Tag Archives | Student Practice Organization (SPO)

So, You Want To Break Into The Music World?

[Originally published by Harvard Law Today, April 4th, 2023]


Managers of several high-profile rap and pop musicians discuss working with artists and the music industry at a Harvard Law symposium

Eight panelists pose for a group photo.

Students from Harvard Law’s Recording Artists Project welcomed artist managers and label executives from across the music industry including Binta Brown, CEO & Founder of omalilly projects and manager of popular Chicago-based rapper Vic Mensa; Matthew Baus, co-founder of Bad Habit Records; Muyiwa Awoniyi, manager of Nigerian singer-songwriter Tems; and Rayan Falouji, manager of rapper redveil.

So, you want to break into the rap or pop music world? Then you’d better start getting your business and legal skills together.

The Harvard Law School Recording Artists Project, known as RAP, was established in 1998 to provide expertise and pro bono legal assistance to the creative community. Last Saturday, the group, led by current co-presidents Landon Harris ’23 and Andrew Choi ’23, presented a daylong seminar, “Local Sounds, Global Impact,” which included a panel of industry professionals, a showcase of local artists who’ve worked with RAP, and breakout sessions afterward.

“If you create something out of nothing, you’re in a business,” said Boston music producer Rob Kelley-Morgan, introducing the event. “The minute you make a song, the minute you record your voice, you’ve just created a product. And that product needs to be protected.”

Strategies to protect and promote that product was the focus of the main panel, moderated by RAP Events Director Ify White-Thorpe ’24. Each of the four panelists was a prominent artist manager or record-label owner; while they came from diverse backgrounds, they all grew up with the same love of music.

The one lawyer on the panel was Binta Brown, who manages the popular Chicago-based rapper Vic Mensa. Later this semester, RAP will be bringing Mensa to the Harvard African Diaspora Conference, where he will speak about the music festival he launched this year in Ghana with Chance the Rapper.

“When I looked at career paths, I wanted to be like Clive Davis [Arista Records founder, HLS ’56] or Walter Yetnikoff [the late CBS Records president],” Brown said. “They each had law degrees and I saw how that could be helpful. I also had a deep and profound love of justice.”

After graduating from Columbia Law School, she worked in the prestigious firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore, which represented high-profile entertainment companies including Time-Warner and DreamWorks. “My journey has been unorthodox for artists’ managers, but I am hoping it won’t remain so.”

While she doesn’t believe in doing legal work for her artists, those skills still come in handy. “I can read contracts really fast, and I can have a conversation with their attorneys and understand what they’re saying. When the artist has a manager who can understand the attorneys and the businesspeople, you can’t hide the truth from them.”

“To me, the artist is the quarterback, and I’m the coach,” said Rayan Falouji, who manages the 18-year-old rap star redveil. “It’s a developed trust over time, and you have to let them fall on their face sometimes. Artists are naturally sensitive people, and you can’t tell someone what their vision is — There’s no ‘You have to do the song or the cover art this way.’ Sometimes the artist is right, sometimes I am, but you have to let the road pave itself. As long as he’s not doing something that would tank his career — like saying ‘I’m going to drop this country song as a rapper.’”

Sometimes it makes sense to pull back and let an artist live, he said, especially when you manage a youthful artist. He said that redveil’s recent trip to India will likely provide fuel for his work to come.  “One of my mentors had an artist who took two years to make an album. After that, he made three in a month. He just lived, and it’s the living that makes them write and articulate about the state that they’re in.”

Matthew Baus, who runs the Bad Habit label, recalled a specific incident with an artist he previously managed, the Nigerian star Burna Boy. Last spring, Burna Boy insisted that “Last Last” would be the first single from his latest album, when the label had marked a different song for a high-profile rollout.

“That move changed our trajectory for the rest of the year,” Baus said. “He wanted to go onstage at the Billboard Music Awards, and perform a song that was not out yet. When someone is that specific, you need to follow their energy — and sometimes you have to follow crazy. You have to be the one that brings sanity, and sometimes you make impossible things happen.” And in this case, the artist’s instincts were sound; the song went on to be an international chart-topper.

As Baus pointed out, everyone there was in two businesses: The arts business and the entertainment business. “The arts business is ‘This is me; this is the story I want to tell.’ The entertainment business is ‘Who’s buying this, who’s going to the shows?’ The artist’s identity is the bottom line. Everything else plays into marketing, staying true to your mission statement.”

