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Erika Savage
Erika Savage. Photo by Daniel Grant

Rock Star Lawyer

Erika Savage is helping to pioneer a new kind of recording contract at Universal Music Group

When Erika Savage (BA 1995 Innis) started law school in the mid-1990s, she didn’t know the field of music law existed. Today, Savage – a former hip-hop dancer and a longtime advocate for female urban-music artists – is helping to redefine how the music industry does business.

As an attorney, business and legal affairs, with Interscope Geffen A&M Records – a division of Universal Music Group – in Los Angeles, Savage handles negotiations for such stars as Lady Gaga, 50 Cent and Nelly Furtado. When Interscope wants to sign someone new, it’s Savage who represents the record company in discussions with the artist’s lawyers. Once a deal is done, she manages contracts for everything from music videos to album art to iTunes downloads. “There are a million issues that come up throughout the course of an album cycle,” she says.

Savage is also helping to pioneer a new kind of recording contract, the “360” or “branded entertainment” agreement, which represents an effort by the music industry to stay viable in an era of free-falling album sales. Rather than sign a straightforward record deal, most emerging artists now grant the record company a percentage of income from all future entertainment-related sources as well. It’s a way for the label to recoup the investment required to break a new act, says Savage. She cites Universal artist Gwen Stefani – who has a successful clothing line, but a traditional record deal – to illustrate the point. “The takeaway is to make sure that when we’re in on the ground floor with an artist, we are there to share in those types of income sources going forward,” she says.

Savage acknowledges that the trend is controversial, but believes it is also inevitable. “Everyone keeps saying the music industry has to adapt, and this is how we’re adapting.”

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  1. One Response to “ Rock Star Lawyer ”

  2. Omar says:

    As a recording engineer and artist, I've personally seen that 360 deals are terrible for the artist.

    Artists do not see income from record sales unless they recoup advances. In their early years, artists earn less from album sales than from concerts. With a 360 deal, an artist gives up a greater share of concert revenue.

    This is how record companies are adapting? Really?! This seems to me to be a desperate attempt to generate greater profit. If the record companies had really been interested in adapting they would have expanded into digital music 15 years earlier instead of having the Recording Industry Association of America issue subpoenas to low- and middle- class citizens for downloading pirated music.

    Record companies are looking for ancillary income from T-shirts and concerts to offset the decline in sales of recorded music. However, I hope that U of T alumni such as Erika Savage will ensure that record labels help develop artists by giving them time to establish a brand that helps them build a loyal fan base and a long career - to the benefit of both artist and label.