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Few of us can remember a moment that changed our lives but entertainment lawyer DINA LAPOLT remembers her epiphany as if it was yesterday. After years of struggling in bands and supplementing her income as both a promoter and guitar teacher, LAPOLT attended a music conference with a panel session on negotiating record deals. Upon the panel's conclusion, LAPOLT tossed her band's demo tape aside and her fate as one of the industry's most valued players was sealed. For over seven years, her firm LAPOLT LAW, P.C. has maintained the most rockingest clientele (MOTLEY CRUE, the estate of TUPAC SHAKUR) and has worked tirelessly at making sense of the most misleading contract verbiage and helping clients to maintain approval over how their creative properties are used."The record company and publishing company's job is to make money off of the copyright and they really don't care that your client is an animal rights activist and they are putting the song into a movie scene where a dog is being brutalized,  but they could care less because the use is going to pay them two-hundred-fifty-thousand dollars." says LAPOLT "Doing deals where you're giving controls of your intellectual properties over to publishing companies and record companies are a necessary evil of our business, but at the same time, it's important to maintain those approvals so that the artist's integrity isn't compromised."

Due to LAPOLT's one-of-a-kind devotion and innate understanding of the thought process that is usually indicative of "creative" personalities, LAPOLT has garnered accolades from the industry . She has been listed as one of the most influential women in music by OUT MAGAZINE and THE ADVOCATE. She has also served as co-producer of the ACADEMY AWARD-nominated documentary TUPAC: RESURRECTION.

ROCKWIRED spoke with DINA LAPOLT over the phone. Here is how it went.

What drew you to music in the beginning?
I'm a musician, so I've always been in a band. I grew up in Upstate New York and when I was eleven I wanted to be a rock star and that whole thing. I've been in bands all my life and that was kind of what I was doing. I went to college and got a scholarship to study music. I ended up transferring to State University in New York and I graduated with a Bachelors in Music. Throughout my college years I gave guitar lessons to kids and I had  joined the concert committee at the Student Activities Center and I learned how to put on concerts and events and I did that for a couple of years and then I started to do that in clubs in Upstate New York. From there, I started becoming a talent buyer and promoting music in various clubs. One time, I booked this all-girl band in the late eighties and their manager happened to be the drummer for KISS (ERIC CARR) and he was actually impressed with the club I had filled with this 'no-name' band that he was managing and he asked if he could take me out to lunch. His parents lived in Upstate New York so he said that he was going to be around for the next couple of days and said 'sure!'. So I met with him and he asked If would like to work with him on a regular basis with some of the other groups that I manage and I said 'sure!'. For a couple of years I was doing that around Manhattan. I eventually graduated with my degree in music and as you can imagine, I had a line at the door of people that wanted to hire me because of my major in guitar (laughs). To make long story short, I couldn't find a job and ERIC had relocated from New York to L.A. because of GENE SIMMONS and PAUL STANLEY. All of the band's business was now being done in L.A. whereas before, it was New York. I moved out to California as well but I moved up to the San Francisco Bay Area because I had relatives there and I didn't have anyone in L.A. that I really knew. When I was working with ERIC, it was on a commission basis. It wasn't like he was paying my salary or anything like that. In San Francisco, I lived with my aunt and uncle and I started teaching guitar lessons to kids just to pay the bills. I also joined some bands and played around in the San Francisco club scene and then I met some people and started promoting clubs in San Francisco like I did in New York. It was pretty much up and down. Some nights I would do very well and other nights I wouldn't do so well and then I found a fourteen year old, three-person punk band. These kids were like in the eighth and ninth grade and I just fell in love with them so I started managing these kids and then I signed them to a record deal and managed them and that was a thankless job. All the while, I am approaching my thirties, I have a college degree in music, I'm still in the music industry but I'm not eighteen or twenty anymore so one of the bands that I was in was invited to showcase at this music conference in San Francisco and that was very exciting and part of being able to showcase was that one member of the band would get to go to the conferences throughout the day. I looked in the schedule and saw these different panels in the music like publishing deals and record deals and I was very intrigued by that because I was always very business minded, but I didn't really know anything about the music business as opposed to the music industry. I took my trusty demo tape - and I'm dating myself - and I went to this panel called 'NEGOTIATING RECORD DEALS' and on the panel were three lawyers talking about the ins and outs of a record deal and all that other stuff. So I get to the panel  and I thought I was at the wrong one because there were three guys and one of them was very heavily tattooed and the other one had two earrings and long hair and I was like 'I can't be in the lawyers panel!' so I asked someone next to me and they said that it was and I had an epiphany right there and then. I said 'I'm gonna be a music lawyer!' and that was what happened. I waited in line afterwards to talk to this lawyer who was on the panel and when I got up there, he was like 'I'm not taking demo tapes! I'm not taking unsolicited material!' and I looked at the demo tape that I was holding and I just threw it over my shoulder and I said 'I'm done with that! What I really want to do is be you.' And his smug ass said to me 'Well you need a college degree first before you can even go to law school.' and I said 'Got that! Been there, done that! How do I get into law school?' and he's like 'You've got to take a law school admission test and try to get in.' Well within six months of that conversation with that pompous guy, I ended up taking the law school admission test and getting accepted into law school at JOHN F. KENNEDY University School of Law in the San Francisco Bay Area and I did that for four years and put myself through law school by promoting clubs and teaching guitar lessons to children. My band did a residency at a club in Walnut Creek for three years and within two weeks of passing the bar exam, one of my ex-girlfriends sisters called me up and asked if I was an entertainment lawyer yet, and I told her, 'Believe it or not, yes!' and she said 'Wow! I'm on the cover of PLAYBOY, can you come to L.A.?' and within twenty-four hours, I was living with her in Sherman Oaks. So that is how it began.

