From a big time music exec at Laface Records to jet-setting with the stars (LA Reid & Usher Raymond), entertainment attorney Cliff Lovette riding high landed many moons ago. And for the better, might I add. He’s no longer stressed with the day-to-day operations of the music business. Instead, he’s living the life many of us only dreamt of and that is to be free of all the pretentious BS which complicates our daily lives. Now-a-days, you can find Cliff Lovette spending more time with his kids and having the luxury of basking in his pool daily after coming from his two four hour gigs.
So let’s talk about what you’re doing now. Is it film? Is it TV?
This is what my day is like. First of all I’m a single Dad.
Oh, so you’re single now?
I’ve been divorced since 2009. My ex went out of the states and just got back, but for all intents and purposes I am a single dad. I have a 16 year old and an 11 year old, and that’s part of the reason why I was limited in my employment because I had to be home to take care of the kids. My workdays comprised of waking up early in the morning to help the kids get ready for school. Fortunately, I was able to find a live-in nanny, who moved in with me recently. She’s a 27-year-old South African woman and she’s very kid friendly. She’s wonderful! She helps get the kids ready for school. I commute by motorcycle and I have a really nice cruiser out there. My son Liam, who’s 11, hops on the back of my motorcycle and I take him to school at about 8:30. Then, I head to my first of two day gigs. I kind of transitioned out of being a pure entertainment lawyer into being a general counsel. I am the head lawyer for two very high tech, dynamic companies. Both of which are in compatible fields. The first one is Macquarium Intelligent Communications. They’ve been around for about 15 years and they do very high-end user experience for websites and Internet applications. Their clients include Pepsi, Lowes, Lockheed, and other fortune 100 and fortune 500 companies. They help these companies refashion the online experience of everyone who interacts with them. It all gets very sophisticated and they’re probably world class at what they do. They’re one of the topnotch user experience companies in the world. They’ve represented the Olympics committee, Coca Cola, Pepsi, Home Depot, and now Lowes. They come in as consultants for huge, huge companies that spend a lot of money and they work for the companies’ IT departments. I’m their head lawyer. I do all their transaction work, intellectual property work, and some HR legal work. Whatever they need; I do it for four hours. I get in there at 9 o’ clock AM and I’m done by 1 o’clock PM. I hop back on my motorcycle and ride to my house which is about two and a half miles away, make lunch, maybe hop in the pool for about an hour and then I go to my other job called Definition 6. Definition 6 is equivalently at the top of its game. It is more like a marketing and advertising agency but they take it to the future, sort of like a digital agency. Their clients include Coca Cola, GE, Lexus Nexus, and other huge companies. They help companies unify all their marketing communications across the board from traditional print and billboard to wireless, social media, and live events. They’re very branding and unifying intensive and give companies a unified vision of what their marketing and branding is. Definition 6 won one of the highest awards in the ad business for a campaign they did for Coca Cola called the Happiness Machine. It started as a web promotion. Coca Cola loved it so much, they converted it into a commercial, and put it on American Idol buy time which is the second most expensive buy time behind the Super Bowl. That’s the kind of stuff they do. What I do for them is almost similar to what I do for Macquarium. I draft and negotiate contracts and look at their vendors with clients, employees, and contractors. I also help them with human resources issues and intellectual property issues. If there are any litigations or lawsuits that involves a client being sued, and they are involved because they were involved in the project, I also work with outside counsel. I break up my day between two livelihoods over an 8 hour span and then I hop back on my motorcycle, and spend the rest of the time with my kids. I still have the entertainment law practice on the side, but I have to find slots where I do that.
How did you make the transition from entertainment law into high-tech and new media?
With Definition 6, a lot of their clients are like HBO and Nickelodeon so it’s still entertainment. Those companies are often the ones that are driving the entertainment business, in that most companies are looking at new ways to connect to the consumer and to have the consumer connect back. It’s truly interactive, and that’s what social marketing is. Definition 6, for example, makes an application on Facebook where you can become a fan of True Blood. Through that special application, with your permission, they will do a mini-segment of True Blood and insert your photograph and your name in elements of the three-minute segment. It will also insert the names and photographs of all your friends who have similarly opted into this fan page. You could be watching the show and now all of a sudden you’re in it. That’s the kind of new interaction that is taking place. Definition 6 is the leading company in its field.
