“I don’t have to tell you that the best times of my life were created by artists and enriched by music, because that’s true for all of you,” said Susan Genco, co-chairman of The Azoff Company, who received the service award at the Recording Academy’s 24th Annual Entertainment Law Initiative Luncheon on Saturday afternoon (April 2) in Las Vegas. His sentiments were echoed by the keynote speaker Cameron Crowewho wrote the Oscar-winning semi-autobiographical screenplay for the 2000 film Almost Famous.
He said what was presumably true almost known story, about a 12-year-old boy whose mother intentionally raised him across from a law school where she desperately wanted him to go. Instead, his sister’s secret stash of records in their rock music-banned house led to him getting incredibly rare interviews with rock stars ranging from David Bowie to the Eagles (before they became the Eagles) to Led Zeppelin for the cover of rolling stone (a job the band hated at the time), eventually becoming what the CEO/President of the Recording Academy Harvey Mason jr. considered as “rolling stone the magazine’s youngest contributor at 15.
“When people ask who the band is, who the real people are in almost known, it was all of them and all of us,” Crowe, now 64, told the room full of music lawyers, entertainment journalists, CEOs, managers, “anyone here who helped weed out the 150 musical signals in almost knownand more passionate industry patrons at the Aria Hotel in Las Vegas, where the 64th Annual Grammy Awards were moved this year due to COVID-19.” It was Irving [Azoff] and Ronnie Van Zant and Glenn, Elliot Roberts and Neal Preston and the people who inspired Susan Genco, back when she was a DJ with the same dream of loving and being close to music, the music she still loves so passionately and fights to support her. ”
And in its sustained fight, Genco pleaded for the collective passion for artists to extend to their protection. As one of the key figures who helped enact the Music Modernization Act four years ago, the 2018 Billboard Female Executive of the Year in Music and Irving Azoff-led Music Artists Coalition were leading advocates for the FAIR Act, which won its first committee vote on Wednesday. The FAIR Act would repeal a 1987 amendment to California’s “Seven-Year Statute” (otherwise known as California Labor Code Section 2855) that allows record labels to sue artists for damages if they leave seven years before delivering the required number of albums in their Contract.
“We all work hard for the artists and songwriters we love. They give us the gift of music, so let’s make sure we give them what they need and deserve. Let’s make sure they get their fair share, and let’s do it together please,” Genco said during his acceptance speech.
She took a page from Crowe’s screenplay and painted her own love story of how she got to work in music. It all started in “a little club in Buffalo with my friend Lisa. There we were looking at this remarkably young group from Athens. They were this perfect combination of artistry and great songs. And like Penny Lane in almost known, we fell in love with this band. Although, for the record, neither of us slept with Michael Stipe,” she joked. “The next scene takes place in a dark law school hallway, where my Mitch and I sat arguing about our favorite REM record. And then we went to see Nirvana, The Lemonheads, Rage Against the Machine, Uncle Tupelo and so many others. And I feel more deeply in love with him” – remembers Genco bursting into a short sob – “with every note that we were together.
In the various positions she has held in the industry – including Vice President of Business and Legal Affairs at Arista Records, under the tutelage of Clive Davis, and Executive Vice President of Global Music Rights, which is under the under the umbrella of The Azoff Company – Genco’s role as a mother of three has given her some of the most fulfilling moments of her life. “For me, there are no better musical moments than taking my kids to see their favorite bands. For Nicole, My Chemical Romance. Owen, Neil Young. And my Ava, Harry Styles, of course,” added Genco.
Azoff has sung his praises as someone who defends musicians, songwriters and publishers through legislation and preserves their legacy through the purchases of Iconic Artists Group catalogs, including David Crosby’s catalog; the recorded musical resources of Linda Ronstadt; and the Beach Boys’ recordings, mark, memorabilia and select compositions – all within the past year. But outside of the industry, he also praised Genco for being a “tireless advocate” for women’s economic and social justice through the XX Fund, of which Genco is the founder and co-chair, as well as the visibility and rights of the LGBTQ+ community. Laurie Sorianoexecutive chairman of ELI who presented Leron Rogers from the Black Entertainment and Sports Lawyers Association with the 2021 Service Award after last year’s virtual event, described the UCLA Law School adjunct professor as “the best role model.”
Before the president of Full Stop Management introduced Genco, he asked his partner and associate/co-chairman of Covington & Burling’s Commercial Litigation Practice Group Mitch Kamin, “On a Will Smith scale of 1 to 10, how bipolar do you feel today?” in reference to the actor slapping comedian Chris Rock at the 94th Academy Awards on Sunday, which drew mixed reactions (mostly laughter) from the audience. He reflected on their “almost parallel training” as young people in the industry who wanted to represent artists, beginning with Genco’s undergraduate studies at Wellesley College and Azoff’s time at the University of Illinois. . “She joined the Snyder Board of Governors who put bands on her campus and I promoted and put bands on campus and made a lot of money for myself instead of the university” , he said while hurling further sarcasm that had the room bursting into laughter, adding, “Then she went to a little grad school called Harvard, and I went to the David Geffen School of Music Terrorism. Then she went to see Clive Davis, and David Geffen and I did everything we could to get Clive Davis to the cleaners.
After his humorous speech, Azoff presented a video montage of Genco’s peers – including partner Full Stop Management Jeffrey Azoffthe other co-president of The Azoff Company Beth Collinsco-head of urban music at Columbia Records Shawn HolidayPresident/CEO of Full Coverage Communications Kristen Fostermayor of los angeles Eric Garcettiand recipient of the ELI Service Award 2019 Dina LaPolt — and family members joined Azoff in the chorus, which included a clip of his family singing along.
“We are so grateful for all you have done on the Music Modernization Act, Federal COVID Legislation Relief Packages, and all the work you do as a member of the Music Board of Directors. Artists Coalition, which includes the upcoming work you’ll be doing on the FAIR Act, which eliminates the record label exemption from California’s seven-year statute,” LaPolt enthused in the video, prompting the co-founder/ co-chair of the Black Music Action Coalition, Willie “Prophet” Stiggers to applaud and the whole room to follow suit once she added, “This shit gotta go!”
Genco, who wiped away the tears with her napkin, felt nervous but incredibly grateful ahead of the glowing presentation dedicated to her. “Because [the Entertainment Law Initiative is] to welcome new people to the music industry and the next generation of legal thinkers around these important issues, I am truly honored and rightly honored to be a part of it,” she said. Billboard before lunch, joking: “I keep telling my husband, ‘Twelve years of Catholic school and I feel like I’m having a bat mitzvah: there’s a video, I have an outfit special. I’m not used to that.
The event began by honoring ELI Student Writing Contest winner Sona Sulakian of USC, who won a $10,000 scholarship, as well as runners-up Chelsea Cohen of Loyola and Michael Harrigan of Stetson, who each received scholarships of $2,500. All three students will benefit from a mentoring session with a leading entertainment lawyer. Mason also celebrated the recent onboarding of the Recording Academy’s first in-house legal counsel, Jennifer Jones.
“Be bold and be innovative,” said Genco Billboard regarding the advice she has for those law students who are preparing to enter the music business. “For a long time, [it] was very static. Unfortunately, when piracy hit the recorded music industry so hard, it was terrible. But it required innovation, new thinking. Same with the pandemic. Artists – and there are a lot of legal issues about that – have gotten really creative. I think the most important thing for the next generation is to be flexible, to be bold, to be innovative. Always use the guidance you got from law school, that ability to think analytically about things so amorphous, like the metaverse and NFTs. And you’re an important partner for the artists, who have all the creativity, and then being associated with someone who can think through the legal and business implications is extremely important.