Sometimes you also have to say no, added Muyiwa Awoniyi. His own artist, the Nigerian-born star Tems, recently went viral for the extravagant dress she wore at the Oscars. Other ideas, he said, prove less workable. “One artist wanted to shoot a video that never came out, because it was basically impossible. It’s important that you and the artist are on the same page.”

During a legal breakout session afterward, RAP’s supervising attorney, Clinical Instructor Sam Koolaq ’16, addressed a smaller group of artists, producers and young entrepreneurs. And he asked the question on most peoples’ minds: How do musicians get paid? Most of the answers, he said, fall into two categories: Trademark income (merchandising, touring, etc.) and copyright income. Every time somebody buys a particular song, two copyrights are being honored: One for the recorded performance, the other for the written song. And the widespread popularity of sampling has brought an unprecedented number of copyright infringement cases.

Artists, he said, have dealt with sampling copyrights in different ways. The most prudent approach is to make an arrangement with the original copyright holder before releasing the track. The risk here is that the sample may be vetoed, and the song never released. Other artists simply choose to release the song and deal with the copyright later; this creates its own risks.

“I’d caution there that it costs more money if your song does well, “Koolaq said. “If your song gets five million streams, the copyright holder may say ‘We’ll take a piece of that.’ That was something Lil Nas X learned the hard way [after the major success of his sample-heavy ‘Old Town Road’].”

On the other hand, he said, such arrangements are great if you’re the copyright holder. “Nine Inch Nails got some mansion money out of that.”

Representing Creators through the Recording Artists Project

[Originally posted 5th December, 2022 by the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs blog]


By Danielle Mikaelian, J.D. ’25

I joined the Recording Artists Project (RAP) because I was interested in working on projects related to the entertainment industry. I grew up in the Los Angeles area, a main entertainment hub, and loved the idea of representing creators and protecting their rights. However, I never had the chance to do so. As a result, when I was deciding between student practice organizations, I chose to join one that exposed me to an industry that I had no experience in.

Through RAP, I work on a pro bono basis with clients who work in the entertainment industry. Clients of mine can be artists, producers, managers, and so on. Many of them are starting out in their careers and do not have the resources to employ attorneys.

I specifically am part of a team of three first year law students at Harvard. We meet with our clients via Zoom and have our work supervised by an entertainment lawyer. Through this SPO, I’ve primarily gained experience related to writing contracts. This past semester, I worked with a client who conducts business both in the US and internationally. This presented a unique challenge in regard to subject matter jurisdiction and determining what country or state’s laws this client should be considering in their business operations. Our team conducted extensive research on options related to what state or country’s laws our client should be mindful of that may or may not apply to them. As Student Attorneys working on a pro bono project, we were careful not to advise on other state or nation’s laws that we were not familiar with and encouraged our client, who might be subject to unfamiliar laws, to seek more specialized counsel if needed.

Then, we began drafting a contract. The process involved many hours of revising and team meetings. It was important to continue communicating with the client throughout the drafting process in order to make sure that their needs were being met through our proposed contract and its provisions. For instance, a client might want an automatic renewal provision in the contract that guarantees a relationship will continue, versus engaging in one-time deals. Certain clients want to receive a percentage of every deal they participate in, while others want to receive flat-fee payments. We maintain consistent contact with our clients to ensure that the final product adequately will protect them in future transactions.

When I first joined the Recording Artists Project, I was surprised by the level of responsibility that I was given. As a first-year student who hadn’t even completed one Harvard Law School class, I was working with real clients who needed their rights protected via legal mechanisms. Being a part of RAP provided me with the invaluable opportunity to apply the skills I’m learning inside of my classes to real world projects. The Recording Artists Project also provides us with free tickets to concerts in the Harvard area, which has been a fun bonus! Outside of the Recording Artists Project, I’ve further explored my interest in the entertainment industry through my role as a 1L Representative for Harvard’s Committee on Sports and Entertainment Law. I’m looking forward to continuing to explore more areas of law through HLS student practice organizations and clinics during the rest of my time here.

At the Intersection of Music and the Law

[Originally Published by Harvard Law Today, December 16, 2020]

The music industry is no stranger to legal dispute. From high-profile cases such as Metallica, et al. v. Napster, Inc. to the many legal trappings that accompany artists throughout the creative process, the law has continued to evolve along with music.

