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What a difference a year makes. Last year’s Entertainment Law Initiative (ELI) Grammy Week Event was held during a recording business boom when AI was still an issue on the horizon and TikTok seemed like a surefire way to break new artists. This year’s event, held Friday (Feb. 2), took place amid a boom shadowed by clouds of uncertainty, including a difficult environment for new artists, a restructuring of Universal Music Group’s labels and what looks like the start of a battle with TikTok.
The winner of this year’s ELI writing contest, law school student Olivia Fortunato, wrote about the idea of a federal post-mortem right of publicity — a subject that was barely on the radar of most lawyers a year ago. The keynote speaker, Capitol Music Group chair/CEO Michelle Jubelirer, seemed to hint that her time running the label might be nearing an end. And the Entertainment Law Initiative Service Award Honoree, Atlantic executive vp of business & legal affairs/general counsel Michael Kushner, mentioned how much the industry has changed since the CD era in a way that could be taken as a sign of more changes to come.
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Jubelirer’s speech got a good deal of attention, coming as it did a day after Universal Music Group (UMG) announced a restructuring of its labels that would put Republic chairman/CEO Monte Lipman in charge of the company’s East Coast labels and Interscope chairman/CEO John Janick in charge of its West Coast ones. That raises some questions about the future of Capitol Music Group that Jubelirer’s speech didn’t answer, but she dropped a hint. (A PR representative for Capitol declined to comment.)
Jubelirer said that her mantra was a question: “Am I changing the record company more than it’s changing me?” Standing at the event, “I am engaged in that very evaluation,” she said. “Asking myself that very question. And, for the first time in a very long time, I’m not so sure of the answer.”
Most of her speech was more upbeat: She spoke of growing up in Altoona, Penn., as a fan of Guns N ‘ Roses; how she went from a job in mergers and acquisitions law to Sony to the music law firm now known as King, Holmes, Paterno & Soriano; and her time at Capitol Music Group, where she worked with Katy Perry, Paul McCartney and, most recently, Ice Spice. She also praised several mentors and friends, including Universal Music Publishing Group CEO Jody Gerson, and took a moment to point out her mom, “the silver vixen over there.”
Atlantic Music Group chairperson/CEO Julie Greenwald presented the ELI Service Award to Kushner, who has worked closely with her and Atlantic chairman/CEO Craig Kallman. Kushner came to Atlantic after stints at Universal, Sony and PolyGram, where he started around the same time as Sony Music Entertainment executive vp of business affairs/general counsel Julie Swidler. After Greenwald spoke, Kushner received the customary video tribute, filled with praise both serious and silly.
Kushner then spoke about the importance of mentorship and the changes he has seen in the music business, where the only constant seems to be change itself.
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