ASHA MADHUKAR, is an entertainment lawyer at Counsel LLP who started out as a musical artist and songwriter, then went into radio promotion on both the radio and later the label side, and then pivoted to entertainment law.
HOW IT STARTED
My whole family is very musical – we all play an instrument or sing. A lot of our music foundation was cultivated in church, where we would sing in the choir or lead worship. I started violin when I was 3, played piano and viola, and was part of a professional opera when I was 12. That experience led me to create my own music. After high school, I enrolled at the University of Miami, where I studied music business with a minor in songwriting. Around this time, I landed a cut as a songwriter on a Daddy Yankee single “Lose Control feat Emelee.” That led to being a backup singer and dancer for Shakira. After that, I got invited to compete at the Apollo Theatre and I ended up winning, which led to me being signed to an agency. That opened even more doors, and I started writing and creating with more people.
After college I released my first single “Mercy,” which charted on Billboard. This ‘taste of success’ really motivated me to want to tour. Along with my dad, I booked a statewide school tour where I would sing and talk about the music industry and share my point of view. The tour culminated at Jingle Ball with artists like Shawn Mendes and Meghan Trainor, and was a great experience.
HOW IT’S GOING
While I was creating music, I also started working at Y100 in South Florida. After the tour, I felt pretty burned out so I scaled back on performing – I enjoyed creating music but didn’t love being out on the road. At that point, I wanted to go to New York or Los Angeles, so I went to work at a company that promoted iHeartRadio National events in NY. After realizing I didn’t love the cold, I moved to Los Angeles and got a job working at a label doing radio promotion. I liked what I was doing, but felt it wasn’t my final destiny, and that’s when I started exploring going back to school. I noticed that almost every COO or CEO of big music companies had a law degree, and that really solidified it for me.
I enrolled in law school part time, continued to work in radio promotion at Capitol Records, and also made time for writing sessions. Capitol let me intern in their legal department and I transferred to Pepperdine Law School in Malibu. While at law school I interned at Scooter Braun Projects – a music management company, and Universal Music Publishing in both the US and UK, as well as an entertainment firm called Clintons. During my last semester of law school, I submitted an essay to the Entertainment Law Initiative Writing Competition sponsored by the Recording Academy. I was one of the winners, and got to go to a fancy brunch during Grammy week, where I met with a lot of different lawyers and firms in attendance. One of the people I met reached out to me while I was studying for the California Bar exam; I interviewed in San Francisco, but ended up working remotely in Florida during the pandemic. I recently took, and passed, the New York Bar.
WHEN DO YOU NEED AN ENTERTAINMENT LAWYER
Most of the time, an artist will get an attorney when they have a deal in front of them, but I often think it’s beneficial to have a lawyer as soon as money is exchanged or you are granting rights in your music or art. It’s important to have the right person in your corner to advise you on things like trademarking your name or copyrighting your music. If you have contributors apart from an album release, you need agreements in place that would outline material terms. Even if you can’t afford an attorney full time, you can consult with one so there’s an email chain with all the decisions you make.
NEW VERSUS ESTABLISHED
I would say that a newer act needs more hand holding, which is fine because this is all fresh to them. In some cases, if an artist requests, we sometimes connect artists to artist managers if it makes sense, or other members of the team if an act is ready. A more established act will likely already have a team in place, which typically includes both a business manager and an artist manager, so in that situation, things may run more like a machine where an artist manager negotiates a deal, a lawyer papers it and a business manager pays out any compensation.
I’ve done a number of NFT deals, and, in simple terms to me, an NFT experience can bring an elevated membership club to your fans. The best drops I see are when a fan or consumer receives an experience with their NFT purchase and/or a tangible good as a collectible. It has been very cool to be on the legal side of this. I am excited to see where this side of the industry goes as it develops.
CASH FOR CATALOGUE
Our firm has done a lot of catalogue deals this year – I think it’s a great way to create financial sustenance for a musician who may not be creating as heavily anymore but is still receiving a healthy flow of royalties, especially if your catalogue is successful. If you create something the world will enjoy forever, you get royalties forever, which is a great perk of being a songwriter, producer, mixer or third-party contributor. I’ve seen producers and mixers sell their royalty income shares to music they contributed at a higher multiple of what it is making now in exchange for a huge upfront cash payout now so they have financial security for the rest of their lives and beyond – and the companies that purchase these rights now have a way to exploit catalogues that they may have not been a part of previously.
With the pandemic, many creators have struggled from the loss of touring money. On the flip side, the pandemic has created low interest rates for these companies to borrow from to make these large upfront payments. Ultimately, music will continue to be consumed, so investing in it can be a stable risk for these larger companies purchasing the assets. It can be a very beneficial win-win for both sides.
KEEP AN EYE OUT
I think one of the biggest challenges in the music industry is how songwriters are paid. The Music Modernization Act (the MMA is a law which was recently passed to “update the music licensing landscape to better facilitate legal licensing of music by digital services”) has opened the door for increases in the mechanical royalty rate. Not surprisingly, streaming platforms are pushing back on this, and that affects how songwriters are paid. One way songwriters are paid is via mechanical royalties per song sold, downloaded, and streamed; however these rates are low and don’t reflect the changes happening in our world today.
The next big challenge is creating a more sustainable life for a songwriter. Unlike producers, there is typically no fee for the writer to show up to a session, or a ‘kill fee’ for a song not released. If a producer is hired, even if the artist doesn’t use what that producer created, the Producer can usually negotiate a kill fee and receive payment if the artist chooses not to release the song created. That’s not the case with songwriters; they’re asked to go in and write songs everyday with an artist, and if the song is never released, the songwriters make no money. Here’s to hoping the next big wave will be songwriters’ rights – and as an industry, we adapt to create a better life for those, who without them, there would be no song to begin with.
Radio play is a big part of an artist’s success trajectory, and Play MPE is proud to be a part of that! Check out this video for the Journey of a Song to learn more.