Published on March 15th, 2021 | by Jameelah "Just Jay" Wilkerson


Ins and Outs of the Music Industry with Attorney John Branca

Name a major rock star over the past 40 years and, more often than not, you’ll find the name of Attorney John Branca associated with it.

Branca is the legendary music industry lawyer whose list of clients reads like a who’s who of the entertainment business. More than 30 of his clients are members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, including Michael Jackson, the Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, Aerosmith, Elton John, Nirvana, Fleetwood Mac, and more. Other clients include the estates of Otis Redding and Elvis Presley and worldwide celebrities like boxer Mike Tyson and comedian/actor Eddie Murphy.

Currently, along with his other clients and responsibilities, Branca is co-manager of the Michael Jackson Estate and brand.

How does one become a John Branca? What advice would he give aspiring attorneys who are drawn to the glamor of the entertainment business? We sat down with John recently to find out.

What have you done to build your reputation/brand as an attorney? How did you get to where you are today?

John Branca: There’s no magic formula. Frankly, I’ve been in the right place at the right time. Luck helps. Add in a tenacious spirit, a never-say-die attitude, and a strong commitment to the client, and that probably accounts for much of it.

But I have to add, I give a lot of credit also to my investment in personal branding. I’ve tried to cultivate a unique brand or image for myself. Why? Because before an artist/client even comes into the room to interview me, they already have a picture in their mind about who I am and what I stand for.

That saves a lot of time.

Another thing about me that’s different: where other attorneys aim to represent the record company, thinking they’ll also represent that company’s artists, my approach is different. Blame it on my background growing up the ‘60s, getting kicked out of school, whatever. I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder about big organizations. And that spills over to record companies.

So here’s the difference: I represent artists, not record companies. I’ve got one side, and that’s the artist’s side. My clients see that, and that’s often one reason they choose me over my professional colleagues.

Q. You’re known for your negotiating skills. What’s your secret?

John Branca, laughing: Well, it wouldn’t be much of a secret if I told you, would it? But I will tell you this: What takes place away from the negotiating table is often more important than what takes place at it. Over 50% of your effectiveness is created in pre-meeting planning, knowing who the parties are, building leverage, identifying what you’re hoping to walk away with, and understanding what’s important to the other side. You need to have a handle on this before ever walking in the room. Otherwise, your opponents will see right through you and walk all over you. Preparedness, clarity and confidence: if there’s any secret to this business, those three qualities sum it up.

Q. What’s your favorite negotiation story?

John Branca: I love to tell the story of a client I had back in the 1980s, a heavy metal band called Poison. And if you can’t tell by their name, they were both wild and unpredictable. It was part of their brand. You could never tell what they were going to do next. They hired me to get them out of a contract that was no longer working for them. So, just before we walk into a meeting with the company controlling their contract, one of them pulls me over and says, “John, about 15 minutes into this meeting, I’m going to go crazy and threaten to punch out the CEO. You take it from there.”

And right on cue, that’s what happened.

Q. Did it work?

John Branca: Absolutely. In fact, by the time they were done screaming and slamming their fists on the table, with us scrambling to hold them back from attacking the CEO, that company wanted nothing more to do with them whatsoever. I don’t know how I kept from bursting out laughing all the time.

But the bottom line is this: Contract canceled. Mission accomplished.

Q. What do you tell aspiring attorneys who have seen your accomplishments and want the same for themselves? How do they become the next John Branca?

John Branca: Well, first of all, don’t look at my career and expect that yours will be the same. You could outperform me by far. Don’t try to be the next John Branca. The toll is too high. Too many sleepless nights. Too many crises. Too much drama. Be yourself instead. If you are attracted to the music or movie business, start by immersing yourself in formal study, follow the trends, surround yourself with like-minded people. Find a mentor, look for a good internship and expect to begin working at the very bottom of the ladder. Learn everything you can, but especially, learn from your failures. They can teach you more than your successes.

Incidentally, don’t forget to feed your mind. Read great books like Don Passman’s “All You Need To Know About The Music Business.” It shows you where the business has been and where it seems to be trending.

And finally, don’t forget to prepare yourself for the business side. Take some business courses. If you get into this industry as an attorney, you’re going to need them.

About the Author

Publisher and CEO of The Hype Magazine. Follow me on Twitter @HypeJustJay

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