Jeff Becker is Chair of Swanson, Martin & Bell, LLP’s Entertainment and Media Law Practice Group. Among his clients are Grammy Award-winning musicians, producers and songwriters, publishers and record labels, professional athletes, authors, independent filmmakers and other creative individuals and entertainment-related businesses. For these clients, Jeff provides comprehensive representation in the transactional and litigation aspects of their businesses. In doing so, he counsels clients in the preparation, analysis and negotiation of various issues, including licensing and distribution rights, royalty negotiations and disputes, rights acquisition and clearances, talent agreements, production and performance agreements, music publishing and licensing agreements, recording contracts and master license agreements, sponsorship and endorsement agreements, and artist management agreements. Jeff strives to find the most cost-efficient way to help clients secure and protect their rights. He is an Adjunct Professor at DePaul University College of Law, where he teaches Music Law, and has guest lectured on entertainment-related topics at various colleges, law schools and conferences across the country.
Jeff also previously served as Chair of the Swanson Martin & Bell, LLP’s Community Service/Pro Bono Committee. He proudly volunteers his time to Lawyers for the Creative Arts and is a founding member and former President of the Associate Board.
How did you learn about Lawyers for the Creative Arts and what led you to apply to join the Associate Board?
I first learned about Lawyers for the Creative Arts over coffee with former LCA President, Andy Goldstein. Andy told me about the amazing work LCA provides to the Chicago creative community, and how young lawyers can get involved to help these artists. Within a few days, I applied to become a volunteer attorney, and soon thereafter, had my first case assignment. I am one of the founding members of the Associate Board, so I have been involved since the very beginning.
What’s your favorite LCA memory?
Having the opportunity to present the Distinguished Service Honoree award to our client, Josephine Lee and the Chicago Children’s Choir, during the LCA benefit luncheon in 2018.
What do you enjoy about being an Associate Board member?
I most enjoy the community the Associate Board has created and fosters for our volunteer lawyers. In doing so, the Associate Board provided me with an opportunity to form lifelong friendships with some of the most passionate entertainment attorneys in Chicago.
Which LCA or Associate Board events have you participated in?
My primary contribution to the Associate Board has come in the form of educational programming. I co-chaired the Associate Board’s education sub-committee with Jessica Bahr for several years, during which time we organized some very exciting CLE events in collaboration with the Goodman Theatre, The Music Garage, Tribeca Flashpoint, Leo Burnett and the Steve Harvey Show (thanks to our good friend, Jed Enlow). More recently, I helped LCA collaborate with our friends at the Recording Academy and 2112 to organize educational programming concerning the Music Modernization Act, new legislation that will significantly impact how our music community is compensated for their work. I am extremely proud of these presentations, and the opportunities they have provided to both our volunteer attorneys and artists to enhance their understanding of complicated legal issues impacting their business.
What types of LCA matters have you taken on?
I vividly recall my first LCA matter ever. I represented a gentlemen who was in a dispute with his uncle over who owned the rights to his mother’s publishing catalogue. She was a songwriter that had recently passed away, and her family could not agree on how to handle the administration of her music. I stepped in to resolve the dispute on behalf of my client, and was excited to help him do so in a manner that allowed him to start collecting much-needed income while also repairing his relationship with his uncle.
Since that time, I have taken on many film and music-related matters, including, for example: assisting producers in claiming their rights to royalties, extricating artists from toxic management agreements, cleaning up the catalogues of legacy artists, addressing disputes among band members and helping clear rights for filmmakers. I have also worked hard to strengthen the relationship between LCA and our firm, and in doing so, have expanded our volunteer team to several attorneys who take on matters in film, music, television and literary fields.
What advice would you give to an attorney who is considering taking an LCA matter?
Don’t bite off more than you can chew, especially with your first matter. LCA has an amazing network of lawyers, and excellent educational resources, to help guide you through the process. So feel free to reach out for help to assure that you are providing your client with top-notch legal services.
Do you have any personal background in the arts?
In high school, I was in all the plays and musicals, as well as show choir. I also played a decent guitar and piano. While I would have loved to make a living as an actor, I was too risk averse to take a run at “making it” as an artist. Thus, when I saw the opportunity to work with the creative arts community from a lawyer’s perspective, I was thrilled to merge my love of the arts with my chosen career path.
Do you participate in or follow the arts here in Chicago?
I closely follow what our local artists are up to here in Chicago. From the local theatre scene to intimate music rooms, there is amazing art being created that needs to be recognized. I also love walking the city and taking in the astonishing creations by our local muralists. Some of the most beautiful art in Chicago can be found on the sides of its buildings and in its alleys.
What about the arts in Chicago strikes you as unique?
The resilience of our artists is second to none.
How does LCA support the arts in Chicago and why do you think this work is so vital to the arts?
Obviously the amazing network of volunteer attorneys that LCA provides to the Chicago arts community is vital to the success of our creatives. Access to legal services is essential, but so many artists starting out in the business simply cannot afford it. This, of course, places these artists in a position to be taken advantage of by third-parties that swoop to take ownership or control over their creations. Thus, by the time an artist finally reaches the stage of his or her career where he or she can afford a lawyer, it’s too late. LCA provides artists with the support they need to make sure they are not building their business on a house of cards.
You have recently been quite active in building awareness of the difficulties that the arts community is facing during COVID-19 on social media. How did you get involved in these efforts?
Many clients started reaching out soon after state governments started implementing orders that restricted (and in some cases, entirely prohibited) live performances from taking place. Once South by Southwest was cancelled and Coachella rescheduled, there was a rush of concern as to what was going to happen with respect to the live music industry over the coming months. Thus, we spent a considerable amount of time working through force majeure clauses in our client contracts and working with various interested parties to reach commonsense resolutions that address both sides’ concerns without focusing too heavily on what the contract required. I then started focusing on identifying other opportunities available to artists to help them offset some of the losses they were experiencing due to the pandemic, and to create opportunities that would not have existed but for the pandemic. For example, as a member of the Board of Directors for the Recording Academy, I know how essential the MusicCares program is to so many artists around the country, but also realized pretty quickly after the onset of COVID-19, there are many artists who had no idea that MusicCares even existed. Thus, I reached out to as many artists as I could to let them know that, through MusicCares, the Recording Academy created a relief fund designed to quickly send financial support to artists who lost income due to COVID-19.
A few weeks ago, I created a weekly concert series called “Concerts from My Couch,” where we invite artists to perform in a closed “digital venue” comprised of audiences from around the world (who, of course, are all joining us from the comfort of their living room). We have been able to raise thousands of dollars for these artists, and have provided a much needed break from the monotony for our audience. It is extremely gratifying to see so many people coming together during a time when we are supposed to be staying apart.
Finally, which tv-show/movie/song/book have you recently finished that you would recommend?
On the literary side, I just finished (and really enjoyed) “They Call Me Supermensch,” the autobiography of legendary manager, Shep Gordon. He is a monster of a figure in the music industry, and some of the lessons pulled from that book are amazing. On the television side, I am about halfway through this season of “Ozark” and cannot wait to see where this story goes. I also recently finished “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” which is one of the most effective shows I have ever seen at addressing stigmas around issues of mental health, all while paying homage to around 100 different Broadway shows.
Thank you to Jeff for taking the time to answer our questions! Visit Jeff's profile at Swanson, Martin & Bell, LLC to learn more about his remarkable career and continue to check social media and this website for future Featured Members from our Associate Board.