Love of music led attorney to long career in entertainment law

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Howard Hertz has blended his love of music with his love of the law into a thriving legal practice – but he didn’t start out with that in mind.

In fact, the Wayne State University Law School alumnus had no idea there even was such a thing as entertainment law when he graduated in 1976.

Now, he’s been one of Eminem’s attorneys for nearly 20 years.

For Hertz, it all began when he was kid and really into music.

“I’m a good singer,” he said. “I remember at 6 years old hearing Elvis sing ‘Hound Dog’ on the radio, and I was able to sing it exactly like he did. I don’t remember when I got my first guitar, but at 14 or so, when I first heard the Beatles, I got a better guitar and really focused on playing and singing.”

But being a musician was never his career goal.

“I thought I was either going to be a lawyer or a child psychologist,” Hertz said.

He did his undergraduate work in psychology at Wayne State and became friends with some of his professors.

“One was a psychologist at (Wayne County) Juvenile Court and one was a probation officer at Juvenile Court,” Hertz said. “They told me about the Juvenile Defender Office (later named the Juvenile Division of the Legal Aid and Defender Association) as a way of combining the two things I was thinking of for a career.”

So, he went to law school and, while still a student, applied for a job at the Juvenile Defender Office.

“They said, ‘We don’t hire law students. You have to have a bar card.’ I said, ‘Can I make one correction to that statement?’ They said, ‘What’s that?’ I said, ‘Before, you didn’t hire law students. I’m your first.’”

He was hired and continued to work there after graduation and passing the bar exam. Meanwhile, his wife, Wendy, a teacher, told him about another teacher’s husband who was a songwriter.

The man had been offered a music publishing contract and couldn’t figure it out. The women got the husbands together so Hertz could help.

“I read the contract and told him I understood the agreement but didn’t know what was standard for the industry,” Hertz said. “He pulled a book out of his bag on the business of music.”

Hertz read the book and told the songwriter that a new publishing agreement should be negotiated before the contract was signed.

“That was my first entertainment client,” Hertz said. “I didn’t even know there was such a thing as entertainment law until then.”

His interest was piqued. As he continued working at the Juvenile Defender Office and later with the State Defender Office in Detroit, he gathered a few entertainment law clients on the side.

In 1978, he opened his own law firm in downtown Detroit, in 1979 formed the law firm of Hertz Schram with Bradley Schram in Birmingham and then began to build his entertainment law practice in earnest. And that first entertainment deal for the songwriter played a role in his early success.

Joel Martin was the music publisher on the other side of the negotiating table from Hertz and his client during that first deal.

“He thought I had done a good job representing my friend,” said Hertz, who lives in Farmington Hills.

Martin started to refer people to Hertz, who by then had done a few major record label deals on his own and who was representing author Elmore Leonard, too.

“Joel brought me a client working with George Clinton, so I got involved in the George Clinton project and also the Romantics,” Hertz said. “Joel ended up opening a recording studio (54 Sound in Ferndale), being a publisher and a manager, as well. I started representing him, too. In the early 1990s, he was managing the Bass Brothers, who were producers, and I began working with them, as well, and helped them form their production company, FBT Productions, and their publishing company, Eight Mile Style.”

In 1995, Hertz helped FBT sign a young rapper named Marshall B. Mathers III, aka Eminem, whom Hertz continues to counsel.

“I don’t represent him in his music business projects, but I’ve represented him in a lot of his personal matters over the years,” Hertz said. “And I still work with him representing the Marshall Mathers Foundation.”

Other famous musical folks he’s represented include Marilyn Manson, Sippie Wallace and Jack White of the White Stripes.

Hertz’s own love of music helps him build a personal rapport with clients beyond the legal side of things, and he often goes to hear them perform. Occasionally, if the venue is right, he’ll get on stage and jam with them.

“I sing, strum guitar and play blues harp, but I only do that for fun,” Hertz said with a grin.

His day job is fun, too.

“It can be stressful, like any job that you’re absorbed in, but it’s always interesting,” Hertz said. “Every day something new pops up. I feel fortunate that I was able to develop my practice to where entertainment law is all I do. It’s worthwhile being able to help artists in whatever field they’re in understand the issues and help them negotiate the best deal possible for themselves.”

His job boils down to four main areas:

• Drafting and negotiating contracts.

• Trademark and copyright filing and protection.

• Dispute resolution.

• Networking on behalf of clients.

“Networking is one of the most important things you can do in any field but especially entertainment law,” he said. “A lot of what you end up doing is helping connect your clients with entertainment companies that may want to use their services.”

He travels to Los Angeles and New York City several times a year, as a result, and attends the MIDEM international music festival in Cannes, France, annually. He has been involved with many organizations, serving as an active volunteer on their boards – including the Detroit Music Awards Foundation, MusiCares, the Sphinx Organization, the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (Grammy Awards) and WSU’s College of Fine, Performing & Communication Arts Board of Visitors. He also was a member of the Michigan Film Advisory Commission and an adjunct professor at Wayne Law and University of Michigan Law School.

Right now, he’s particularly excited about a new client, the Detroit Institute of Music Education; its first students started in September. The school is in the Dan Gilbert-owned Bamlet Building at 1265 Griswold St. in downtown Detroit, and Gilbert, another Wayne Law alumnus, is involved in awarding students scholarships. The institute, founded by the three British music veterans who originated the Brighton Institute of Modern Music in England, is excited to work with the new generation of Detroit performing musicians in a college-accredited program.

“I sometimes say, very tongue-in-cheek, that I majored in psychology in undergrad, worked at the public defender office handling murder cases and then I went into entertainment law, so it was a natural progression,” Hertz said with a grin. “It’s been an interesting journey.”

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