‘Partnership deals are the future of the music business.’

MBW’s Inspiring Women series profiles female executives who have risen through the ranks of the business, highlighting their career journey – from their professional breakthrough to the senior responsibilities they now fulfill. Inspiring Women is supported by Ingrooves Music Group.

Sarah Scott was recently named Managing Partner of respected music industry law firm, LaPolt Law — a position that places her side-by-side with founder, Dina LaPolt.

The role recognizes Scott’s contribution to the firm across four years, which includes managing the team of 10 attorneys, attracting new business and growing revenues. 

LaPolt is the kind of lawyer who “throws a hand grenade in the room and sees what happens,” says Scott, while she evens out with a different approach. “I listen before I jump in with the decision,” she explains.

Scott continues: “The two styles complement each other. We have great respect for one another and have a lot of fun. We bring that good energy, that yin and yang to the artist’s businesses.”

Scott started her career at a big law firm on the Wall Street of Toronto, Canada before deciding to pursue her passion for music after seeing an ad for a job at an artist-focused law firm.

She went to the interview but ended up joining Universal Music Canada instead. Shortly after, she was made Head of the Business and Legal Affairs department.

“I was in my early ‘30s and might have been the only female Head of Business Affairs for any of the Universal labels worldwide. It was very inspiring for me.”

“I was in my early ‘30s and that was a very inspiring thing for me because I might have been the only female Head of Business Affairs for any of the Universal labels worldwide,” she remembers.

“I had this opportunity to hire female attorneys to the department, which I did. I felt elevated.”

Scott taught herself about the inner workings of the label by visiting every department in the building, learning about what they each did, and redrafted contracts to meet their needs.

She took this multifaceted approach “so that I could gain their respect, being a woman, being young and an outsider,” she says.

After meeting her husband at Universal, who was moving to Los Angeles to work at Interscope, Scott went with him to follow her dream of working for artists.

She took the California Bar Exam, set up her own consultancy, spent a year as Vice President, Music Affairs at Sony Pictures Entertainment, and eventually joined LaPolt Law in 2017 as Senior Attorney. 

Today, Scott resides over a client roster that includes Cardi B, Offset, deadmau5, 21 Savage, jxdn (Jaden Hossler) and iann dior, as well as rock icons Steven Tyler and Mick Fleetwood, and a number of influencers and female entrepreneurs.

Here, she tells MBW why artist and label partnership deals are the future of the business, the pitfalls of those contracts, and the advice she’d offer to a younger version of herself. 

Across your various roles working on the legal side of music, what have been your biggest lessons learned?

What I’ve learned the most is the importance of partnerships in valuing everybody’s role. Take the roles of the artist and the record company, for example. Valuing those roles would have led to a model that was more of a partnership where we share profits and bring different things to the table, as opposed to the unnecessarily complex royalties and rights deals that we have now. That is the future of our businesses.

“profit-sharing deals make the artist far more happy, successful and involved in their business, rather than being antagonistic with the record label or publisher.”

Some labels, publishers and even live businesses are moving more towards that profit-sharing model and valuing everybody’s contribution in a more equitable way. Dina and I are absolutely at the forefront of structuring things that way for artists, which makes the artist far more happy, successful and involved in their business, rather than being antagonistic with the record label or publisher. It makes the record label attract talent and makes us all more open to the next new technology that’s coming along.

Covid has presented all kinds of things that we didn’t necessarily know were issues in our business. Everybody’s going to need to be thinking, “How do we fix this?” If everybody’s a partner, and you’re not wedded to one way of doing business, there are lower costs, better creativity, better product and better distribution models with new platforms and apps. That is the way that our industry is going to explode.

if the industry transitions towards that sort of partnership model, are there any pitfalls in those contracts and agreements that artists and managers should be wary of?

Absolutely. You can’t put lipstick on a pig and make it pretty. We’re going to profit together, 50/50 each, [which] sounds really good and it is, if that’s the intent. But you have to look into it and see if they’re wholly going there with you. Maybe they’ve got distribution fees that come off the top.

So we’re not really 50/50 [in that case], maybe we’re still more or less 75 to the corporation and 25 to the artist, because the 50/50 suddenly had a big distribution fee off the top, or a bunch of costs that don’t get shared equally and that actually only come out of the artist’s or the songwriter share. That’s common. It’s just a different way of creating an imbalance and the historical model of the imbalance is what we have to avoid now. 

Then there’s the length of time that some of these contracts are. That’s what we’re looking for at our firm. Don’t just [sign] the agreement and think that it says ‘profit share’ it’s better than something else, when in fact, it’s got all kinds of hidden fees and costs that you have to be watching out for and bringing to their attention. You have to have inspired executives on the other side, and there are a lot, who you can actually have these conversations with.

