Business

Entertainment Attorney Paul Rothenberg Shares Tips For Emerging Artists On Achieving Success and Longevity

Paul Rothenberg
Ian Bailey

Paul Rothenberg 

Paul Rothenberg says that while he has always been analytical -- he was a math major at Dartmouth, after all -- he was also always passionate about music. “Being an entertainment attorney ended up being a great way to marry the two interests,” he tells Billboard.

Working with creative clients and in the field of law fits his strengths, and has allowed Rothenberg to excel since first becoming an attorney in 1998 before turning his focus to entertainment law in 2002. In April 2009, Rothenberg opened his own boutique entertainment law firm, Rothenberg, P.C., with locations in New York, Los Angeles and Miami. The firm boasts an impressive roster of acts including Charlie PuthLogicA$AP FergTrey Songz and D’Angelo, and also has focuses on film, sports, theater and more.

“It’s very creative and entrepreneurial on top of the transactional work," the Tampa, Fla. native says. "A lot of times I’m the first person an artist may get in touch with on a professional level -- we become a trusted advisor and help them put together their team. I always felt that that role is very rewarding. You end up forming a very close bond [with an artist] and become a part of the inner circle.”

Of his clients, Puth and Logic in particular have had standout years (“Their success is reflective of a long-term effort,” he says), which in turn has meant a busy year for Rothenberg. When an artist takes off, he explains, “That coincides with a lot more deals and opportunities and trying to capitalize on the moment and make smart decisions.”

When it comes to making strategic moves, Rothenberg seems to have tapped into how an artist can find not only success, but the holy grail of music careers: longevity. Here, Rothenberg runs through four tips for an artist navigating the often-confusing world of starting out in the music business.

Don't Be Afraid To Take Things Slow

"Prepare for your career like it’s a marathon," he says. "There are so many opportunities and everything is important and everything is helpful, but you really have to find a balance and draw the line to protect your health, too. I try to keep [new artists] focused on that fact that this is a career and a marathon, and we don’t want to see them burn out early."

Pay Attention To Your Contract

"The first line in the contract is sometimes the most important, which is who the contract is with," he explains. "Take your time, decide on the right partner -- it’s not always the first person that finds you. Don’t focus only on the advance; there are too many stories of massive deals and no career. Choose a partner and deal that gives you the best chance for long-term success. But no matter how much homework you do, every deal and partner you choose is going to be somewhat of a leap of faith. So build in an escape clause so you can get out if things don’t go as planned. That can be very valuable. And keep the contract short, which limits the damage as well."

Make Decisions Early On 

"Today, artists can take something and grow their brand pretty far themselves online and build an audience," says Rothenberg. "But they have to decide, do they want to take it as far as they can on their own and try to get the best terms and a deal, or would they prefer to bring on a strategic partner early, to increase their chances of success and get there faster? I personally favor a mix -- one or two deals early, bring on strategic partners, and then wait on some that capitalize on your success at a later time."

Be Cautious Of The Company You Keep

"Build a strong team. Keep them engaged," he says. "Personally, we as attorneys like to be involved early so we can help provide guidance from the beginning. We are responsible for everything of a business nature that they need. Whether it’s civil litigation, or someone gets in trouble and there is a criminal attorney needed, or trademark or family law, trusts and estates. It’s our job to find [the artist] the best person to handle that work and oversee it and make sure it’s prioritized and they are charged fairly. So we become like a member of the board of directors, and we see the client as the CEO. I say to artists, 'Know who you are as an artist and be true to yourself. Everyone's going to have opinions. Listen to feedback from those you trust, but also fight for what you believe.'”