Music lawyers run the gamut when it comes to personality – some are rarely seen or quoted, preferring to negotiate under the radar — others are seasoned schmoozers who table hop with abandon at industry events. Dina LaPolt approaches issues affecting her clients with the ferocity of a ring fighter.
Twenty years ago, she founded her own firm LaPolt Law, and went on to represent music stars like Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, rappers Offset, 21 Savage and Cardi B, the late Eddie Money and, formerly, the girl group Fifth Harmony. As her practice grew, so did LaPolt’s conviction for righting the music ecosystem’s wrongs. She’s tackled producers’ and songwriters’ rights and access to digital royalties by helping craft — and pass — the Music Modernization Act, which was signed into law in 2018; She campaigned for federal COVID relief legislation packages geared toward helping music creators and independent contractors; She wrote letters urging investigations into the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor; She’s currently battling courts that are allowing rap lyrics to be introduced as evidence in criminal trials; and she’s also advocating to eliminate the use of triggering terms like “master recording” in contracts.
Serving as an ally to people of color is at the core of LaPolt’s life, both professionally and at home, where she’s mom to adopted Black twins. It’s one of the reasons why Dina was recently recognized by the Black Music Action Coalition, an advocacy organization formed to address systemic racism within the music business and advocate on behalf of Black artists, songwriters, producers, managers, agents, executives, lawyers and other industry professionals, at a starry gala in Los Angeles on Sept 23. Honored alongside The Weeknd, Motown chief Ethiopia Habtemariam, YouTube’s Tuma Bassa, and George Floyd family attorney Ben Crump, among others, LaPolt teared up accepting the Agent of Change Award, remembering her first major client, Tupac Shakur’s mother Afeni, and the rocky road she’s traveled as an openly gay, loudly sober music biz trailblazer — some of that long strange trip she shares with us on the latest episode of Variety‘s Strictly Business podcast (listen above), along with the 20 things she’s learned over 20 years (see below).
20 Things I’ve Learned in 20 Years
By Dina LaPolt
1. What NOT to do
I have learned more from mistakes made by others and by watching people behave, saying to myself “I will never do that” or “I will never be like that.”
2. Never Lie or over-exaggerate in dealmaking
The business is small and lawyers and executives change companies. People will eventually find out you were not truthful and it always comes back to bite you.
3. Place “principles before personalities”
There are a lot of big personalities and egos in the music business. Don’t take anything personally and just focus on getting the job done.
4. Avoid the “deliberate manufacture of misery”
Life is complicated without sprinkling any self -induced negativity or “alternative facts” into the situation.
5. Be consistent
In looking at all the lawyers I respect and admire, the one thing they all have in common is consistency.
6. Get back to everyone and be helpful
The music industry is a business of peaks and valleys. If you are consistent, you will go up, you will go down, you will go up, you will go down… Make sure you try to be helpful and return all calls and emails. When you are in a valley you want people to help pull you up not kick you further down.
7. Know the laws, understand the deal points, and stay current with the business
The music business is complicated. We deal in three bundles of rights: copyrights, trademarks, and rights of publicity and they are all governed by different sets of laws and industry customs. Other attorneys you are dealing with will know pretty quickly when you can’t articulate complicated deal terms.
8. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer
Have a circle of people you can trust no matter what. There are a lot of gossips and “frenemies” in the music business or people who will try and bring you down behind the scenes. Learn who they are and adapt accordingly. I like to break people up in lights— green lights (always great people, never an agenda and great to be around), yellow lights (use caution-can be green or red depending on the situation), and red lights (always proceed with extreme caution, always want to shame and blame).
9. There are two types of business: my business and none of my business.
Over the years, I’ve learned to choose wisely.
10. To keep it — you have to give it away
The business is very competitive and sometimes people get jealous of one another. I have been blessed with getting on a lot of industry lists and been presented with many accolades in my career, so I have been proactive in trying to get other people get on these lists as well. It’s hard to be resentful against someone if they are helping you.
11. Have no fear
A good acronym for “fear” is False Evidence Appearing Real. Don’t let it overcome you and keep it moving.
12. You always have three choices
Afeni Shakur used to tell me you have three choices in life: you can either give up, give in, or give it all your got!
13. Tough times don’t last, tough people do
If I gave up or got demotivated every time I had a setback, I would never be where I am today.
14. Whatever is for me will not pass me by
The opposite it true as well, whatever is not for me will pass me by.
15. Self-care and physical exercise
We do better when we feel better. I never let myself “HALT” which stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. Those four emotions can bring out my character defects.
16. Have Balance
Everyone needs to disconnect. Recharging is essential. You can’t water the garden if your well is dry!
17. If you want to really understand a subject then teach it (or become a mentor)
In 2000 and 2001, I started teaching a music business class at the Musician’s Institute, and then from 2002 to 2019, I taught “Legal and Practical Aspects of the Music Business” at UCLA so that I could ready and articulate the material. Nothing helps you really understand what you are doing than when you have to teach someone else.
18. “No” is a complete sentence.
Have boundaries. People will suck you dry if you let them especially if you are a solution oriented, self-confident person.
19. Sometimes it’s important to just show up
You don’t always have to run the show.
20. Empower your people
Encourage clients and colleagues to discuss with the other attorneys at the firm. Too often I’ve seen deals and agreements get bottlenecked because the originating attorney and/or partner does not want his or her people building those relationships.