Summer@Eastman 2020: Law & Music: Not as Scary as it Sounds!

March 9, 2020

Guest blogger Hannah Pearson

By Hannah Pearson

Guest blogger Hannah Pearson holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in clarinet performance and is currently a student in Eastman’s M.A. in Music Leadership (MAML) degree program.


Law & Music is a summer course offered at Eastman, taught by Professor Ari Solotoff. The course focuses on law as it relates to musicians, both in the administrative and performance fields. I took the class last year as part of my coursework in the MAML program. When I first signed up for the class, I had a lot of questions: What will the course focus on? Do I know enough about law to understand this class? It’s a law class… Does this mean we’ll be assigned TONS of reading every week?


I was excited, but I was also a little nervous. I’m always hesitant about taking online classes, not only because I value face-to-face instruction with professors, but also because some online classes I’ve taken in the past just don’t have the structure of their brick and mortar cousins. Luckily, I didn’t need to worry about any of this, because our professor did everything he could to make sure that his class felt just as engaging and as organized as it would if you took it in-person.


Ari posted every class lecture on Fridays, with most assignment deadlines falling on the following Thursday. This schedule allowed for plenty of time to get the work done. Because the class was online, nearly all of the assignments were meant to be done solo. I liked this, as it gave me plenty of time to set my own schedule and pace my work accordingly. We did have one physical class on campus, and this was a good opportunity to get to know the other students in the class.


 The assignments definitely didn’t fall under the category of “dense legal coursework” that I’d been afraid of. Instead, Ari assigned homework on topics that were both interesting and directly relevant to music copyright and licensing in the current music industry: assignments included using licensing databases to figure out who co-wrote alongside Taylor Swift, and reading about why members of Fleetwood Mac sued each other for royalties (hint: it has something to do with legal partnerships!). Ultimately, Ari understood that none of us taking the class were lawyers; we were musicians, and he tailored his assignments with that in mind.


Our final assignment for the class was my favorite of the semester. Instead of giving us a written final, Ari asked us to choose a social cause we were passionate about, create a music venture that addressed that cause, and then present it as if we were pitching the idea to a funding source. One of the reasons I chose to apply for the M.A. in Music Leadership degree was so I could find a way to incorporate my passion for social justice with my career in music, so I found this assignment especially meaningful and I had a lot of fun putting my presentation together. 


Now that I’ve taken Law & Music, I have a much better understanding of basic music law, especially where it pertains to contracts and recording rights. I may not be a lawyer, and I may not be planning to pursue a career in the recording industry, but I think it’s helpful for every musician to know about the basic legal principles in music in order to empower them in their own careers, whatever that path might look like. After taking this class, I feel like I’ll be able to encounter legal issues in music with the correct set of tools. That’s a good feeling to have.


Group photo: The inaugural class of MAML students


Law & Music runs July 1-August 5, 2020; students are welcome to register even if they are not enrolled in Eastman’s MAML degree program. Registration is open now.



Photo credit (Hannah Pearson headshot): Elena Sloman Photography


Group photo: The inaugural class of MAML students: D’Jean Vasciannie, Janette LaBarre, MAML Graduate Degree Program Director Rachel Roberts, Hannah Pearson, Georgia Mills, Mimi Harding. Photo courtesy Rachel Roberts.