Allen Grubman is one of music’s renowned negotiators. On Nov. 5, the senior partner at entertainment law firm Grubman Shire Meiselas & Sacks will be the last of the original founders of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to be inducted into the institution he helped launch with no other. as Ahmet Ertegun, Jann Wenner and Seymour Stein.
Asked about his greatest contributions during his half-century in the music industry, Grubman doesn’t hesitate to answer. His work boils down to imposing respect for the work of artists.
“If you ask me what my contribution has been, it’s that talent is properly compensated, properly treated, properly respected by the people they deal with,” Grubman says of his firm, which now has 50 lawyers. . “It’s my job to make the most of these areas…whether in terms of money, respect or exposure.”
Grubman prefers to maintain a professional and independent relationship with his clients, although he admits to becoming close with Bruce Springsteen in recent years.
“I don’t come from a school where your customers should be your best friends,” he says. “I don’t know if it’s still healthy.” Last year alone, Grubman accounted for multi-million dollar catalog sales for Springsteen, Sting, Paul Simon and the David Bowie estate. “These artists get older and become very preoccupied with estate planning,” he says. “They want their ‘babies’, what I call their jobs, taken care of when they’re gone.”
Grubman’s induction at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles ceremony makes him one of the few industry leaders to be honored with the Ahmet Ertegun Award, named in honor of Atlantic Records co-founder died in 2006. John Mellencamp will present for his lawyer and friend of 40 years.
For Grubman, the event is a personal and professional milestone. “I’m very happy, very proud,” he says, recalling Rock Hall’s humble beginnings.
“We ended up at a Chinese restaurant called Pearl’s. They needed a lawyer to set it up,” says Grubman. “But none of us could have foreseen that it would become this iconic institution. When an inductee dies, that’s the first line of their obituary.
When he was a pre-teen, Grubman himself got a taste of showbiz. Between the ages of 11 and 13, Grubman was a regular singer on the “Horn & Hardart Children’s Hour” show, which aired Sunday mornings on ABC. “When my voice changed, it was the end of my career,” he laments.
Growing up middle-class in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, the son of a clothes salesman and a housewife, Grubman was a small kid with a big voice, singing tunes from Broadway shows from the days before the rock’n’roll. “When I started singing, people were surprised,” he recalled standing 4’8″ at his bar mitzvah.
While attending the City College of New York and then the private law school in Brooklyn, he worked nights in the mailroom at the William Morris agency and as a page at CBS on “The Ed Sullivan Show “. Eventually he was hired by Walter Hofer as a lawyer for his music business for $125 a week.
Still ambitious, in 1975 Grubman left to start his own entertainment business “with a deck table, deck chair and telephone” on East 55th Street, representing clients such as KC and the Sunshine Band, the Village People , Kool & the Gang and Drive Records.
A few years later, disco was dead and Grubman began representing future superstars such as Police and Springsteen. He would later add Madonna, Rod Stewart, AC/DC, Elton John, Mariah Carey and Andrew Lloyd Webber to his client list, while under his tutelage partner Kenny Meiselas would bring Lady Gaga, Lizzo, Sean “Puffy” Combs , Jennifer Lopez and the Weeknd, as well as various music executives represented by the company.
Grubman says a big key to his success can be described as having the right amount of chutzpah at any given time. It’s equally important, says Grubman, to understand the limits of his role as an advocate for artists.
“It’s about having the balls to make decisions that could be a little dangerous,” says Grubman. “I’ve always been able to identify with artists by telling them that we’re both in the music business – but I’m in the business and they’re in the music. I never wanted hanging out in the recording studio or backstage. I leave the creativity to the artists. While I made sure they weren’t taken advantage of by the companies they were dealing with. At the time, I tried to rewrite the game book to eliminate this exploitation. I tried to shift the influence from the labels to the artists. And I think I’ve been quite successful in doing that, which took some nerve.
Now in his 80s, Grubman, who remains secretary-treasurer of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation’s board of trustees, hasn’t thought of quitting anytime soon.
“I don’t play golf or tennis,” he says. “I don’t want to stare at the four walls. As long as I’m healthy, I want to keep doing this. I see a lot of my friends retire, and it always ends in tears.