Jason Boyarski and David Fritz launched their entertainment law practice, Boyarski Fritz, in December 2011, at a time when the music business was in “somewhat of a dark place,” says Boyarski. The industry was still recovering from the damage caused by Napster and other file-sharing services, physical and digital sales were in decline, and streaming had yet to reach critical mass.
Boyarski, who had worked at Universal Music Publishing Group (UMPG) and Warner Chappell Music, and Fritz, a veteran of entertainment law firm Grubman Shire Meiselas & Sacks, as well as Charles Koppelman’s CAK Entertainment, joined what the former describes as “a lot of really smart, entrepreneurial people inside of the record and publishing companies and at outside law firms trying to figure out [the future], searching for the right solution.”
While they looked for answers, Fritz jokes that early on, he and Boyarski would sometimes employ creative solutions to impress new clients. “We had a whiteboard in the office where we would put up a fake transaction, some multibillion-dollar deal,” he recalls with a laugh. “People would come in and be like, ‘You guys are working on that?’ We’d say, ‘We can’t tell you what it is, but yeah.’ ”
Joan Jett, who became one of the firm’s first clients in 2012, says Boyarski and Fritz helped her Blackheart Group grow by “tens of millions” of dollars. In addition to inking publishing administration deals with BMG and UMPG and a distribution deal with Sony Music (which made her music available on streaming services for the first time), the attorneys also enabled Jett to expand into fashion, merchandise, film and TV. The firm brokered the sale of Blackheart Films’ 2018 documentary about the singer, Bad Reputation, and served as production counsel for its scripted film Undateable John in 2019.
Ten years later, Boyarski Fritz now uses its whiteboards to plan out publishing, catalog acquisition and master-use rights deals, talent agency and live tour agreements, mixing and engineering contracts, and joint-venture deals for a blue-chip client roster. The firm has represented the Prince estate since 2016 — with Boyarski serving as lead entertainment counsel — as well as the estates of Donny Hathaway and Antônio Carlos Jobim.
The firm’s client list has also included recording artists such as Marc Anthony, Wu-Tang Clan’s Raekwon, DJ Paul Oakenfold, Lil Tecca, Wyclef Jean, Babyface and AlunaGeorge, as well as top songwriter-producers Louis Bell (Post Malone, Justin Bieber), Tainy (Bad Bunny, J Balvin), Frank Dukes (Camila Cabello, The Weeknd) and Cirkut (Katy Perry, Ava Max). It has also represented companies across the entertainment sector, such as technology (Create Music Group, Musixmatch, Facebook), management and production (Electric Feel Music, Disruptor), event promotion (AEG, Dreamstage) and film/TV and podcasts (AudioUp, Triage/Levity).
To mark the firm’s first decade, Boyarski and Fritz talk bringing the Prince catalog into the 21st century and generating $125 million during the catalog sales boom, as well as the viability of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) as a revenue stream.
What changes in the music business have you seen over the last decade?
Jason Boyarski: I have a chart, published by the RIAA, that I show our associates all the time. It starts in 2000, and it shows the total industry revenue, split between physical and digital. And they go down and down until they hit bottom in 2011, 2012, 2013. I’ve lived that graph, and our firm was launched dead smack in the center of it.
Did launching then benefit you?
Boyarski: With the rebound of the music industry blossoming just a few years after we launched, the firm dove into the convergence of technology and music through the representations of evolving, new media platforms. We have advised and represented some of the leading technology-based music companies including the YouTube-oriented distribution company Create Music Group, the digital music lyric platform Musixmatch and many more. I advised Facebook for over a year in its early days of navigating the Wild West of music licensing. We also developed an expertise in the influencer celebrity world spawned by artist discovery apps such as TikTok and previously Vine. Our clients in that space have included TalentX, Jake Paul, Cameron Dallas and Homemade Projects. Today, we are also very involved in the music NFT deal-making frenzy, which we are excited to help pioneer.
Do you see NFTs as a viable revenue stream for artists over the long term?
Boyarski: Each time there is an industry boom, new methods of technology have determined how record companies and artists profit or lose, as in the case of the Napster era. Technology has always been a driver for the music industry — from the phonograph to Walkmans, to CDs, to downloadable MP3s and then to cloud-based streaming platforms. We see NFTs as part of this historical progression. For now, they are being treated much as expensive collectors’ items, but the technology allows for so much more, including fan funding and smart contracts. There are still some big open questions, including how, for example, music publishers will participate when an NFT synchronizes music with moving images.
