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Meet the UCLA Program That Offers Free Legal Services to Indie Artists, Labels

Billboard logo Billboard 1/27/2020 Claudia Rosenbaum

Cheryl K, an aspiring singer and student at the University of Southern California, was selected from thousands of applicants to sing in Mandarin over the opening credits of the 2018 hit movie Crazy Rich Asians. K was stunned by what she saw as her big break — but then became stressed: She had only a week to review the recording contract and no money to hire an attorney.

K's music industry professor, Dr. Paul Young, pointed her in the direction of University of California, Los Angeles' Music Industry Clinic (MIC), a new student-run service created by law professor and Azoff MSG Entertainment co-president Susan Genco, who designed it as an experiential complement to her lecture course. K applied for the clinic's free legal services and within a week, a small fleet of law students were poring over her agreement.

"They were so helpful and they worked so quickly," says K. When the negotiations grew unexpectedly complex — rapper-actress Awkwafina contributed a rap to the song that also played over the film's closing credits — the clinic's staff assisted her throughout the process.

When Genco launched MIC in spring 2018, she brought in two star instructors to help oversee the program: Susan Hilderley, an entertainment transaction lawyer and partner at King Holmes Paterno & Soriano, and Jeffrey Light, a 35-year music-industry veteran and partner at Myman Greenspan Fineman Fox Rosenberg & Light. Students who complete Genco's fall-semester class are eligible to participate in the spring-semester clinic, for which they obtain full course credit.

Over the past two years, Genco's music industry clinic has provided pro bono work for 60 Los Angeles-based musicians, independent labels and music companies, ranging from sorting out royalty-collection issues to crafting artist-producer agreements, and from negotiating synch license deals to identifying key points of live performance contracts.

"I've worked as a music lawyer now for 25 years and have always wanted to give back," says Hilderley. "This is basically a two-fer — helping people in the local music community who can't afford to hire a lawyer, while teaching and training the next generation of music lawyers."

Local musicians like Kaurosh Poursalehi, who goes by the stage name Roach, are grateful for their efforts. Poursalehi says MIC's services allowed his group, Bikini Trill, to create a band contract that showed it how to treat the group as a business right when his band started booking shows.

"I honestly didn't know it was a thing," says Poursalehi. "We were able to [answer questions like], 'What if one of the members leaves? What are the exact duties of each member?' Things we talk about, but never actually put on paper."

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 25, 2020 issue of Billboard.

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