From my impression, you seem to be very stress free and doing something that you love; unpretentiously. It seems that, with the major changes you’ve made in your life, you have also shed a lot of unnecessary stress. Is the pace of your life now something you aspired to coming from the glamour of the music business, or did you more so fall into it as a result of everything that happened in the past?
Well, I wish I could say there was a lot of intention behind it, but it was a combination of two things. I have an incredible amount of luck and I know a lot of people. Those people value what I do. With Macquarium, my first of the two recent general counsel jobs that I got, the owner also owned the building where I had my law offices. He is also a film producer, who produced an animated film called Zelda, which is a feature length computer generated animated film. He hired me to do all the voice over contracts. I’ve done voiceover contracts for many big names, and this was another pretty big project. He was both my landlord and my client, and he enjoyed coming down four flights of stairs to sit in his lawyer’s office. We had a good rapport. It took a while for, what I call, the death spiral of the record industry specifically to take effect—and its also effecting film, TV, publishing media, you name it. The record industry is going through transitions and the economic and business models are changing. The people who were running the shops were not quick to anticipate what the changes are and work with them. They often fought those changes. The business model for the entertainment law practices changed too. I used to have franchise artists like Usher, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes of TLC and I was working for Laface Records as Senior Vice President of Business and Legal Affairs. With a small law practice, I only needed two or three of those artists to sort everything out. When the record industry bottomed out all of a sudden a lot of those artists got out of the business and of course with Lisa, she passed away. Then, the competition for their business became a lot fiercer and larger law firms began to dangle deals that I couldn’t afford to dangle.
When you say “deals that I couldn’t afford to dangle,” do you mean percentage wise?
Well the larger law firms could work for free for six months until an artist’s negotiation and next deal came along. They were never guaranteed return and some cases they didn’t get it, but for those six months I lost a client. I’m not saying all the losses were like that. There are different reasons for losing clients, but the Kessler model of the entertainment law practice was do the work, pay your people enough to do the work for your client, and there would be enough business where every three or four months a big deal would hit. A lawyer would be reimbursed or paid for the work that hadn’t been paid yet from nine months before that. The cash flow was always reliable. Then all of sudden it became very unreliable. The deals that were being handed out were fewer and further between, and the lawyer’s take on those deals was greatly reduced, I mean dramatically reduced. It came to situations where even producers, who produced three or four tracks, weren’t guaranteed to get paid. Some producers have enough leverage to get pre-paid, but the whole business model of the law practice didn’t work. It especially didn’t work for law practitioners. The big firms could still survive, but even they tended to move away from purely artist representation and towards institutional representation. Usually, to companies Coca Cola; companies that because of the nature of the business, wanted or needed to get into the entertainment business. Entertainment wasn’t their core business, but they needed experts to help them navigate those waters. You’ll find that some of the traditional, highly successful entertainment lawyers kind of made that move. I ended up getting a job with Macquarium. I said, “look, I need some work” and Mark offered me a job at their firm. They were using a paralegal and they wanted to up-ticket to a lawyer as general counsel so I started working for them. I’ve been there for about a year, but I kept telling them I’m underemployed. Is there anyone else that you know who’d want to hire me for the next four hours? They recommended me to Definition 6. Maybe 5% of the work the two companies do is competitive. They overlap, but it’s a very small percentage. They’re two different companies with two very different business models. Between the two jobs, all the entertainment work I get is essentially gravy now.
So let’s talk about your entertainment practice. When people ask you for representation do you tend to build relationships with the clients? Did you build relationships with the clients you had in the past, like Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes? If you did, what was that first feeling like when you heard she’d passed?
I remember precisely finding out about it because Michael Bennett, who was one of the lawyers in my office, emailed me – this is before text – and said turn on the news. Lisa Lopes was a very, very spiritual person. She was a very complex person. She was a very intelligent person. She was an extraordinarily creative person. Most of all, she was a very spiritual person. She always had premonitions and dreams that something like this would happen; to the point where she knew which month it was going to happen. She was off by the year, but she knew the correct month. So, there was almost an expectation from her that she would die prematurely. You know, she was a good friend with Tupac, so she had experience dealing with death. I was concerned for the family because I was afraid that her death would be manipulated.
