, because it's not a cookie-cutter business," says Bart, the father of two teenage sons who lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The Grooveshark case yielded some $420 million in ­estimated damages, based on 2,807 copyrighted songs found on the company's servers. "The ultimate health of the industry depends on having rates that are reasonable enough to pay artists," says Bart. "Grooveshark perverted that."

 

RICHARD BUSCH, 50

Partner/head of intellectual and entertainment property sections, King & Ballow

Busch is best known for his 2015 victory in the "Blurred Lines" case, in which a jury awarded Marvin Gaye's heirs $7.4 million after finding that Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke copied part of Gaye's "Got to Give It Up." (A judge subsequently reduced the award to $5.3 million). Now, the Nashville-based father of three is representing songwriters Martin Harrington and Thomas Leonard in a case that alleges Ed Sheeran's hit "Photograph" is copied from their 2009 song "Amazing." "I'm approached every day about these [types of] cases," says Busch. "And we only take the cases that we think we can win."

Ed Sheeran Sued for $20M for Allegedly Copying Song Released by 'X Factor' Winner

 

SCOTT EDELMAN, 57

Partner/co-chair; media, entertainment and technology practice group, Gibson, Dun & Crutcher

Like many others, Edelman's three teenage daughters reacted with compassion and outrage to Kesha's allegations that she had been sexually abused by Dr. Luke (Lukasz Gottwald), who has denied her charges. But Edelman represents Sony Music Entertainment, which owns Dr. Luke's Kemosabe Records. So, despite the feelings of his daughters, it was his job to convince a New York judge that Kesha's suit should not invalidate her record contract -- even while Adele, Taylor Swift and others backed calls to #FreeKesha. The case "provided a platform for a discussion about the importance of thinking critically, not accepting everything you read," says Edelman, a veteran trial attorney who has represented Apple, Universal Pictures and BMI. "Then I saw my daughters having those discussions with their friends." 

 

RUSSELL FRACKMAN, 70

Partner, Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp

 

CHRISTINE LEPERA

Partner/co-chair, entertainment and IP ­litigation practice group, Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp

Frackman is one of the top entertainment and intellectual property litigators in the country, and his most recent victories -- winning some $300 million for the major labels in actions against SiriusXM and Pandora over payment of royalties for pre-1972 recordings -- is just part of his ongoing battle to protect intellectual property online. The father of two, who recently celebrated his 46th anniversary as an attorney (and his 35th wedding ­anniversary), says litigation today is "much more contentious ... and much less efficient. Resolving a dispute and settling potential litigation before it's even filed is frequently the best for a client." His colleague Lepera has defended Dr. Luke (Lukasz Gottwald) against Kesha's efforts to break her record contract as part of her sexual abuse claim against the producer. (Rulings against some of Kesha's claims are now under appeal.) A New Jersey native who lives on Manhattan's West Side, Lepera scored not one but two big trial wins in 2015. She vindicated Timbaland and several other defendants in a nearly decade-long copyright suit over Jay Z's hit "Big Pimpin' " and won a complex case on behalf of music publisher Protoons, affirming its rights to Run-D.M.C.'s music. "It's not just about being the best lawyer you can be," she says. "It's about knowing the business and being able to represent your clients in the context of their business concerns as well as their legal concerns."

 

HARVEY GELLER, 57

Of Counsel, Carlton Fields

With a history of copyright litigation for major labels that dates back to his 2001 victory over Napster, Geller remained on the front lines this past year. "I kept up the battle," says the married L.A. native whose work (with Henry Gradstein, below) for The Turtles established that SiriusXM and Pandora must pay royalties for their streaming of pre-1972 recordings. "The rights still have only been confirmed at the district court level. You really need an appellate ruling to weigh in" to affirm the lower court's opinion. The former UMG counsel says the issue facing the industry is perception. "Music has been devalued to where it's now a commodity rather than a piece of art." 

 

HENRY GRADSTEIN, 60

Partner, Gradstein & Marzano

In 2014, Gradstein (along with Harvey Geller, above) helped The Turtles argue for royalties for their pre-1972 recordings, laying the groundwork for similar copyright claims by major labels for other artists. The New York-born, California-based attorney is now involved in class-action suits against Spotify, claiming the service streamed recordings for which it did not have licenses. "At a minimum rate of $200 per composition, for every million songs [on Spotify] that's $200 million owed," says Gradstein, who sees more licensing issues on the horizon. "The laws have always been there, but it remains to be seen how newer streaming services are going to make sure they're in compliance."