What was the biggest surprise for you once you had become an entertainment lawyer and moved to Los Angeles?
The biggest surprise for me honestly was that I couldn't find a job.

Yes. All these years of working in the music industry and being in a band and helping to manage acts and promoting clubs and doing concerts and all of this great stuff and I didn't know shit about the music business or anything having to do with the deal making, the agreements and the stuff where the real money is generated. So just because I had a law degree and I had passed the bar and had been a musician for twenty years of my life - I didn't know anything. I didn't know my ass from my elbow so I pretty much used all of the relationships that I had to get interviews with different entertainment lawyers. I relied on connections like ERIC and GENE from KISS and my client Miss June from PLAYBOY to get me connections and going up the PLAYBOY MANSION and meeting HEFF and having him open doors. I was able to meet a lot of people in the music business and get interviews but the same thing I heard over and over gain was 'You don't know what you're doing!'. It was very shocking to me because I thought that it was going to be a done deal but it was absolutely not a done deal because the same thing that I kept hearing over and over again twelve years go is the same thing that I tell new lawyers today. 'I can't hire you until I know I can give you fifteen producer agreements and you can go and negotiate them, draft them, bring them back fully executed and have them completely favorable to my client without asking a single question or bugging the shit out of me. Until you can do that, there is no room for you at the firm.'

And how do you go about doing that if you're not working for somebody?
You work for free. You intern in an entertainment law firm and you work for free. You start filing papers, answering phones, getting the bosses lunch, faxing papers - whatever it takes.

