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UF Law's Music Law Conference explores changing universe of music industry


Music Law Conference attendees were able to give tastemakers a sample of their music at last weekend's conference. From left are Michelle Fantas of Sony/ATV, producer Paul Trust, Alex Ploegsma, Esq. and Jeff Levin of Atlantic Records. (Photo by Vincent Massaro)

By Gillian Leytham (2L)

Over the past decade, the music industry has transformed significantly due to a number of advances in digital technology, as well as changes in policy, law and attitudes within the industry. On March 26, the University of Florida Levin College of Law Music Law Society addressed these issues at the Ninth Annual Music Law Conference.

The conference, entitled "DON'T PANIC: Navigating the Changing Universe of the Music Industry," focused on the marked shift in the fundamental tenets of the music industry. The conference brought musicians, lawyers, students, academics, policy makers and entertainment professionals together for a conversation on how to handle these shifting dynamics.

"Today, we hope to shed some light on new developments in copyright law, explore what potentially lies in the future, tackle do-it-yourself in a digital landscape, identify new challenges in legal ethics, and look at the ins and outs of operating in today's market," Music Law Conference Executive Director Stephanie Falcon (3L) said during the opening statements of the conference.

The conference hosted a variety of panels and breakout sessions that were comprised of experts and professionals from many areas of the music industry, from entertainment attorneys and record label owners to producers and recording artists.

A few of the topics discussed in the panels included online music sharing, do-it-yourself techniques versus traditional commercial avenues, contract negotiation, changes and adaptations of the copyright law and a demo listening panel.

The first panel focused on the emergence of do-it-yourself techniques in the primarily digital landscape. Jeff Levin, an A & R manager for Atlantic Records; Vlad Vludovek, a co-founder of RocketHub; and Seth Horan, a singer/songwriter, participated in this panel, which was moderated by Falcon. The panelists discussed the use of Apple iTunes and social media to advertise, as well as a method to attract fans and followers.

"Is the record label dead?" Falcon asked.

"No, it's not dead. It's just evolving," Levin said. "As long as we own catalogs, and as long as we have a bank of music, publishing companies and record labels can't die. To take a band internationally is almost impossible without a major label. It's just changing. It won't go away."

Horan disagreed about whether musicians need support from a record label in order to be successful internationally.

"You definitely need investment behind you if you are going to go international," Horan said. "You need some form of infrastructure, and you do need somebody doing your events work. But it doesn't necessarily have to come from a (record label). It could come from five college interns who just want to be a part of something and who have the energy and the time. It could come from a company that's not necessarily a record company ... I capitalized on companies that make musical instruments ... People see me do it and they go 'now we wanna buy it.' It's marketing by example."

The second panel, led by UF Law Negotiation and Mediation Professor Jill Womble, focused on contract negotiations and discussed parts of a typical record or "360" contract (a deal that gives the record label touring, merchandising and publishing rights as opposed to strictly rights to the music itself). The panel also emphasized the importance of having a lawyer and advised musicians and professionals to have a friend (who is also a lawyer) or an attorney who may agree to work pro bono, since it is not advisable for musicians to handle legal issues on their own.

During the third panel, a variety of industry players discussed perspectives on the future. While some believe that the major label is going to die, others suggest that it is merely changing and embracing a new method of profit. The panel also discussed the emergence of the 360 deal.

Greg Galloway, an entertainment attorney from Orlando who has represented many high-profile clients including Matchbox 20 and Taproot, was the keynote speaker for the conference and focused on what others in the industry are saying. When he suggested that social media is not the "end all, be all" of online networking, some audience members disagreed and brought up Susan Boyle, Justin Bieber, and Rebecca Black — sensations who have garnered worldwide attention mainly because of social media venues.

The fourth panel, which focused on copyright law, was by far the liveliest of the academic panels and consisted of a number of copyright attorneys and professors. They discussed the role of Disney in shaping copyright law and how to combat claims of infringing.

The final event was the demo listening panel, which allowed attendees to play their music for professionals at the forefront of developing and promoting artists, including Michelle Fantus, an A & R director for Sony/ATV Music Publishing, and Jeff Levin.

The conference also sponsored two nights of live music showcases on March 25 and March 26 with more than a dozen Gainesville bands playing at :08 nightclub, Common Grounds and Rum Runners. Some of the featured bands included rockabilly band Hollowbody Hellraisers, Big Boat, Pedagogy and the Kadets.

For more details on the showcase and conference, visit the Music Law Conference website.