Attorneys and entrepreneurs came together to feast on a menu of big ideas, artistic ideals and red meat (rare, the way lawyers like it) at the Grammy Foundation’s 19th Annual Entertainment Law Initiative Luncheon Friday afternoon (Feb. 10) at the Beverly Hilton.
The hotel’s intimate ballroom was packed to capacity with about 450 guests. Recording Academy president and CEO Neil Portnow said the event, which raises funds for the Grammy Foundation, set attendance and revenue records.
ELI Service Award recipient Elliot Groffman — a partner at Carroll, Guido & Groffman, whose clients include the Dave Matthews Band, Pearl Jam, Patti Smith, Arcade Fire and Andre 3000 — received two standing ovations and a whole lotta love for remarks that spanned business and social policy.
“In the overheated political environment that we live in today, we need to aggressively use our role as artist representatives and partners to encourage the artist community to find its individual and collective voice and support the social and political causes that are important to them — and us — in the face of political opposition,” Groffman said, garnering applause.
Groffman’s activism also extended to artist-label relations. He drew murmurs of assent when he suggested the time is right to reconsider the nature of “360 deals,” which he characterized as “the key challenge” for artists’ lawyers.
“If the future is so bright, can we get there together? Can both the labels and artists thrive?” Groffman noted he was “not here to debate whether the labels should be asking for these rights, although, he added after a beat, “I’m happy to do so over cocktails with anyone who wants to join me later.”
In achieving a proper balance between the needs of the artist and a proper return on investment for the label, Groffman urged reasonableness and a sense of perspective. “Let’s say it’s been years since tour support or other extraordinary marketing expenditures are required for maintenance of that career. We need to be able to flip these deals and start to phase out these participations. Otherwise, what might arguably be a helpful inducement to a label to spend properly or even enthusiastically in the early days can turn into a windfall, which will hurt the artist. We need a balanced and healthy ecosystem to nurture talent and provide returns so when we get to that bright, bundled future, we have a sustainable and balanced business model.”
Groffman was introduced by Dave Matthews, who proved to be quite the crowd pleaser, drawing laughter throughout his remarks, but never so much as when he took a jab at President Donald Trump. Alluding to the boom times predicted in the business keynote by William Morris Endeavor head of music Marc Geiger, who preceded him to the stage, Matthews made the point that when times are good it’s important to remember those who’ve helped on the way up, and suggested it’s not bad practice to likewise take note of who maybe wasn’t so nice.
“That terrible Civil War image that [Marc Geiger] put up. That thing was hardcore. Bloated corpses! That’s not fake, that’s real dead people! Huh. Kind of reminded me of the president.”
Geiger took the audience through a five-point look at the road ahead, emphasizing a future in which stand-alone music subscriptions would be going the way of the Edsel insofar as driving revenue.
“In the age of Google Play, Amazon Prime and soon to be Apple TV Music Media or whatever,” bundled content services that include music, photo storage, movies and games will replace the existing cable TV subscriptions, Geiger predicted. “People are complaining about paying $10 today, this is going to cost $99, and the question for everybody in this room is how much of that $99 will go towards music?”
As per Geiger’s projection, there’s gold in them hills. “This new business is going to be much, much bigger than the old business,” he asserted. “Publishers, labels and digital companies are soon to be flush with cash. Return of the private jet.”
The program was well-received by attendees. “Elliot was so inspiring, talking about advocating for the artist, and how the labels need to look for balance and need not be so aggressive when it comes to our clients’ income stream,” LaPolt Law PC’s Dina LaPolt observed afterward. “He went through the trajectory of his career, but made that final point to the labels.”
Greenberg Traurig’s Todd Cooper cited as a high point the comedic stylings of Dave Matthews. “Who knew he had such mad stand-up skills?”
The ceremony is designed in part to recognize law school student winners of the ELI writing competition. Seton Hall attendee Stephanie Beach won a $5,000 scholarship for her winning paper, “Born to Run: Amending Right of Publicity Statutes to Address the Use of Music in Political Campaigns.”
Four runners up received scholarships of $1,500 each: Leslie DeGonia of Washington U (“This Is My Fight Song, Take Back My Termination Rights Song”); Pepperdine’s Andrew Smith (who wrote on “Preventing Future Drug-Related Deaths at Electronic Festivals”); USC’s Trevor Maxim (“How the Music Industry Can Manage DMCA Takedowns Under Lenz”); and Mary Catherine Amerine of William & Mary (“A Proposal For Creating Sampling Standards”).
Also in attendance were Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) chairman of the House Judiciary Committee; ELI Executive Committee chairman and Lapidus, Root & Sacharow partner Henry Root; ELI Executive Committee chair and Fox Rothschild partner Ken Abdo; Recording Academy counsel and chair of the Global Entertainment and Media Practice at Greenberg Traurig Joel Katz; Grammy Foundation vp Scott Goldman; and Tesoro High School choral director Keith Hancock, recipient of the 2017 Educator Award bestowed by the Recording Academy and the Grammy Foundation.