And is that what you did?
Yes, and then I also took classes. The great thing about L.A. is that it's an entertainment town, and both USC and UCLA offer Continuing Education Programs at night where they give classes and lectures in the music and film business . So I charged a class on my credit card called 'EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE MUSIC BUSINESS' and the professor at the time was DON PASSMAN. I bought his book when I was sixteen years old called 'EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE MUSIC BUSINESS'  and it was mu Bible. I had charged the five hundred dollars to charge the class on my credit card. So I took his class and I interned for a music lawyer in Century City, who at the time represented JEFF FOXWORTHY and JENNIFER LOPEZ. In the beginning, I didn't know what I was doing so I would do whatever it took to learn. He would say fax this paper to so and so and I didn't just go fax the paper. I would read what I was faxing and then write down questions that I would have and I would go back to resources that I had such as the DON PASSMAN book or these entertainment industry contract guides that are put out by MATTHEW BENDER that the law library had and I would go back to those and look up my questions and then I would get answers. For the stuff where I couldn't get any answers, I would ask my boss but I would save up my questions for when my boss was in a good mood and his phone wasn't ringing off the wall. When he was a bit willing to chat, I would pick his brain with questions and then I started meeting other lawyers because I started going to things in L.A. like the CALIFORNIA COPYRIGHT CONFERENCE which is something that has been in L.A. for thirty years and its the second Tuesday of every month in the evening. It's in Sherman Oaks and you pay fifty dollars to join as a member for a year and they have dinners and there  are these panels of people and some of the panels are on negotiating producer agreements and new publishing deals. Experts would come and talk about these things that they were doing, so I would go to that religiously. I also joined the ASSOCIATION OF INDEPENDENT MUSIC PUBLISHERS which met on the  third Thursday of every month during the day and I would go to those luncheons and meet people there. Once I started meeting other lawyers, I would have questions about deals that I was doing and I would take them to lunch. I would spend a lot of money taking people to lunch and I would ask them questions about violating confidences and pick their brain and they would give me some of their agreements and they would redact the agreement so I'd take out the information  so I could read what they were doing and that was what I did. All the while I had to wait tables because I couldn't support myself. When you want something, you just go get it. Whatever it takes.

Talk about the class you're teaching at UCLA.
I started the class last night and it's amazing. When I was a young lawyer without a job and waiting tables, and took that class by DONALD PASSMAN at USC, that was probably the single most important thing I had ever done in my entire career. I learned so much in that class so I started teaching that class at UCLA Extension eight years ago. This is the twelfth class that I'm teaching. It's fantastic because the course covers all of the contractual and the business issues that arise in this industry from record deals, production deals, producer agreements and issues that arise in the recording studio, trademark issues and rights of publicity. We also go over agreements relating to management, entertainment lawyers, agents, business managers, and licensing. It's amazing! It's a twelve week class and I started it last night and I have over forty people and I love it. It forces me to keep current.

What compelled you to start your own firm as opposed to partnering with a more established one?
I ended up learning a lot from the nine months that I interned for that one lawyer. After nine months I started to become valuable to him. I was able to do producer agreements without asking him questions. I was able to create value for him where he was able to bill me out, so I ended up working at his firm for like three years. I became a bona fide lawyer at the firm and then he and I had a falling out. We're great friends now but the falling out had to do with business issues. He is a fantastic lawyer, but he's lawyer. I see myself as a business person and a deal maker and he really didn't have good instincts when it came to money or with what clients wanted to do. He was really in the tree, where I was in the forest. So we kind of  had a difference of opinion on a couple of things that had happened with a certain client and that client started to rely on my instincts more and more and more and it became a very uncomfortable situation for him. At that point, he had been practicing for twenty five years and I had only been practicing for three years but his particular client just ended up relying on me more than him and instead of nurturing that relationship and encouraging me to grow, he put the reigns on my a little more because he was insecure and that really hurt the situation. When I see a client really take to lawyer in my firm, I encourage them because I've learned from the mistakes of my old boss. I encourage them to take the client to lunch and send them birthday presents and Christmas presents. I encourage them to really get them to know the client on a personal level to solidify the bond even more. Do I run the risk of  the lawyers here leaving and taking clients and opening their own firm? Of course, but the only thing to fear is fear itself and I can't live like that. If a lawyer is going to leave me and go open up their own practice and take some of the clients that I originally brought into the firm, than that is the way it should be. I encourage my lawyers to build their practice within my practice. My own boss at the time didn't see it that way. He got very threatened and instead of encouraging that relationship between me and client 'A', what he did was put restrictions on me. He started saying that I couldn't call the client on my own and that he had to be in the room. The client wasn't allowed to fax me letters or anything. He even called the clients and told them that they couldn't talk to me, they had to talk to him and this particular client; she was not about that. She was very successful in her own right and she right away smelled his insecurity and did the exact opposite of what he was telling her to do and she started relying on me more and more and more. So one day he sat me down and told me that this isn't working and I said 'I know, I think I need more money and lets try to renegotiate my deal', but he wanted to demote me. When we got this client at the firm, she had five other lawyers. Three years later, two of those lawyers had gone away and we were doing a bulk of the entertainment work. She still had the litigation counsel and the trademark counsel but because we did such a good job, we were able to consolidate her stuff and she was able to get rid of two other law firms so we created value for her and saved her an enormous amount of resources. Instead of looking at that as a positive thing, he tried to put limitations on me and demote me and that was when it got really uncomfortable and he told me that  'If you didn't like it, then you should go somewhere else.' and I said 'Okay!'. I created a network for myself and I joined all of those committees and I started putting it out there that I was looking for a job. I didn't tell the clients at all because that's unethical. I just told my colleagues. In a week, I had four law firms that wanted to interview me. I interviewed with two of the four and actually got an offer from one firm. When I told my boss at the time, he had a cow and from then on it became unbearable and after a week I left. After I left, three of the clients came with me, including that lady. And that is the long and the short of it BRIAN.

