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Female Disruptors: Music Attorney Dina LaPolt has forever shaken up the way songwriters get paid in America

“We’re all living on borrowed time” — I got sober on April 19, 1998 from alcohol and drugs. I should be dead. Life is for living and I never let being told “NO” or “it can’t be done” stop me from doing what I believe is right.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Dina LaPolt, owner and attorney at LaPolt Law, P.C. in West Hollywood, California. Dina LaPolt is a top music attorney who owns her own law firm representing numerous high-profile artists, including deadmau5, Steven Tyler, and Britney Spears. She is also intimately involved in legislative advocacy on behalf of music creators, serving as the attorney advisor to the Songwriters of North America (SONA), which she helped form.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

It comes down to this — I love music and I have never wanted to do anything else. I started out as a singer and musician, playing in rock bands in the ’80s and 90’s. I even earned my bachelors degree in music. But as you’re probably aware, the chances of making it big as a musician are very small. I was always the business minded person in every band I was in and I naturally gravitated toward the business end of the industry, having also worked short stints as a tour manager and club promotor. I was attracted to it. After moving out to California, I ended up going to law school on a whim. At the time, my band was playing a showcase at a music business conference in San Francisco. During the day there were all these music industry panels with a lot of music business people on them. One of the panels I attended featured three music lawyers talking about record deals. It was there, sitting in that room, where I decided I wanted to be a music lawyer, plain and simple. I had an epiphany! Within 6 months of attending that panel, I was enrolled in law school in the San Francisco Bay Area. I taught guitar lessons to kids, played in my band, and went to law school at night. It really was a fun time; my band was all lesbians, and we had a residency at a women’s club every third Saturday of the month for my last two years of law school. When I graduated and passed the bar, I moved to Los Angeles, but had a hard time finding a job as a music lawyer because I really did not have any experience in music law. So, I started interning (for free) for a music lawyer in Century City, waiting tables at night to help support myself until he started paying me something. For the first 5 years of being a music lawyer, I buried my head in contracts and copyright law and got super educated. I grew from there, all on my own, with the support of various mentors and influencers I met along the way. Looking back, all these struggles really helped define who I am today. One of my early clients was the Tupac Shakur estate which was run by his mother, Afeni Shakur. At the same time, Death Row Records was claiming it had all the rights to Tupac’s unreleased recordings and there was a lot of work to be done because he had just passed away the year before. By applying all the stuff I had learned, coupled with my own life experiences and good instincts, we were able to clean up Tupac’s estate and help release his posthumous, platinum selling albums. After that, it was full steam ahead. I have loved working with so many talented individuals throughout my career and I don’t anticipate stopping any time soon. I found my dream job.

Why did you found your company?

I started LaPolt Law, P.C. in October of 2001 to specifically represent songwriters, music artists and other creatives. I wanted to use my life experiences and my reputation within the music industry to specialize in advocating on behalf of songwriters, recording artists, and producers. Because I understand the creator’s perspective, I felt better equipped to be their representative. That’s probably why, in additional to practicing law, I helped form the Songwriter of North America (“SONA”), which fights for the rights of all songwriters to make an honest living.

What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

I started my firm on three basic principles: (1) always get the agreements signed, (2) avoid conflicts of interest; and (3) be available 24/7. It’s easier said than done, and believe me, for a law firm, these three principles are disruptive. Even just having no conflicts of interest is very untraditional. In fact, many law firms in my business represent record companies, publishers, managers, artists, everybody! I could never do that. I don’t think, fundamentally, I could argue against music creators. I think I would make a really bad record company lawyer [laughs]. I would give away the store.

Also, the work I’m doing with regards to the Music Modernization Act (“MMA”) is quite possibly some of the most disruptive music legislation in twenty years. The MMA is going to revolutionize the way songwriters get paid in America. It will bring the Copyright Act out of the dark ages. There are parts of the existing legislation that have not been updated since before the internet was invented. I am working hard to change that and to make sure all the deserving songwriters out there are able to support themselves in the digital age. The MMA accomplishes this goal by, among many things, allowing songwriters a chance to negotiate their statutory pay rates in willing buyer/willing seller conditions and by updating a clunky mechanical licensing system. The bill, introduced by Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), unanimously passed the U.S. House of Representatives on April 24, 2018. The Senate companion bill unanimously passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on June 28, 2018, unanimously passed in the U.S. Senate on Sept. 18, 2018 and was signed into law by Donald Trump on October 11th, 2018!

We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors?

First and foremost, my mother, she is my rock and taught me the true life lessons of how to be an advocate and how to always stick up for what I believe in, no matter how unpopular it may seem. She would always tell me “if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” I don’t even know who originally said that quote, but I always attribute it to my mother. The second person who had the most influence on me was Afeni Shakur. Afeni constantly told me I was smarter than everyone in the music business and that I had to make sure I never “let the man use my talents while he builds his career off my back.” Ha! She was right! In fact, it was her daily encouragement at the beginning of my career that gave me the courage to go out on my own and start my own law practice. In addition to my mom and Afeni Shakur, my wife Wendy has been a huge influence on me! Without her I would definitely not appear to be as cool as I am today! Ha! She also works in the music business, in promotion and marketing at a major record company, so when we met over 13 years ago I got plopped right in the middle of pop culture. Although we both have big jobs, I am the more eclectic and creative one and she is more measured, consistent, and routine oriented. We are a perfect description of our sun signs — I am a Gemini and she is a Sagittarius!

With composer Paul Williams

How are you going to shake things up next?

Aside from the Music Modernization Act, I intend to continue advocating on behalf of songwriters and other music creators and I am curious to see what comes next in terms of advocacy opportunities and future clients of the law firm. I am also toying with the idea of producing a documentary about the life of Afeni Shakur. I’ve recently been in talks with her family and I could see myself getting involved in that. Writing a book is definitely in my cards, and I don’t know, maybe… running for Senate!

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

“Failure is not an option” — I own my own law firm where both clients and employees depend on me. My family does too. This is a motto in my life and I think it instills a sense of drive and purpose in me.

“We’re all living on borrowed time” — I got sober on April 19, 1998 from alcohol and drugs. I should be dead. Life is for living and I never let being told “NO” or “it can’t be done” stop me from doing what I believe is right.

“Always be available” — The music industry is a global business and in order to be successful you must be able to respond to situations whenever they arise. I have learned that I am great in crisis. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to be a slave to your cell phone, up at all hours of the night, but having a team that always works together to be on top of every issue is key.

Dina With Fifth Harmony

What’s a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Share a story with us.

Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone — It’s a coming-of-age story of a young girl who never fit into society’s traditional acceptable mold, and how she overcame to find peace in her life. It’s filled with dark humor, all while managing to be deeply touching and inspiring.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)

Michelle Obama — Because she’s a badass, fighting the good fight.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

They can follow me on Instagram and Twitter (@dinalapolt or @lapoltlaw).

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!