What are some of your clients’ important recent accomplishments?
Boyarski: Our firm’s clients have had something like 15 Billboard Hot 100 No. 1s in the last few years — “Butter” by BTS, “Sunflower” by Post Malone and Swae Lee, and “Despacito” by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee featuring Justin Bieber, to “Havana” by Camila Cabello featuring Young Thug, “Without Me” by Halsey and more. They include Louis Bell, who is one of the most influential producer-songwriters of modern-day popular music, with more than a dozen top 10 Hot 100 hits including smashes by Post Malone, Halsey, Camila Cabello, Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift and more. There’s Tainy, one of the biggest producers in the music business and in the Latin music space. We also represent the estate of composer-songwriter Antônio Carlos Jobim, who wrote “The Girl From Ipanema.”
Compared with 1,000-attorney mega-firms, Boyarski Fritz’s staff is lean at just 10 employees. Why?
David Fritz: The big firms are amazing if you’re doing a transaction that touches multiple areas, like a [mergers and acquisitions] deal, where you have employee issues, pension issues, tax issues and many other different pieces. But when you’re doing record deals, publishing deals or catalog acquisitions, you don’t need to roll into the room with such a staff of lawyers that your client ends up with an outsize bill that doesn’t make sense relative to what they’re doing.
What are the advantages of choosing a boutique firm like yours?
Fritz: We bring efficiency to the client. We’re not really a cost center. We’re more like a partner. We get the task done the best way possible because we’re in it for the long haul.
How many catalog sales deals has your firm handled during the current boom?
Boyarski: In the last two years, we’ve [brokered] over $125 million in catalog sales, some of which have been announced, like Louis Bell’s deal [with UMPG in January], and some which have not. We also helped the Donny Hathaway estate sell his masters and publishing, and we’re in the middle of a bunch more.
How were catalog deals different when your firm was starting out?
Boyarski: Prior to five years ago, catalog sales were limited to companies, songwriters or artists selling their catalogs usually to one buyer. And that buyer was the home team already — either the co-publisher or the administrator or the record label. People were not buying streams of income in the way that we now see from Merck [Mercuriadis] and Primary Wave’s Larry Mestel, Round Hill and the others that we now negotiate with. It was very uncommon.
How has that change affected your bottom line?
Boyarski: It has created a new income transaction in the music business and a new way to shop deals. We’ve got a list of over 30 companies that we go to. Some are private equity-backed, some are strategic players, some are majors or mini-majors or qualifying independents. It has accelerated the wealth of a lot of successful songwriters and artists, but the creative community must be very careful in choosing what to sell.
Boyarski: We typically say that you want to see the value of a copyright mature so that it’s no longer on the rise or in decline so that you can really see what the overall horizon is for it. And if you’re going to sell something early, you must make sure the buyers don’t put too big of a decay rate on it [the assumption built into the price of a catalog sale that aims to predict how revenue from the musical compositions acquired will shrink over time].
What kind of work have you done for the Prince estate?
Boyarski: All of the entertainment transactions, including the full catalog music publishing agreement with Universal Music Publishing Group and the 35-album deal on the master side that went to Sony. We also did the performance rights agreement with Irving Azoff and Randy Grimmett at Global Music Rights because, prior to his death, Prince had resigned from ASCAP as a writer. Over the years, I’ve also partnered with Troy Carter, the estate’s entertainment adviser, to cut a number of other deals, including bringing his music to TikTok and Peloton, and doing name, image and licensing deals with them. We created a channel with SiriusXM, and there are also a bunch of yet-to-be-announced projects.
Prince was fiercely protective of his legacy as an artist. Is it ever daunting to handle rights deals for someone known for maintaining such tight control over his works?
Boyarski: It’s a blessing to be involved with such an iconic artist’s work, but it’s also a huge weight on our shoulders because every decision that we make tells a new story about how his music is going to be heard and how Prince is going to be seen by a new generation. So there is a lot of time and energy spent determining how his music is going to be put into the market.
What other clients are you prioritizing?
Fritz: Marc Anthony, certainly. I’m basically general counsel to everything he does. Marc is the Frank Sinatra of Spanish-language music. And in business, he’s like JAY-Z [with Roc Nation]. Through his company Magnus Media, he’s a registered sports agent and has a full sports agency with over 50 players; a talent agency, where they book acts around the world; and a label that has signed Gente de Zona, Enrique Santos and Calle y Poché. He’s got a publishing joint venture with Sony and a label deal with Sony Latin. When you’re an artist of that stature, people are coming at you from every which way to get involved in your companies, even if it has nothing to do with music. So every day is a new adventure.