How many lawyers are in your firm at the moment?
Three including me and one assistant who is out taking the bar exam.

With your clientele, what is the most common issue that presents itself?
Protecting their rights and maintaining their approvals with third party companies. That is a big issue. Clients need to be able to maintain their approval over the use of their music in TV commercials and films. The record company and publishing company's job is to make money off of the copyright and they really don't care that your client is an animal rights activist and they are putting the song into a movie scene where a dog is being brutalized,  but they could care less because the use is going to pay them two-hundred-fifty-thousand dollars. Doing deals where you're giving controls of your intellectual properties over to publishing companies and record companies are a necessary evil of our business, but at the same time, it's important to maintain those approvals so that the artist's integrity isn't compromised.

What should the plan of action be for any new artist that is about to sign that dotted line?
They need to find a lawyer. If they get offered any type of agreement, the first thing they've got to do is get a lawyer. They shouldn't sign the agreement or have their cousin Vinny to help them with it. They need a music lawyer because that is someone who does music law all day long and they view hundreds and hundreds of these agreements every single week and that is the only professional that is going to let them know what the agreement means and what the industry customs say and what they are giving up and what they are actually getting.

Just because a large part of ROCKWIRED's readership is made of music professionals and members of bands, how much is a consultation fee for something like this.
We don't do that. We get new clients from word of mouth or they have to have some kind of buzz. Even if the client live in Bloomfuck, Idaho, me and other industry professionals will know who that client is. If all of a sudden they have a humongous presence on the internet through various social networking sites whether it's MYSPACE, FACEBOOK, their webpages, webcasting royalties, i-TUNES downloads and if they are getting written up in on-line fanzines about their shows. If they're selling out thousand-seat shows, we're going to know about it. It's not really about whether it's a hit record anymore. It's about them creating themselves. There are new artists that will create a hit song and will actually get it played on the radio from just networking. A good song is a good song is a good song but when it gets out there and people start playing it , then things start to happen. So any band or artist that just thinks that a music lawyer and a manager is the 'end-all, be-all' to creating their careers, they are sadly mistaken. You have to create yourself to get the attention of us and then we can take it to a new level. A new band that basically has their song on the i-TUNES charts gets charted in BILLBOARD MAGAZINE and then we'll notice that their song is getting played on mainstream radio or ACTIVE ROCK. All of a sudden, we see the group is charting and we're like, 'who is this group?' and we GOOGLE them and we go to their MYSPACE page and we can see that they have  five hundred thousand people on their page and can see that they are doing 25 shows in two months in eighteen states. Now, I'm interested! If a band can do that on no budget, imagine what they can do with major resources behind them. So that is kind of how that goes.