Among the 11 Student Practice Organizations (SPO) at HLS, the Recording Artists Project (RAP) focuses on this certain niche. RAP provides pro bono legal assistance on music business matters, such as contract review/negotiation, copyright law, and other transactional work to both local and national musicians. Established in 1998 by Clinical Professor of Law Brian Price, RAP also boasts a cohort of alumni that includes prolific music business attorney Aaron Rosenberg ’02, who has represented Justin Bieber, John Legend, Jennifer Lopez, and more.

“The law plays a really important role in deciding who has access to creative expression, and giving free legal representation to those who can’t afford it is a key first step in making sure that the music industry as a whole is more welcoming to diverse voices,” said RAP Oversight Director Chris Zheng ’22.

Giving free legal representation to those who can’t afford it is a key first step in making sure that the music industry as a whole is more welcoming to diverse voices.

 – Chris Zheng ’22

This commitment rests at the core of RAP’s mission: promoting accessibility by de-mystifying relevant areas of law to musicians without a legal background or without the means to pay for representation, especially musicians who are just beginning their careers.

“Providing simple, understandable legal counsel … is a way for us to serve the community as well as give students valuable educational experience.” said Events Co-Director Anil Partridge ’22.

It’s no surprise that many members of RAP come from artistic and/or musical backgrounds. Beyond pro bono work, RAP serves as an incubator where those interested in the intersection of music and law can share resources and ideas.

“I didn’t know where I was going to find community at law school,” said co-president of RAP Lowry Yankwich ‘21. “RAP was a nice way to keep music in my life and having a group of people to connect with over a shared passion is really important to me.”

For Partridge, his experiences in music and law allow him to feel more invested in his clients.

“We were able to restore ownership to material that was a personal expression [of the client’s],” he said, speaking about a client he helped work through an authorship concern. “It became more than reclaiming an economic right. I’m a musician myself and I felt that I was able to really connect with this client.”

RAP doesn’t solely cater to recording artists, they work with clients in other areas of the field as well, including but not limited to producers and record labels. This varied clientele is a result of consistently fostered relationships with organizations in the Greater Boston area and beyond.

RAP’s focus on local musicians manifests in a long-standing partnership with the Berklee School of Music, where they assist students and alumni with reviewing contracts regarding issues such as band agreements and sharing rights.

It became more than reclaiming an economic right. I’m a musician myself and I felt that I was able to really connect with this client.

– Anil Partridge ’22

RAP also aims to reach larger audiences through hosting general workshops that outline major concepts in music law. In 2019, RAP attended and provided pro bono sessions at Mondo.NYC, an annual music, arts, and technology conference in New York City. Since then, they have expanded their involvement through the 2020 conference’s Continuing Legal Education Program, with student members returning to provide a virtual version of their pro bono sessions and Yankwich serving on Mondo.NYC’s 2020 Steering Committee for their Music & Tech Law Symposium.

In the era of COVID-19, both the music industry and the delivery of legal services have undergone drastic changes. Zheng and Lowry mentioned that, with many artists switching to live steaming concerts on platforms such as YouTube and Instagram and looking to other sources of revenue, the rise of new legal issues is inevitable. Without in-person meetings, advising clients presents new challenges.

For RAP, it has been a somewhat familiar adjustment. Due to the nature of their work, RAP has been conducting meetings and calls virtually since before the normalization of remote work. If anything, this has allowed them to expand their reach even further.

“One silver lining is that people have been becoming increasing comfortable with remote interactions,” said Yankwich. “We’ve talked to people in D.C., in Texas, in California. We don’t really have to think of ourselves as helping strictly Boston locals.”

COVID-19 has been such a wrench in the machine but there are still all these musicians out there making music, getting online, holding concerts virtually, and just trying to make do. That has been an inspiration for me in my work at RAP and in this particular time

– Lowry Yankwich ’21

As the students at RAP continue to bring direct legal services to musicians across the country, some look to the resilience of those in the industry for inspiration.

“COVID-19 has been such a wrench in the machine but there are still all these musicians out there making music, getting online, holding concerts virtually, and just trying to make do. That has been an inspiration for me in my work at RAP and in this particular time,” said Yankwich.