How did you feel personally when you turned on the TV and saw that she had pasted? What were your first emotions?
Well, I was shocked. I also started having dreams about her death. I had sleepless nights and I had dreams. I remember not being able to sleep very well the night before her funeral. I had dreams as if she were trying to communicate with me. I’ll give you an example, though I don’t know how this is going to go over with you…
Oh, I’m very spiritual so I totally understand where you’re coming from.
I had questions about the way the funeral was being arranged. I was concerned that the agenda for the funeral, which was at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, was not going to be right; there was going to be an agenda that was separate from honoring her life.
Well, you know, New Birth is a heavily Christian church and they have beliefs that are contrary to her beliefs. For example, they gave a very strong message, you know, that is against gays and she wasn’t like that. She was a very welcoming and inviting person. I got the sense that there would be a message that wasn’t her message being conveyed, which turned out to be true. Before the funeral, before I knew that this was going to happen, I had a nightmare that there were a bunch of snakes being stuffed down my throat. This is the most bizarre thing that’s every happened to me. I mean, it was a nightmare where I woke up gagging, trying to pull snakes from my throat. I tried to shake it off, but I couldn’t sleep. I went and turned on the TV. It was CNN and within 30 seconds there was a story about some guy from India who was kind of a street performer; tourist attraction. One of his tricks was to stuff snakes down his throat. I’d never seen that before. That happened thirty seconds after waking up from this dream and the next day was Lisa’s funeral.
Dude, that’s crazy.
We sat down at New Birth church; I don’t know if you’ve ever been there but it’s huge and there’s a little intimidation factor there. They had the body guards standing at the aisles with sunglasses on. I wanted to get up to go to the bathroom and they said, “No I’m sorry, we request that you stay seated until the end of the eulogy.” Now, Bishop Eddie Long did not know Lisa. He’d never met Lisa, but he started talking as if they were the best of friends. He started talking like if she were here, this is what she would say, which was the snake down the throat. Everything he said was not what she would’ve said. He started to chastise the people in the record industry. Mind you, that place was populated by a lot of people in the music industry that came to celebrate and commemorate her life, including a lot of gays, including gays that I work with. He started ripping into drugs, and gays and the record industry saying basically that they were all going to go to hell if they don’t clean up their acts. Now, that was a terrible message to be giving and it absolutely was not the last thing we wanted to hear. Now we know what’s going on in that church with Bishop Eddie Long. Now that’s spiritual. That whole thing that went down, that’s spiritual.
I had a really good relationship with Usher. I think with my personality, the artists didn’t feel intimidated by the fact that I was a lawyer and we could communicate. That’s even true of the companies I work for now. The biggest compliment they pay me is, “you’re not like a lawyer.” Now, at my age, I am finally fashioning a life that I enjoy. I have a woman in my life and I have two beautiful kids that I love. I mean, I love my life. My favorite part of my day is my commute because I get to ride the motorcycle and cruise some really nice streets. I go to work, knock out four hours, go back home, knock out another four hours and before you know it the day is over. I bring a lot of value to the job I do. I get to utilize all the background that I have from entertainment. When a client like Definition 6 needs voice-over contracts; well I’ve done those before. A large part of the transactional work; I’ve already done before. It’s been allowing me to be a little bit more selective about the entertainment clients I get. I’m well past the level of maturity where ego is the driving factor with the celebrity aspect. Now, I wouldn’t turn down a client unless I had an ethical problem with them, or I just felt like they weren’t going to pay their bill.
Being a lawyer, I never thought that you took ethics into consideration? (interviewee chuckles)
Well you have to because there’ll be clients who will ask you to do stuff that are illegal or unethical and then it’s on you. I’ve had clients that I found out were pulling guns on people and really terrorizing them into signing deals and what not and I don’t want any part of that. So, I mean, ethics is important to me. I’ll lose sleep over that stuff. I’ve fired clients. Fired maybe is the wrong word. I’ve withdrawn; I’ve resigned from clients specifically for those reasons and don’t want to have anything to do with them anymore. That’s a good feeling to be able to do that.
What does your roster look like with your entertainment law practice right now?
