BY JENNY PAUL
At first glance, Aaron Rosenberg ’02, a bespectacled, self-described “Jewish guy from Kansas City,” doesn’t look like the type of guy who spends his days brokering deals for hip-hop big shots like Three 6 Mafia – the group of “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” fame. But Rosenberg’s knack for finding unsigned, fresh talent, coupled with luck and a few pivotal entertainment industry mentors, catapulted him into a burgeoning hip hop and R&B practice, in which he has represented Three 6 Mafia, John Legend, Lauryn Hill and other artists.
Current Harvard Law students looking to follow in his footsteps need to take advantage of alumni networking opportunities, hone their negotiating skills and eschew the traditional recruiting track, he told a group of about 100 students interested in breaking into the niche field of entertainment law.
“It’s just a matter of persistence,” Rosenberg said Monday at the event, which was sponsored by the Committee on Sports and Entertainment Law and the Recording Artist Project. “When you’re here, it’s very easy to get lost in this soup. Everybody is focusing on the traditional recruiting track, and it’s a lucrative track, and people have loans. There are all of these other pressures. It requires some sacrifice.”
Rosenberg said a bit of luck jumpstarted his career during his third year of law school when he met John Legend, then an unsigned artist still known as John Stephens. Legend became Rosenberg’s first client when he started work as an associate at the New York office of Greenberg Traurig after graduation.
“You can say I had a little bit – no, a lot – of beginner’s luck,” said Rosenberg, now a partner at the boutique firm Myman, Abell, Fineman, Fox, Greenspan and Light. “It’s one thing to be able to spot talent. It’s another thing just through all kinds of circumstances for that talent to have the opportunity to shine.”
But Rosenberg said students should also take advantage of various resources at the law school to help them get experience and hone the skills they will need to be successful entertainment lawyers. The negotiation workshop taught him how to effectively communicate and broker with people from all walks of life, he said, while the clinical programs can help students “to get in the habit of talking directly with clients.”
Rosenberg encouraged students to attend speakers’ events and try to establish relationship with Harvard Law alumni working in the field.
“I feel like Harvard Law School prepares you in that it exposes you to an amazing alumni network…who, for the most part, really enjoy helping students out,” he said. Rosenberg met Strauss Zelnick ’83 – then CEO of BMG Entertainment – at a law school event, kept in touch, and spent his 1L summer at the company after Zelnick offered him a $10-an-hour internship.
“It was barely enough to cover my expenses that summer,” Rosenberg said. “I lived in a really crappy apartment with four of my friends, but it was great. I was in the business.”
Rosenberg said students interested in the entertainment business should understand they also won’t be making the money that other students who follow the traditional recruiting path will make after graduation.
“The people who get those jobs [at boutique entertainment firms] are the people who are willing to work for peanuts,” he said, noting the starting yearly salary for associates is usually around $40,000. “It’s not glamorous work, but that’s a part of paying dues, because every profession in the entertainment business has an element of dues paying to it. But it gives you a tremendous platform, so it’s what you make of it.”
And paying dues has its perks. When he was fairly new to the business, Rosenberg said he got a call saying that recording artist Lauryn Hill – one of his favorite artists in college — wanted him to represent her. She called him at 4 a.m. to discuss the deal.
“It was her – that voice I had heard so many times rapping. It was so exhilarating,” Rosenberg said. “[I thought] ‘I’m so excited to be representing her. This is why I’m here.'”