Ultimately, over the 20 odd years since its inception, RAP continues to advocate for the voices of musicians and music professionals everywhere.

“I think the arts are the primary vehicle [for] the voices of other people. It’s important to ensure that anybody who wants to be a part of the field can. I think protecting these voices and helping them from the legal side is so critical,” said Zheng.

Billboard Magazine – Top Music Law Schools

Billboard Magazine has published, in the October 20 Issue, a list of the top music law schools, including the Entertainment Law Clinic, and Recording Artists Project (RAP) at Harvard Law School:

Making The Class of 2018: Top Music Law Schools

by Cathy Applefeld Olson

Harvard Law School
City: Cambridge, Mass.
Enrollment: 1,757

This year’s Harvard Law curriculum includes a class covering entertainment and media law, a course on music and digital media, and an entertainment law clinic to complement its many intellectual-property and contracts-focused classes. Students can also moonlight at the legal services clinic, Recording Artists Project, where they gain hands-on experience working with local musicians. The clinic celebrates its 20th year in October with a gala keynoted by entertainment lawyer and alumnus Donald Passman. This past year, as part of Harvard Law’s bicentennial celebration, the school held a Harvard Law School in the Arts event, with alumnus Clive Davis serving as honorary chairman. He also spoke to students about the 2017 documentary Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives.

Alumnus: Spotify general counsel/vp business and legal affairs Horacio Gutierrez

For the full list see Billboard Magazine

Recording Artists Project: the foundation to my success at HLS

[Originally published October, 25, 2017 on the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs blog]

By Jennifer Marr J.D. ’18

Group photo of RAP students

Group photo of RAP students

My participation in the Recording Artists Project (RAP) has been my most important experience at Harvard law School. In fact, it was one of the reasons I came here in the first place. I had a fledgling interest in the music industry and RAP offered a hands-on opportunity to explore that interest while helping real industry clients. I have always felt music is a foundation of our culture and artists are accordingly vital stewards to protect. Moreover, it’s one of the only Student Practice Organizations at HLS with a practical focus on transactional legal training – hard to find in a law school classroom.

My first client was a musician seeking to release a multi-artist album on his newly founded label. My team and I drafted a form agreement that our client used to license the works from each of the album artists. My second semester at HLS we represented a band that was breaking up. Based on a pre-existing band agreement, we drafted a memo advising the members of their various rights with regards to their discography. Both semesters, I was a Team Leader where I acted as liaison between my team, the client and our supervising attorney. My responsibilities also included setting deadlines and discussing progress with our supervisor – it was a wonderful opportunity to practice client communication.

Portrait photo of Jennifer Marr J.D. '18

Jennifer Marr J.D. ’18

Through RAP I’ve gained skills and knowledge in three major areas: 1) entertainment/music industry norms; 2) transactional legal practice; and 3) project management. First, RAP trains its students in the complex business structures that make up the music industry and its key actors. Working with my clients showed me firsthand how different industry actors work together and how important their roles are; and furthermore how actors might take advantage of each other. Second, I learned how to read a contract and understand the relevance of “boiler plate terms” to real transactions – something which proved valuable in my 1L and 2L summers. Last, I gained practical skills related to project management including setting timelines, managing group dynamics, and client communication.

I expected RAP to be a fun way to learn about the music industry, get some transactional experience, and fulfill my pro bono hours. I was surprised that instead it became the foundation of my success at HLS. My second year I became the President of RAP – an invaluable lesson in leadership. RAP is the reason I secured my dream internship at Sony Music my 1L summer in New York City, and gave me the confidence to accept an offer to practice transactional entertainment law in Los Angeles after graduation. When my research paper on music copyright law won a UC Berkeley writing award this past Spring, I owed all my thanks to my RAP supervisor. More importantly, I have been surprised by the breadth of individuals RAP has helped, both directly through its clinical work and indirectly through its community work. Through activities like hosting the Boys and Girls Club of America on campus to organizing the Entertainment Law Symposium, I have had the privilege of making important lifelong connections. RAP is proof of the depth that work in entertainment law can offer.

