The UCLA Music Business Class That is Secretly an Industry Must-Attend

Dina LaPolt

"Tort reform is easy, it's learning the guitar solo on 'Sweet Child O' Mine' that's hard," says entertainment lawyer Dina LaPolt. For the past 16 years LaPolt has taught Los Angeles' most in-demand music industry class: "Legal and Practical Aspects of the Music Business," a UCLA extension course which, despite its paint-drying title, has become a breeding ground for some of the music industry's best and brightest. 

Take Brad Rains, who enrolled in LaPolt's class in 2002 after landing his first music biz job at Windswept Publishing. "Dina would swiftly move between teaching us with actual examples and having the best guest speakers from different fields in the business," says Rains, "this knowledge was the basis for my career." Rains is now vp of brand partnerships and commercial licensing at Atlantic Records.

Other LaPolt alumni concur, including Irene Richter, svp of operations at Dr Luke's Kemosabe Records; Nettwerk's Coleen Novak who manages Family of the Year; Robert Von Blasko, of Mercenary Management who oversees Black Veil Brides and Black Label Society (and has played bass with Ozzy Osbourne for last ten years); Carly Mann at Three Six Zero management, part of Calvin Harris' team; the Creed Company's Jack Minihan who works with Sara Bareilles; Red Light Entertainment manager Cailin Sundry and even artists like American Idol season ten runner-up Hailey Reinhart and Kori Withers, a musician and daughter of the great Bill Withers.

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But it's not just students who benefit from LaPolt's class; the industry itself has sent many execs Dina's way. This includes such music biz pros as Apple Music's Julie Pilat, eminent music exec and chairman and CEO of Azoff MSG Ent., Irving Azoff, Three Six Zero's Dean Wilson and Larry Rudolph of Reign Deer/Maverick Management.

"I'm a huge fan of Dina's, and of her class," says Rudolph, whose clients include Miley Cyrus and Britney Spears." Dina is always finding new and better ways to give back to the artist community and help train the bright young minds of the future to help fix this broken business." 

What these students learn from LaPolt -- whose firm LaPolt Law P.C. represents Steven Tyler, Deadmau5, Xzibit and previously the Tupac Shakur estate -- can be boiled down to a few words:  "Making money in music, that's what the whole class is about," says LaPolt. While many in the music business would agree that benjamins are what they most want (though they might call it "having sustained career"), attaining the cheddar is no easy feat.

"You have the artist -- who's like the content, the product, the brand -- and you have to figure out how you're going to make a business with that artist. There's a ton of things you have to know," LaPolt says breaking it down. "There's copyrights, trademarks, rights of publicity, how those intellectual properties are monetized, what rights do you convey, what rights do you hold back so you can convey them to someone else, what rights pay, what rights pay a residual royalty -- it's all about trading on intellectual property and building the artist's brand as a business and continuing to monetize their music. That's how it is. As a lawyer, if I'm not doing things that make my clients money then they should fire me."

LaPolt, 49, is a New Paltz, New York native whose accent sounds like a street tough from the Bronx and belies a pull-no-punches directness, but with a humorous approach. She's about as far from formal as one can get. Check out the episode of Joel Zimmerman's (a.k.a. Deadmau5) entertaining YouTube video series "Coffee Run" with LaPolt as she and the Canadian DJ/producer drive around Toronto in search of java laughing as he mocks lawyers, fools around at a Tim Horton's drive-thru and dubs cat meows sounds over her advice for aspiring musicians.

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It's this same charm, intelligence and intense energy that enables LaPolt to rope in music execs as guest speakers for her UCLA extension class. This includes Interscope attorney Erica Savage, Warner Bros. Records lawyer Damian Elahi, Greenberg Traurig's Jay Cooper, the aforementioned Rains, and Evan Greenspan who licenses the music for the Grammys, the Oscars and, most importantly the Ellen Show. "He'll show us real licenses he's used that are redacted," says LaPolt. "He's like, 'here's the clearance form I used when I negotiated using Dr. Dre's song from Straight Outta Compton for the Ellen Show, let's go through it."

What many of the matriculated may not realize about LaPolt's class, however, is its pedigree, which descends directly from one of LaPolt's mentors and a person many consider to be something of a music business oracle: Don Passman. He's the author of All You Need To Know About The Music Business (now in it's 9th edition) -- the one text that is mandatory in LaPolt's class. In 1997, Passman inadvertently handed off the torch to the Los Angeles music business class to LaPolt.

LaPolt says she was literally carrying around Passman's book with her in 1997, when she first arrived in Los Angeles. "Someone told me he was teaching a class at USC and anyone could take it. So I borrowed money from my parents." That class, which Passman taught for a decade, was his last semester teaching. LaPolt says her class is a continuation of Passman's, which she has continually updated over the years.

"After I took his class, I had an epiphany," says LaPolt. "He said something in the class that was really important. Someone asked him a question about royalties and he answered it. And someone said something like, 'Well I'm sure you know it because you've seen it a 100 times in real life.' And he goes, 'No, not really, but I teach it so much I know it very well.' And a light bulb went off and I thought, 'Oh my God, I need to teach it.' I taught music classes to kids while I was in law school, that's how I supported myself and that's how I know all the Guns N' Roses songs."

Which brings us back to LaPolt's guitar chops. Though she's classically trained and gave up her rock stardom dreams for law long ago (her all-girl band was called Irresistible Impulse), every once in a while her two passions intersect. "We got hired by Ronnie James Dio's estate a few months ago," says LaPolt. "Wendy Dio runs everything over there. And I said, 'Wendy, Holy Diver was my first album and I wouldn't leave my bedroom until I mastered the entire thing on guitar.' She loved that."