Are there any other big battles that you and your attorneys are frequently fighting for on behalf of artists?

Yes, there’s a lot. The way that royalties are collected around the world is very complicated. There are certain funds that are set up to collect money that are very archaic in the way that they do it.  

We see a lot of songwriter disputes where the songwriter didn’t come up with their splits with the other songwriters in the room. And so then you have all these royalties that are on hold because they don’t know who to pay them to. 

Making sure royalties are fairly collected and not held up is something that we’re always, with other attorneys in the industry, fighting to make better and easier. If the goal is to get people paid, there should be a quicker and easier way to do it. If the goal is to keep things on a list and make it incredibly difficult, that’s not going to move us forward. 

“Making sure royalties are fairly collected and not held up is something that we’re always fighting to make better and easier.”

It would also be great to have more control over artist’s names and likeness and the uses that they have of it. There are some problems right now where a paparazzi can take a picture of an artist and sell that picture to a magazine, make their money and not need the artist’s approval. But say it was a really nice picture of one of our artists and her husband at a restaurant that she liked. If she posted that picture of herself on her own social media, the photographer or their agency can come after her for not clearing the rights and hold you to ransom for tens of thousands of dollars.

These people are trolling the internet to find big artists who use pictures of themselves and saying each picture is going to cost you $40,000 or $20,000, and you posted five of them. It’s a big problem that we’re going to have to try to somehow solve at government levels. I’m not saying that photographers don’t have rights, but it just doesn’t sit well with LaPolt Law and to me, doesn’t make common sense.

What’s the most exciting development happening in music for you right now?

I love the streaming model. It’s that connectivity and streamlined process of being able to immediately have music at your fingertips for a, perhaps too low, monthly fee.

What I also love about streaming is all of the apps and various functions that have come from that. You look at TikTok and all these other [platforms] that are tangential to the music industry that let you explore new music so quickly and easily. It’s very exciting to me that technology is coming on board to jump on this and we just have to keep up with the rights so that everybody’s paid.

How would you like to see the streaming model improve?

There has to be the goal to share revenue appropriately and artists should have a higher portion. The costs for publishers and record labels have come down from what they used to be. There are no returns, inventory, warehouses or manufacturing costs. There’s no breakage of CDs and there are no tracking expenses.

“With streaming, there has to be the goal to share revenue appropriately and artists should have a higher portion.”

We’re going to have to increase the cost for the consumer. Back in the day, without having been under the pressure of piracy, if you had said, “What is the amount that’s appropriate to charge a person monthly to have access to music instantly for as long as they have their subscription?”

You would probably not have said $9.99, $11.99 or $14.99. We used to charge more for one album — when we were teenagers, you would you might pay $20, even $30, for one album of 12 songs. 

What would you change about the music industry and why?

I would try to correct the imbalances of power so there’s less ‘us against them’. There’s less publishers against record labels, there’s less artists feeling, “What does my record label do?’ and instead feeling more appreciative of what they do because there’s more or less a balance of power.

I’d like to see women continue to be at the forefront of decision-making and signing artists. At our law firm, we’re talent first, we have 70% women, women are creative, organised, detail-oriented and they weigh decisions. It’s a left and right brain that I think adds value to any room.

I love that we have [women in senior music industry positions, like], Sylvia Rhone (Chairman and CEO of Epic Records), Michelle Jubelirer (Capitol Music Group President and COO), Michele Anthony (Executive Vice President of Universal Music Group) and Jody Gerson (Chairman and CEO of Universal Music Publishing Group).

We have women at the highest levels of all the different pillars of our business and I would like to continue to see that because our business has benefited as a result.

What advice would you give to a younger version of yourself at the beginning of your career?

I’ve learned that if you really want something to be, you need to put it out into the universe. The more that I started talking about what I wanted to be and asking people who I respected that were in the business about what they do, the more what I was wanting came to fruition. 

“The more that I started talking about what I wanted to be and asking people that I respected who were in the business about what they do, the more that what I was wanting came to fruition.”

Going from university to a big corporate law firm, I didn’t even know that lawyers played such a huge role in the music industry.

Then I started to put it out into the universe that I really wanted to be trusted by artists to negotiate with them, advocate for them and make sure they have the right revenue and rights. Suddenly, I became surrounded by artists and the opportunity came to me to move on to the artist side. 

To my younger self I would say, “Don’t hide under a bushel what you really want to be”. Put it out there, start talking to people, start networking early and it all just starts coming together.

MBW’s ongoing Inspiring Women series is supported by Ingrooves Music Group, which powers creativity by providing distribution, marketing and rights management tools and services to content creators and owners. Ingrooves is a leader in the independent music distribution and marketing industry, provides independent labels, established artists and other content owners with transparent and scalable tools and thoughtful marketing solutions.Music Business Worldwide

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