Startups: How I Channel My Entrepreneurial Interests at HLS

[Published Oct. 29th, 2015 on the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs Blog]


By Eli A. Shalam J.D. ’16

By the time my first semester at HLS began, I was chomping at the bit to work with the Harvard Law Entrepreneurship Project (aka “HLEP”—pronounced aitch-lep). By early October, I was placed on a team with three other law students researching the impact of independent contractor and employee classifications on a company’s business model. Our client was a company that facilitated the booking of housekeepers to clean customers’ homes*. The main issue was that the company wanted strict standards to ensure the quality and consistency of the customer experience, but did not want to risk any sort of liability if, for example, a housekeeper started a major fire in a customer’s home, a customer’s pet severely injured a housekeeper, or a housekeeper accidentally spilled cleaning supplies on priceless curios. Our job was to advise the company on whether, and how, to classify the housekeepers as employees or independent contractors.

The project began to get very real for me when one of the attorneys assigned to our team suddenly perked up during the client intake meeting and realized that her husband had just used the client’s service to hire a housekeeper during the prior week! This company was already operating in the Boston area and my team and I were in a position to directly influence their business!

That January, I applied for a seat on the Executive Board and became the organization’s Vice President of Operations—managing the team assignment and administration process, from collecting client, attorney, and law student applications, to assigning everyone to a team within their top few preferences, and ensuring that projects were completed without a hitch and to the clients’ satisfaction. One year later, I became President of HLEP during a period of huge growth. In my first semester with the organization, we had 54 students working with 12 attorneys on 14 client-projects. This past semester we had 133 students working with 39 attorneys on 30 client-projects. And every semester, as I review the wide array of client applications that we receive —an entrepreneur wildly passionate about selling his favorite beverage, two separate companies trying to build power generation plants, an alternative ice-cream store, numerous pharmaceutical companies, and investment funds — I remember the project that got me started in HELP, where I was able to work with two great entrepreneurs to revolutionize home cleaning services and the 90 other companies that we have helped since then.

*The nature of the client’s business has been altered to protect the client’s privacy.

Recording Artist Project provides pro bono representation to musicians

[Posted Oct. 27th 2015, on the Office of Clinical and Pro-Bono Programs blog]

By Terron East, J.D. ’17 

Within the last decade, the music industry has shifted from an entity reliant upon physical goods, such as CDs and vinyl, to a business largely dependent upon internet streaming via companies such as Spotify and Apple Music. Although the traditions of the music industry have changed, the need for legal representation has remained constant, as artists must build their brands and protect their interests in their work while not infringing upon the rights of others. By advising clients on many aspects of entertainment law, the Harvard Law School’s Recording Artists Project (also known as RAP) has provided valuable pro bono representation to musicians in Boston and beyond since its inception in 1998.

While RAP cases focus upon the legal needs of musicians and others involved in the music industry, the specific legal work involved in each case varies widely. In recent semesters, students have had the opportunity to negotiate record contracts, draft work-for-hire and band partnership agreements, clear samples used in new works, register copyrights for compositions and sound recordings, and register trademarks for band names, among other legal tasks. The services of RAP have further been assisted by participation of students from the Berklee College of Music. These students, often musicians themselves, aid in client representation by providing advice based upon their classroom instruction and first-hand experiences with music business, recording, and performing.

In conjunction with providing direct legal services, RAP plans to expand its community outreach this year through a partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston (BGCB). This collaboration will connect RAP students with members of various BGCB “Music Clubhouses” to educate the young musicians about music law, including copyright law, music publishing, and the role of record labels in an artist’s career. This collaboration will also give HLS students a chance to interact with teens from the Boys & Girls Club to provide mentorship and insight into the daily lives of law school students, with planned visits to a local Music Clubhouse as well as an event on the law school’s campus.

Although I was initially unaware of RAP upon entering HLS, the opportunity to join the program as a 1L seemed hard to resist. While I enjoyed the litigation, case-based approach to law that was employed in my core classes for the first year, I found that RAP provided much needed insight into the transactional spectrum of law. Moreover, RAP served as my first foray into entertainment law–a subject with which I was enamored since my time serving as music director for my undergrad college’s radio station years ago. After serving as team leader during my first two semesters with RAP, I sought to become director of the organization to not only participate further within the daily proceedings of the organization, but to also assist in making RAP more visible on both the HLS and Berklee campuses. Using the extensive alumni and faculty connections provided by RAP, I hope to allow interested students to use the program as a first step to establish themselves within the diverse and promising field of entertainment law.