I read where you said that the artist needs to think of themselves as a brand. How easy is that for artists that you've come across to accept. Especially rock artists who are like 'It's all about the music man!'
Well, it is what it is, but it's a business. At the end of the day, if you can't pay your rent and your mortgage with your music, then do it as a hobby. It's like opening up a 7-11 on the corner, it's business. You've got to put up money to make money. If you don't want to put up money to make money and you don't want to think of yourself as a brand, and not learn the principles of the music business and apply them to your craft and actually start making a living, then don't be in it! Trust me, there are a hundred people at my door that are lined up that are willing to do that. The music is just a part of it. There is touring. There is merchandising. There are sponsorships and endorsements. It's all a part of the music business. The music is the calling card. The music has to be good but that is inherent. If the music is not good then forget everything else. Music is only the eighth of it. We have a whole other spectrum of things that need to be established and need to be developed before that particular artist can start to make money with their music and that needs to be tapped. You have some artists that are anomalies like BEYONCE. She's amazing! This woman is a film star, a music star, and she's a brand. Good for her! You have other artists that say, 'I'm not gonna do that'. Well, great! Then just do it as a hobby. Don't call me. It's a business and my job is to make money in the  entertainment industry for my client. If I'm not doing that, then I'm not doing my job.

And that whole 'It's all about the music, man!' mentality always seems to come from the rock people. I never hear that sentiment from hip hop people for R&B people.
The rock people that are successful think the exact opposite. Look at BUCK CHERRY. Amazing! Look at PAPA ROACH. Look at HINDER. Look at THEORY OF A DEAD MAN. Look at ROB ZOMBIE. Look at INSANE CLOWN POSSE. That is a total brand. That is a brand beyond a brand. These people are smart. Look at KISS. GENE SIMMONS has an amazing biography. He says that he was raised in Upstate New York and he said that the only way he was going to make it in music is if he had a fucking gimmick. And from there, he decided the band was going to wear make up, outrageous outfits and high heels. There songs are great! Songs like 'I'm gonna rock n roll all night!/ and party every day!' - that song is a staple in American rock history. They had huge songs, but it's not just about the songs. So all of these bands need to really take a lesson from GENE SIMMONS and NIKKI SIXX because they think like business people. Not only are they immensely creative, they think like business people and thats what separates them from the rest. METALLICA is a brand. OZZY OSBOURNE is a complete brand. Look at the things that he's done because of his amazing wife SHARON who is the consummate music business person. They started OZZFEST and earned a gazillion dollars a year, and the TV show that they did. They are a whole brand. Amazing! U2 - a total brand. Their brand very much identifies with the new millenial generation. They are very attached to social issues. That's BONO and he's created a brand out of his connection to social issues worldwide. He has millions and millions of fans because they identify with his compassionate side and his charitable personality. Thats a brand.

You've worked this business on the creative side and the business side. Do those old creative instincts ever manifest themselves in the work that you are doing now?
Sometimes. My job is very creative because there is no deal that is the same deal. Every record deal is different and every producer deal is different. They start with the same basic principal; an industry custom – but that is always different depending on the genre of the music and personalities involved. The one thing that I'm very careful about and something that I think a lot of my colleagues need to take a lesson from is that I try not to overstep my boundaries. That is a really big issue in our industry. For instance, in film, the agents are the brokers. They are the JERRY MCGUIREs with the headsets. They are the deal makers of the film and TV industry. On the other hand, in music, the deal makers are the music lawyers. It's very much a reverse role and the agents in the music business plan tours and everything else in the live music sector. They are not involved with the record companies and the publishing companies unless they are partners with those people.  You get really close to your clients and they talk to you and they trust you and then they start asking your opinion on creative things. You have to be careful. I'm very aware that I'm a lawyer. Even though I have a background and a degree in music, I was never successful in music for whatever reason. I have to be careful. So when a client tells me that the record company thinks that this should be the single and asks me what I think, I've always got to tell them, 'I'm your attorney. I'm your forty two year-old attorney. You don't want my opinion as to what the single should be.' That's not my job. I don't want to give my opinion because it's irresponsible. You don't want a lawyer telling you what to do creatively. Thats a manager's job.