What are your goals for the next decade?
Boyarski: We’re strong believers in utilizing technology to create efficiencies that help us grow. But we don’t want to become one of the big firms that we mentioned earlier. We want to maintain a boutique atmosphere and personality for our clients. We are also particularly excited about the firm’s future growth from within, especially the development of some of our rising-star lawyers, including our lead West Coast attorney, Avi Dahan, and our up-and-coming associates Francine Lewis, Marshall Amores and Dylan Reich. We are committed to investing in the future of our team and giving them the resources to be at the top of their game. We hold training sessions for them all the time.
Fritz: Outside of the practice, I’m building a company called Creative Intell, which you might call the Legal Zoom for the music business. It will offer software tools that help attorneys with the aid of artificial intelligence. It isn’t just going to be limited to the music business. In all of lawyering, legal tech is an important category for growth. Lawyers and law firms that didn’t otherwise have access to sophisticated software tools will gain that access at affordable prices, enabling work to be done faster and cheaper, and with fewer errors.
‘The Wealth of Experience is Staggering’
Boyarski Fritz’s music executive and artist clients share what makes the entertainment law firm stand out most.
Lalah Hathaway: “We as a family truly appreciate the support and care given by Boyarski Fritz. We feel lucky to work alongside Jason and to be aligned with people in this industry that are as passionate about our family legacy as we are.”
Massimo Ciociola, CEO, Musixmatch: “Jason and the team have been amazing partners to Musixmatch since we started. They’ve steered us through the U.S. music scene and opened many doors in the lyrics licensing space. We love working with them and look forward to working together in the future.”
Peter Brodsky, general counsel/executive vp business and legal affairs, Sony/ATV Music Publishing: “Congratulations to Jason, David and the whole Boyarski Fritz team. And to think I knew you when… It’s always a pleasure to work with your firm, and we look forward to many more years working together.”
Troy Carter, founder/CEO, Q&A: “Jason Boyarski is one of the most thorough attorneys I’ve worked with. He has an uncanny ability to remember the smallest details in a contract and makes sure the client understands exactly what they’re entering into. The complexity of managing an estate like Prince’s goes well beyond entertainment law. Jason and his firm have done an impeccable job cleaning up the estate and negotiating very lucrative deals — all while making it an enjoyable experience for the team.”
Paul Oakenfold: “I’ve been working with Boyarski Fritz for years now. I find them highly professional and good at what they do.”
Jody Gerson, chairman/CEO, Universal Music Publishing Group: “Jason Boyarski and David Fritz are terrific partners to UMPG. Their firm operates with integrity, fairness and a dedication to the talent they represent.”
Joan Jett: “I’ve known David and Jason for many years. I met each of them in separate universes in the entertainment industry, where each of them had illustrious achievements, and I was a beneficiary of their individual acumen. I was so thrilled when David called to say the two had formed a practice. The wealth of experience is staggering. I was all in from the first day. They have been with me through many career milestones and have always given me exceptional counsel on our ever-expanding business, Blackheart. I love these guys.”
Lex Borrero, CEO, NEON16: “There are attorneys, and then there is Jason Boyarski — a true black belt in deal-making.”
Tainy: “The best closer in the business.”
Austin Rosen, CEO, Electric Feel Entertainment: “There are few firms as trusted as Boyarski Fritz, and they stand as a clear leader in putting their clients first. The partnership we’ve built working with the team since the inception of Electric Feel has been monumental in our continued success.”
Jonathan Strauss, founder/CEO, Create Music Group: “Jason has been a valuable member of the Create team for a number of years now. His insight and guidance have been so crucial to our overall growth.”
Louis Bell: “Working with Jason allows me to fully focus on the creative. Having the trust and confidence that my attorney and the rest of my team are handling those important negotiations for everything from producer deals to catalog sales has been amazing for my career.”
Tamar Braxton: “Jason has been a pleasure to work with. He came into my career at a very pivotable time, and I am thankful because he knows what he’s doing. He is an industry leader, innovator and a first-class lawyer. And he gets me my coins … thank you, Jason, for all you do.”
Lil Tecca: “Boyarski Fritz LLP has been extended family to me since the start of my career. I met David when I was still in high school and he has helped guide me through thick and thin. I am lucky to have the firm on my team.”