It’s a little bit more obscure. For example, I represent the producers in a theatrical production company. They have plays that have been on Broadway and they also have small, two man plays and what not. I represent, most recently, a guy who owns one of the most expensive mansions in the city. I negotiated the deal between Lionsgate Pictures and the owner of the mansion for the coming movie, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” with Cameron Diaz and J-Lo. It’s in town shooting now. That’s like a one off. They’re coming to town next week.
I have some music clients; some clients that are setting up productions companies and some artists that are being looked at by labels and what not. Today I’m going to be working on a contract for a woman who is an organizing specialist and a moving specialist for celebrities out in LA. A production company wants to create a reality show about her, so I’m representing her in connection with that deal. Virtually, every one of my client’s projects is totally different from the other. It’s rare that I’m negotiating producer agreements; the old stuff that I did when I was at Laface Records. It’s more dynamic now and more unique.
What was it like working for Babyface and LA Reid?
Well Babyface pretty much was not a part of the equation when I was there. Babyface was concentrating on his career as an artist and also on his new family when he was married to Tracy Edmonds. He then started his own production company. He was involved more so in his own creativity and not as much in operating Laface. LA was all over Laface. I owe LA a great deal of gratitude for even hiring me and taking that chance.
What was that like? How did you and LA Reid meet?
I was actually doing legal work for Dallas Austin. At the time I was Dallas’ primary representation. Joel Katz and I represented him. This predates a guy named Jess Rosen who came on board afterwards, and that was his lawyer, but back in the day I did a lot of legal work for him. He and LA shared a business manager. LA decided to have his own legal affairs department so he wouldn’t have to rely on Arista Records. His business manager refereed me and LA asked me to do a contract for him. Within the next day he hired me and I was at Laface Records for 6 years. That was great. It was a learning process. When I started, the company was worth about $20 million and by the time I left it was worth about $200 million. I’m not taking any credit for that. If I wasn’t there it still would’ve happened, but there was real dynamic growth. It was fascinating. It was also really interesting because most of the people who worked there were very creative, but never worked in a business environment before. Now look at people like Billie Woodruff who’s a topnotch video director. There were a lot of really dynamic people who came out of Laface Records and became top in their industry.
When you have artists signing major deals, how do they get into situations like Toni Braxton and TLC where they have money issues?
Well, don’t forget that the mid 90s was a time when most artists who were signed weren’t sophisticated about the business. There was a lot of unprofessional advice and people that were around them. In the case of TLC, there was an intermediary. Perri Reid, who was their manager, was also their production company and their publicist. The record company economics were such that they weren’t going to give you significantly more money just because you had other hands out, that is the intermediary production company, the publishing company, and the managing company. You’re getting roughly the same amount had you not had them, so TLC had to share their success with that other company which was approximately a 50% split. So instead of getting X dollars they were getting half of that. TLC is a different scenario than Toni Braxton’s who was one artist. She didn’t have to share with a band mate, and she didn’t have that intermediary company. She was a direct signing. Some artists in the industry surrounded themselves with people who would be at risk of losing their jobs if they didn’t do what the artist wanted them to do. Their way of doing business was to cater to the artist and keep the artist happy, not necessarily do for the artist what’s best for them. Now, let me give you an example from someone who wasn’t like that. Take Solomon Smallwood. He owns Smallwood Financial. He represented Usher. He represents Chris Brown and he at some point represented Alicia Keys. He was the kind of guy who went to the artists and said, “if you don’t do this, if you don’t try to keep some of the money, invest the money, build your nest egg and pay your taxes, you’re going to have nothing. I’m not going to represent you unless you allow me to help you do that.” He is an example of a guy who put his foot down, and helped artists keep and grow their assets. There were people that did that. Now artists are getting a little more sophisticated about it and they’re accepting people around them who aren’t just yes people. Of course, the business model of the record industry has changed quite a bit. The fact of the matter is if you look at the record company’s source of income, for most artists, selling records and making enough records is a loss for them. That’s not where they make their money. They make their money in everything else, but the value of everything else is increased by how much music the artist sells. As an artist, when you’re dealing with major labels, you don’t expect to make all your money on the sale of records; you expect to make your money on touring, merchandising, sponsorships, TV, acting, and things like that. In doing this, all of a sudden your profile increases and the demand for you increases. Most artists who are already established opt out of doing deals with major labels because major labels are good at record distribution, promotion and marketing, but not so good at merchandising, tours, and that stuff. So if you look back, Madonna signed a record deal with Live Nation, which is a traditional touring company. That’s what happened when companies transitioned. They started saying we want 360 deals; we want a little bit of everything.
