On Wednesday, October 27, Allen Grubman ’67, a man who counts Madonna, Lebron James, and Robert DeNiro as clients, delivered the Media & Society lecture. Peppering his talk with a little Yiddish and a lot of humor, Grubman led the sold-out crowd of alumni, faculty, and students through the intriguing arc of his remarkable career.
Grubman was born in Crown Heights to a working class family. His first experience with the entertainment industry was as a child singer on the Sunday afternoon Horn and Hardart Children’s Hour. He appeared on the show for three years, from age 11 to 13, but when his voice began to change, he explained, his days in show business came to an end. But his passion for a business where the talent was pampered and treated like royalty, remained. “I remember when I was on the show, they took us to great restaurants,” he told the audience. “I was taken to rehearsal in a limousine. I knew then that I wanted to be an entertainment lawyer.”
But Grubman admitted that his rise to entertainment guru did not happen without its own dose of drama. He was almost derailed by, as he put it, “abominable grades,” in Law School and made it through by the skin of his teeth thanks to the generosity of Professor Joe Crea, who passed him. Grubman, who had interned as a page at CBS during Law School, knocked on doors all over town when he graduated, begging for work. Remarkably, an attorney by the name of Walter Hofer hired him. Hofer happened to represent a band called the Beatles. Grubman recalled their conversation: “I said, Listen, I don’t have a lot of money so I can’t afford a lot, but tell me what I have to pay you to let me work here. Instead, Hofer agreed to pay me $125 a week.” And a career was launched.
Grubman worked for Hofer for a few years before starting his own firm with fellow BLS graduates Paul Schinlder ’71 and Arthur Indursky in 1974, which later became known as Grubman Indursky & Shire. Today, the firm is one of the most elite entertainment shops in the nation. He has been called “the undisputed king of music entertainment law” by Forbes and “the head of the most powerful entertainment law firm in the country,” by Vanity Fair, which included him in an elite group of “must-see agents, lawyers, and studio heads for any deal worth doing.”
While much of his talk recounted personal stories of the music business (including a priceless tale about the Village People), Grubman also discussed the intricacies of entertainment law, the structure of a deal, and the different roles played by managers, agents, and music publishers in the industry.
After his talk, Grubman fielded a number of questions from students about the changes in the entertainment industry over the years. “In the year 2000 something terrible happened,” he said. “It’s called the Internet. People figured out how to get movies and music for free, and this is an issue that artists have had to adjust to. iTunes is killing artists. They used to sell an entire album for $15.98, now single songs go for 99 cents. The issue is one of compensation.”
Grubman ended his talk on an encouraging note. “I am living proof that you can achieve the biggest things in life even if you are a C student,” he said. “You have to believe in yourself, have tenacity, and go that extra step. And something else: you also have to have sachel. Sachel is a Yiddish word that means a combination of intellect, street smarts, and common sense. And the most important thing is you have to be lucky.”