Linda Newmark: Artistry in Negotiation

Universal Music Publishing Group (UMPG) is a giant in the world of entertainment, owning or administering the copyrights for more than 3 million popular songs and instrumental compositions. But if there’s one title in that vast collection that captures how Linda Newmark feels about her 30-year career in the music industry, it might be Peggy Lee’s 1947 hit, “It’s a Good Day.” “I feel so incredibly fortunate,” explains Newmark, JD ’88, sitting in the executive suite at UMPG’s headquarters, on a palm tree-lined street about two miles from the pier in Santa Monica, California. “When I entered Stanford Law School, I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and it really has worked out for me.”

It helps that business has been good. Unlike recording companies— which rely heavily on album sales and were challenged by the advent of MP3 downloading—UMPG benefits from a variety of income streams. Thus when storms confronted the industry in the late 1990s, the company sustained its healthy market share.

These days, in fact, under new chairman and CEO Jody Gerson, UMPG appears to be riding a wave. Revenues were up nearly 7 percent in 2016, thanks to a huge increase in plays of UMPG-licensed songs on increasingly popular streaming and subscription services, including Spotify and Apple Music. The company also profits from sync licenses, which allow its owned or administered works to be used in television, motion pictures, and commercials. Additional revenue comes from licenses for recordings and public performances and from sales of sheet music, both paper and digital.

Newmark, who was promoted to executive vice president in charge of acquisitions and strategic projects at UMPG in 2005, is modest about her role in the company’s fortunes. Industry insiders, though, have been impressed by her efforts to build up UMPG’s treasure trove of copyrighted songs. In 2007, for example, she played a major role in the acquisition of BMG Music Publishing, a $2 billion deal that gave UMPG rights to works ranging from operas and contemporary Christian favorites to hits by Coldplay and Justin Timberlake.

Another of Newmark’s deals, the acquisition of Criterion Music, was such a coup that Billboard Magazine named her one of its top Women in Music for 2013. Songs from that 70-year-old catalog include Jackson Browne’s “Doctor My Eyes” and Lee Hazlewood’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin.’” Newmark also played a key role in the acquisition of the Rondor Music catalog, featuring hits of the Beach Boys, as well as songs from the Stax catalog, such as “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” and “Soul Man.”

“Linda’s reputation in the industry is flawless,” says well-known entertainment lawyer Jay Cooper, founder of Greenberg Traurig’s West Coast Entertainment Practice. Cooper was Newmark’s first boss after she graduated from Stanford Law School, and even then, he says, she was “one of the best lawyers I ever had, by far— smart, thorough, efficient, straightforward” and remarkably unfazed by working with celebrities.

Linda Newmark: Artistry in Negotiation
Linda Newmark at the UMPG offices in Los Angeles
Photo by Gregg Segal

Although Newmark grew up in west Los Angeles, surrounded by the music industry, she had no family ties to the business. Her mother was a registered nurse and her father owned a tool importing company. Like many teens of the 1970s, though, she was passionate about music and loved listening to Top 40 radio, particularly works by great singer-songwriters, including Carole King and Carly Simon. As a clarinetist in her junior high school orchestra, she also developed an early appreciation for classical music and the works of Leonard Bernstein.

Later, as a UCLA communications and business major, Newmark toyed with the idea of becoming an agent. But when she looked more closely at the music business, she noticed that many of the power players there were lawyers. A subsequent visit to Stanford Law School convinced her to go north for her JD. “It was a humane place to experience the rigors of a really challenging education,” she recalls now of her days at Stanford. “I loved that it wasn’t a Paper Chase environment.”

Newmark says her most influential professor at Stanford Law School was Paul Goldstein, internationally recognized for his expertise in intellectual property law. Even in the mid-1980s, she recalls, Goldstein was predicting big changes in the music industry. “He told us that in the future, everybody would have a ‘celestial jukebox’ where you could call up whatever song you wanted to hear,” she marvels. “Every day on the job, I use what I learned in his class on copyright law.”

During her first four years out of law school, Newmark worked at the Beverly Hills office of Cooper, Epstein & Hurewitz, gaining experience drafting contracts and helping to represent a variety of well-known clients, including singer-songwriter Lionel Richie, “Hound Dog” and “Jailhouse Rock” songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil.

Since then, at PolyGram Music Publishing and now UMPG, Newmark has been on the other side of the negotiating table, assuring songwriters and composers of her company’s ability to promote multiple uses for their works, collect licensing fees, and generate royalties. In one recent deal, for example, she secured rights to the songs of Dee Snider, lead singer of the’80s heavy metal band Twisted Sister. The acquisition includes the band’s 1984 hit, “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” which UMPG is licensing regularly for use in films, television, and TV ads. As she says, “Some songs just seem to work really well for commercials, and that definitely is one of them.”

Through her extensive network of contacts in the music industry, Newmark also identifies opportunities to sign and negotiate deal terms for administration agreements with established songwriters and artists who wish to retain ownership of their copyrights. Among the well known songwriters and groups she’s signed over the years: Heart, Boston, Judy Collins, Jefferson Airplane, the Bangles, the Pixies, Indigo Girls, and Sesame (Street) Workshop.

The work is not always quite as glamorous as it sounds. Behind the scenes, Newmark works long hours meeting with representatives of UMPG’s songwriter and music publisher clients, negotiating deals, and reviewing agreements. Still, she says, being around some of the world’s most prominent artists and songwriters has its exciting moments, such as the time she met the members of U2 or the time the Indigo Girls played an impromptu concert for the company staff.

There are nice perks as well, including free tickets to her clients’ concerts and invitations to the Grammy Awards and Grammy Week parties. Yet even there, she’s always wearing her UMPG hat—building relationships with potential clients, meeting with managers, discussing industry trends, and keeping her eyes and ears open for the next acquisition opportunity. For someone who loved singing along to Top 40 radio, life doesn’t get any better than that.