Okay, so we’re going to talk about 360 deals, but I want to talk about Toni Braxton.
I think she filed bankruptcy twice, by the way.
Yeah! What do you think is her problem? I mean, she was so hot when she came out. What is wrong with her career now where she cannot sell records?
I’m not a genius about this, but I’ll give you my opinion, though there are some other people who are in a much better position to respond to this question. Toni was really young when she signed a record deal. I think she was in the hands of Davett Singletary’s expertise, who was the executive of Marketing at Laface Records. She was not her formal manager but she assumed that role. At the beginning of Toni’s career she didn’t have a manager. You know Babyface, LA, and Daryl Simmons wrote a lot of her stuff, and they really fashioned her and created this persona in the music. She has an extraordinary voice and was very successful. Even though you’re a big celebrity, it doesn’t mean your personality is going to change. She is a shy person by nature, she didn’t necessarily like to be out in the crowd, and she didn’t always feel secure. I remember the first Tonight Show gig she did she got sick just before the performance and didn’t go on. She didn’t necessarily go out of her way to cater to or nurture her relationships with Black radio, and there was a sense that she wasn’t a friend all. She developed a persona as a diva, and some of it was unearned. Some of it was because of the fact that she was shy. She performed at a political fundraiser in LA for Barbra Streisand at Barbra Streisand’s house. Now, we’re talking about major, major money people. Barbra Streisand is very well connected to the Democratic Party. From what I’ve heard, she never actually left her room until it was time to perform. She sang and then returned back to the bedroom. Now, I don’t know the particulars of that situation, but the general response was that that was a diva act, whereas it probably had more to do with her being shy. She didn’t feel comfortable talking to Bill Clinton and Barbra Streisand and all these really heavy hitters.
Do you think situations like that impacted how people perceived her?
Absolutely. Then, she bounced around with representation and she ended up with Barry Hankerson. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Barry Hankerson…
I’ve heard the name.
Do some Google research on it. I don’t think she was well served by that. She had good management – Arnold Stiefel and Randy Phillips. Randy runs AEG. Great guy. Eccentric, but great guy. She also had Burt Padell, a business manager. These were people who were top of their game, but with an artist like that they never knew if they were going to hold on to her. By the way, Burt, Arnold and Randy are all white, so there was always a conversation where you really need to be represented by people who’ve got your back.
What does that mean? Non-white?
Barry Hankerson, who had a reputation of being a really tough dude and well connected, would get her back. Turns out that other people better served her. Barry took a very antagonistic approach with the label; they filed bankruptcy and there ended up being a very big fight. The problem with the big fight was that it pulled her off the market when she was at her peak. She missed an entire album cycle. The people who actually produce records, like LA Reid and Babyface, had a different feel about her after this. They really helped make her be what she was. That’s not to say that her request for a greater share of the proverbial pot wasn’t unfounded. It’s just that the way things went down; it went straight from negotiation to world war three. So she was taken off the market. When she came back with the reputation of being a diva, though like I said that wasn’t all earned, she continued with Barry for a while. She was on Oprah and she said, “girl how come you’re bankrupt? Don’t you sign your checks? Toni said no. Then Oprah said, “I sign my checks. No one else signs my checks but me.” Oprah said that and kind of scolded her on TV. She’s an extraordinary talent and a wonderful person, but when you’re a celebrity and a star like that it doesn’t mean you’ve gone to school for how to handle your business. I think she was poorly advised.
Let’s go to 360 deals. What’s your whole take on that? Is it a record label move to get more money now that album sales are dissipating?
