Like many teenagers, John Branca joined a Los Angeles band and had dreams of one day becoming a famous musician. Unlike most teenagers, he did go on to have a very successful career in the entertainment business, but not as a performer. Branca discussed his career and some of his most famous clients in a Harvard interview.
Attorney to the Stars
Branca is currently a partner with the law firm Ziffren Brittenham LLP. He is also the head of their music department. Over the course of his career, Branca has represented some of the most famous musicians in the world. His client list includes the late Michael Jackson, Carlos Santana, Aerosmith, Bob Dylan, Fleetwood Mac, The Backstreet Boys, The Beach Boys and many more. This former teenage guitar player has represented more than 30 inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Custodian of the Michael Jackson Estate
Branca has served as the custodian of the Michael Jackson Estate since 2009. In this role, he negotiated a $2.2 billion acquisition by Sony of EMI Music Publishing, which resulted in the creation of the largest music publishing conglomerate in history.
Branca has been an incredibly successful entertainment lawyer. He attributes this success to his ability to be versatile. He of course has a strong understanding of the law, but he has also been willing to juggle legal procedures, such as contract negotiations, with tasks such as working as a client manager, salesman, investment banker or promoter.
Dealing With the Media
A big part of Branca’s job has been managing his clients’ public image, which means learning how to deal with the media. Rather than personally handling press releases and interviews, Branca has become an expert at working with some of the top PR agencies in the world.
His focus has been on ensuring his clients are fairly and accurately portrayed and sometimes on defending artists who he feels have been unfairly attacked. Branca blames increased competition for many media outlets failing to adequately research the stories they put out about celebrities.
Branca admits that he isn’t particularly adept at working with social media. However, he compensates for that by hiring social media experts to manage that aspect of his clients’ images.
Separating the Art From the Artist
Branca has worked with several clients who have been the subjects of intense scrutiny and controversy. He has attributed his success to separating the artist from the art. According to Branca, if you believe that the art is worthwhile, it becomes easier to want to help artists advance their careers, even if some of the negative publicity they have received may be warranted.
Few lawyers in the entertainment industry have ever become as successful or as well known as John Branca. His success prompted Michael Jackson to refer to him as, “the greatest lawyer of our time.” Carlos Santana calls him, “the Shaman.” Young attornies hoping to carve out a successful career in the industry would do well to study his career.