Welcome to music industry week! Instead of heading down to SXSW this year, we decided to highlight a bunch of music industry professionals who work in various parts of the business to keep it running all throughout the year. A single week down in Austin might seem glamorous for a time, but the truth is the music is an industry just like any other, and if it’s your goal to work in music, that goal is totally attainable without a “networking” trip that costs hundreds of dollars.
You don’t need to travel down to Texas and brush shoulders at overcrowded showcases full of cheap beer, questionable immigration policies and ubiquitous corporate branding. If the point of going to SXSW is to get familiar with the music industry, skip all that and read our interview series instead to find out where you may fit in. There’s so many areas to work in aside from playing music, or even writing about music, and the purpose of this series is to spotlight lesser-known but essential roles that keep the music world spinning. So far, we’ve spoken with a we spoke with a music publisher and an artist manager. Today, we talked with an entertainment lawyer.
Helen Yu Leseberg describes herself first and foremost as an advocate. As the found of her own entertainment law firm, Yu Leseberg, her priority is to serve and protect the legal well-being of “artists, songwriters, producers, and creative talent in the entertainment industry.” If anyone knows how difficult it might be to get artists to take care of and be familiar with their own legal rights, it’s Helen, who works at explaining high-level, analytic concepts to some of the most creative and non-linear artists currently working.
After an early stint as a high school intern for the now-defunct indie label Enigma Records, Yu Leseberg realized she could pair her love of the arts with her family’s mandate that she go to law school — and her career in entertainment law was born. Music law is just as complicated and unique as the rest of the industry, and in our conversation below she unpacks the challenges and considerations that go into working in the entertainment law field. Her final note resonates most: You don’t choose music, music chooses you.
How did you end up in your current role? What was your trajectory?
I always loved music and I started as a musician. I played keyboard and I was in a band in high school. Being in a band and being in music, of course I loved going to shows, and in high school I was able to get an internship at a label called Enigma Records. It was really early to start, I didn’t drive, I was 15, my mom would dropped me off. That’s how I started, and this label was an independent label and it was very cool. It was two brothers that owned it and they had all the departments there — radio, retail, distribution and finance. Everything was there. So I started off there in publicity. I learned working with a record company that way, and I did whatever they wanted me to do: answer phones, box stuff up, called stores. Back then we’d do a lot of data gathering by calling retailers to find out what records were selling. When I started in music for that first job, we didn’t have a lot of competing media. The internet didn’t exist. I’m surprised that millennials still want to work in the music industry, because there’s so many cooler jobs. But I started out with an internship, and most of my friends that work in the business almost all started with an internship.
So you met the Engima records guys at a show?
I was really lucky because I lived in LA and the entertainment industry is a cottage business here for us. The two guys that owned the label lived in my neighborhood. I was in a band and… I didn’t look like the other kids in the neighborhood. So I stood out, so they asked me ‘Hey, do you want to be an intern?’ And I didn’t know what that was, but I was like ‘Yeah!’
How did you move from working with a label into the law side of things?
I wanted to be a musician and be in a band, to have a creative career. But my family really discouraged it, because they thought that it was not a very stable career path. They wanted me to be a lawyer because they felt I had a higher likelihood of having a steady living. At the record company they had a lawyer so I had already thought ‘hmmm.’ The lawyer would come in and do things every once in awhile.