 

MARK LEVINSOHN, 59

Founder, Levinsohn Associates

Levinsohn is one of the most prominent transactional ­attorneys in music, representing companies like Kobalt Music, artists like DJ Premier and a variety of investors looking to buy song publishing catalogs. In 2015, the father of two guided the heirs of Marvin Gaye to work with King & Ballow litigator Richard Busch -- and ultimately to a legal victory worth $5.3 million in damages when a jury decided that Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke wrote "Blurred Lines" by copying part of Gaye's "Got to Give It Up." "There's an important movement for fair ­compensation to songwriters and artists," says Levinsohn, who left a 15-lawyer firm to found his own company in 2010. "The issues that come up all involve the ­allocation of money to artists and songwriters."

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JAMES SAMMATARO, 42

Managing partner, Miami, Stroock & Stroock & Lavan

Fans of such Latin stars as Jennifer Lopez and Alejandro Sanz saw all-star lineups perform in the past year at Calibash in Los Angeles, Megaton Mundial in New York and Grand Slam Party Latino -- and they have Sammataro to thank. The father of three is a go-to advisor and litigator in Latin music and negotiated deals for each of those high-profile shows, organizing them with an eye toward the bottom line and the unanticipated glitches. "When you line up concerts," he says, "you're always dealing with last-minute unforeseen close-to-catastrophe events."

 

HOWARD WEITZMAN, 76

Partner, Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldisert

Working alongside John Branca and John McClain, co-executors of the Michael Jackson estate, in 2016 Weitzman played a key role in the sale of the estate's interest in Sony/ATV Music Publishing. The Pacific Palisades, Calif., resident notes that the deal will help clear "millions of dollars in debt" from the estate, allowing it to diversify its holdings, "all for the benefit of Michael Jackson's children" (Prince, 19; Paris, 18; and Prince Michael "Blanket" Jackson II, 14). Weitzman also watches out for the ­interests of another pop superstar, Justin Bieber, whether dealing with paparazzi scrapes or copyright claims.

 

CLARA KIM, 52

Executive vp/general counsel, ASCAP

For two years ASCAP and BMI awaited the U.S. Department of Justice's revisions of decades-old rules that govern how those performance-rights organizations operate. In June, the DOJ declined to make those changes, while also shaking up established song licensing practices. It's a move that will undermine "stability and efficiency in the public performance marketplace," says Kim, who lives in Manhattan's West Village. She now must advise ASCAP on its legal response to the DOJ's decision. "We will pursue all of our options to protect our members' creative rights and the value of their music," she says -- while continuing to close the licensing and membership deals that helped ASCAP clear $1 billion in revenue in 2015. 

 

DENNIS LORD

Executive vp/president creative and business affairs, SESAC

"If everybody's a little unhappy, it's probably a good deal," is one of Lord's mantras, and he would know, from his own negotiations both as an attorney and a songwriter. (The Franklin, Tenn., resident wrote Travis Tritt's 1989 hit "Country Club," among others.) That experience has helped Lord ink big deals for SESAC with Green Day and Sony Pictures Entertainment, finalize its ­acquisition of the Harry Fox Agency and push its gross collections past $400 million. "Trying to take credit for things is juvenile," says Lord. "It's a team effort."

 

STUART ROSEN, 57

Senior vp/general counsel, BMI

Rosen points to BMI's victory over Pandora in rate court, boosting the royalties it collects for songwriters, as a highlight of the past year. But the low point of 2016 came in late June with the Department of Justice's decision to not revise the decades-old rules that govern all aspects of how ASCAP and BMI operate. The decision shows the DOJ "was not ­interested in modernizing" the song licensing process for the digital music age, says Rosen. The Brooklyn native is now reviewing BMI's options "to ensure we continue to meet the needs of our ­songwriters, composers and publishers."

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CONTRIBUTORS: Rich Appel, Ed Christman, Leila Cobo, Ashley Cullins, Andy Gensler, Gary Graff, Shirley Halperin, Steve Knopper, Rob Levine, Joe Levy, Gail Mitchell, Melinda Newman, Cathy Applefeld Olson, Mitchell Peters, Alex Pham, Deborah Evans Price, Craig Rosen, Ray Waddell, Deborah Wilker, Chris Willman