The quick answer is yes, but it’s a little bit more complex than that. Historically, the only source of income that record companies shared was from recorded performances. A lot of money was being made in music videos, though they were still a loss leader for record companies. There was also money in recordings, sold CDs, digital or whatever form they were in. The artist, on the other hand, had income sources in live performances and touring. The companies had some of that if they recorded the live performances, but for the most part, artists owned the value of the name, the merchandising, and publishing. The record company had a very small slice of the pie, but they were taking the greatest financial risk in elevating the artist’s profile and success to the point where those other things were more valuable. It was their money that was being used to make all these other resources more valuable, and they weren’t getting a taste of it. That was the business premise upon which record companies said, enough! I think it was Clyde Davis (Arista Records), but I’m not sure if that was the right person who, when 50 Cent got the Vitamin water deal, said “we should have a share of that.” There was another girl named Lisa. She was a nobody. She was put on a motion picture soundtrack and the theme song became a hit. RCA records, who owned the rights to the soundtrack, didn’t have the rights to her recording. They didn’t get the option to pick her up as an artist. All of a sudden everyone is interested in her and she signed with a competitor and made it big. Record companies realized, “hey man, we need to tie these people up.” The other point is, as you said, the income from straight recording sales and exploitation shrank. Each record company had a little bit different approach to it. Some of them said, “We’re taking a management commission; only we’re not going to manage. We’re just going to take a commission. And you still have to pay your management its commission.” Others said, “No, we want the rights. We don’t want just the money. We want to control whether you’re allowed to do this stuff. We want to do it or sell it to someone else.” There were all sorts of hybrids of that type of deal. Mostly, they take a more passive role where they allow artists to do what they do as long as the company gets a piece of it. If you are a Disney artist and you have a show, they put all this money into television, touring and merchandising. If the company has the ability to actually put money, resources, skill sets, marketing, promotion, and distribution into all these different buckets of opportunities, it makes perfect sense for them to get paid from it. Disney is the perfect example of a company that is able to do that type of deal.
So if you see an artist with good talent, who doesn’t want to sell themself to a major label, how would they get out there?
Well, first of all, I believe that good artists need to be good musicians. You should be able to play multiple instruments. If you are a vocalist you should be able to play the piano or guitar. You should be able to write your own music, or produce, or learn how to do that stuff. The day of the naked vocalist is gone. If that’s all you are, forget about it. You should be able to play live, with a band, and support yourself as a musician before you ever even think about making a career as a recording artist.
I was talking to a young man recently and he said; “I’m going to school, what should I study?” I told him that it’s best for him to study something that can pay the bills in case the music thing doesn’t work out.
It’s one thing to go to school, but he should also be reading the lyrics, music, and the story behind every great song that moves him. Learn the craft of songwriting. Then try to find a vocal coach, and learn the craft of singing. Then, go and learn how to play music. My little boy, Liam, is 11 years old. I’ve decided that one of my missions as a father is to teach him and find others who can teach him the art of busking. That’s street performances of any kind—guitarist, keyboard, someone who draws Mona Lisa in chalk, someone who does magic, whatever it is. No matter where he travels in the world, he’ll be able to make enough money for lunch, dinner, and a place to sleep. No matter where he is, no matter what financial situation he’s in he can always put his hat out. That’s the kind of skill set that you should think about needing as a musician. You need to be able to play at the point where you can just stop what you’re doing, play your instrument, and grab everyone’s attention. You are the center of gravity. That’s true for vocalists and whatever. I think too many people think of musicianship as going after notoriety and public acclaim and not the artistry. They truly need to be artists.
What is your take on hip-hop right now?
I don’t really personally pay attention to it because that’s not where I get my inspiration from. I listen to Bruno Mars. I took my kid to the Bruno Mars Concert. He’s a great songwriter, great performer, great guitarist, and I love his tone. Everything about him is great. I like people who know how to sing. There are some rappers that can sing, and there are some rappers that know how to incorporate music into the rap. There are others that don’t. There are some incredible rappers, who are incredibly talented: Tupac, Gil Scott Herron (my favorite), Public Enemy, Run DMC. But rap doesn’t hold any interest for me, personally. That doesn’t mean there isn’t great music going on. You know what concert I went to the other day? Katy Perry; phenomenal! What an artist. What an incredible performer. Incredible. I went and saw Sade. You know she’s in her 40s. That woman could put down, and she is smoking. She’s a franchise. The guitarist is a friend of mine. They can also play two hours of music and everyone’s heard the songs but no one’s disappointed.
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Copyright 2011 USL Magazine