The rock n roll lifestyle tends to take it's toll on a lot of people. What kind of a toll has it taken on you when you were an artist?
Oh my God! I lived in a van for about eight years. So it takes a big toll on you. Especially if you're a woman. I know all of my women colleagues are gonna shoot me for saying this but it's the truth. Women can't do that as well as men can. Taking a shower and checking yourself into a MOTEL 6 every five days - I don't care how determined you are as a woman - it takes it's toll. I can still make macaroni and cheese powered by cigarette lighter on a hot plate with powdered milk. A woman's metabolism is not like a mans. It effects us. A lot of my male rock bands that are on the road right now are amazing! I see them pull into TACO BELL, and they are eating burritos and they are eating a bunch fast food and I think to myself 'Oh my God! I couldn't do that when I was twenty-five years old. I would've gained fifteen pounds!'. For me, as a woman, it took its toll very quickly. I started to really really hate it. Another thing with this new set of bands is that they all have children. That's an issue. If you have children and you are on the road for six months touring, it's hard! It's a hard life! You miss out on things and there is no two ways about it. There is not one humongous rock star that has not had problems with their relationship because they are never home. Home many rock stars take their wives and girlfriends on the road with them? If the wife or girlfriend has absolutely nothing going on, she might be going with you but that changes when you have kids.

Had your band been formed in this day and age as opposed to over ten years ago. Do you think it would've been easier or harder?
That's a good question! It would've been easier for me and I'll tell you why. Ten years ago, when I had  a band, it wasn't a professional thing. By then, it had become a hobby because I was practicing law and I had already given up that I was going to be a musician for money. Twenty years ago was when I was really trying make my career in music. If I wasn't doing this now and wasn't forty-two, I think it would've been easier for me because I'm a business minded person and I am a marketing person. Twenty years ago, we didn't have the internet, we didn't have TWEETER, we didn't have MYSPACE, we didn't have FACEBOOK. We didn't have any of that so it was really difficult unless you met people and gave them a copy of your cassette tape or whatever. There were no CDs back then. Now, there are 45 million youths in America between the ages of fifteen and twenty four. On average, 80% of the top ten traffic sites are made up of international visitors. Can you believe that? Kids from countries other than the U.S. make up eighty percent of the people that visit these top sites. Twenty years ago when I was trying to be an artist, I didn't have those resources available to me. If I was twenty two years old right now and trying to make it in music, my God!  - I would be making a killing. I would be working the shit out of it and having so much damn fun.

What would you say is your defining moment as an entertainment lawyer?
I've had a lot of professional accolades that I'm very proud of like when I co-produced 'RESURRECTION' and it was nominated for an ACADEMY AWARD - that took my breath away! I was also listed as one of the most influential women in music by OUT MAGAZINE and THE ADVOCATE. That was amazing, but my most defining moment, I have to say is being asked to start teaching a music business class at UCLA. To me sitting in that classroom at USC thirteen years ago with DON PASSMAN - the biggest music lawyer on the planet, the guy who wrote the book 'EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE MUSIC BUSINESS' - and learning from him was huge.  I had gotten so much out of that class. When I was referred by my colleagues to UCLA that I would be the one to take over this type of a class there and for UCLA to say 'Hey, we want you to do this!' - that was a very big moment for me and it still is. After eight years, it still takes my breath away that I'm doing it.

What do you hope people will take away from it once they've taken this class?
Knowledge. I want them to know more than before and that no longer they will say 'Where shall I go? What shall I do?' They will have answers. They might not have all of the answers but at least they will have fifty percent more answers than when they started.

You ever miss strapping on a guitar and letting her rip?
You know honestly...You want the real answer BRIAN?

I'm listening.
Until I read this interview with the guy formerly known as CAT STEVENS, my answer to you is 'no'. I always used to feel very guilty about saying that because I have a guitar in my office and I've got fifteen guitars in my house. CAT STEVENS hadn't played in twenty years and five years ago, he sat down and he picked up this acoustic guitar and he started playing and it was like he never put it down. Since then, he came out with an album and when I read that I was like 'Oh my God!' I'm never gonna be afraid to say that I don't feel guilty because here was this guy who was a humongous artist who wrote some of the most amazing songs, who put aside his music career, changed his identity, moved out of the country and then twenty years later, picked up the guitar like it was nothing. So you never know. There is a time and a place for everything.