Music Attorney Helen Yu Talks Music Business in the Age of COVID-19

With the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racism both on everyone’s collective radar, music creatives are operating in a new space.

Helen Yu Leseberg, the principal attorney at Yu Leseberg, is an advocate of artists, songwriters, producers, and creative talent in the entertainment industry.

“I’m a minority, i’m a woman of color, i’m Asian, and those are definitely challenges. But it just drives you. For me, I never looked at it as a barrier. Because if I really thought about how many succesful Asian music attorneys are in the business representing the talent side; it would just be me (laughs).

“There might be little pockets of people coming up here and there. But if I looked at it as being white male dominated, insider’s business, I just wouldn’t have done it. You just do what you do, have the faith in yourself and do better work than your colleagues. You don’t do equal work, you do better work.”

Addressing Challenges

Yu also founded North Hudson Music, LLC, a finely-curated music publishing administration company whose clients include Tupac, Robin Thicke, Estelle, YG, and many others.

“The hardest part for everybody, with the front line artist about 75% of their income probably comes from touring. It’s been difficult because everything’s cancelled.

“Some things are getting rescheduled but even the things that are getting rescheduled, like our European dates, are getting rescheduled again. Everybody knows that nothing is going to happen until 2021 sometime. It’s a very big hit in the income.”

Decades of experience have made Ms. Helen Yu Leseberg a noted authority on entertainment business strategies and contract negotiation. This background has made Ms. Yu Leseberg a skilled navigator of the challenges and nuances faced by artists in the 21st century.

Forced Evolution?

“I don’t think COVID-19 will change the industry forever. This is just my opinion, I think it is just something interim. I think the artists that are going through it now on a personal level, this has been helpful for them in terms of their own personal finances.”

Yu knows that success can breed complacency when evaluating your spending habits and that might have been the blessing in disguise with COVID-19.

“When you’re an artist having a lot of success, especially if you have big shows on the radio, that means that you’re touring, your live performances have increased which means you’re making a lot of money and when you’re in the thick of a very successful run the money starts pouring in, more money that you ever thought and some artists spend like there’s no tomorrow.”

“They keep thinking i’m on a roll. I think its a way of resetting and figuring out a personal reserve. But in terms of how they operate in the music business in general, I think we are going to come out stronger and better. Shows and live performances, the desire to have that person-to-person connection in a live setting is going to grow even stronger.”

In response to these rapidly changing waters, Ms. Yu Leseberg’s focus has expanded to include brand marketing, technological innovation, worldwide publishing, lucrative licensing deals, and merchandising.

In 2014, under Ms. Yu Leseberg’s leadership, Yu Leseberg negotiated and lawyered more charting singles on the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot R & B 100 than any other law firm in the entertainment industry.

“We’ve had a couple clients participate in apps and online events and the quality isn’t there. It didn’t stop them but the experience for the fans isn’t there. If you want the fans to have a real experience then you have to figure out the technical issues.

The Travis Scott Effect

Fortnite and Travis Scott presented Astronomical back on April 23-25. Fans had a chance to “blast off into a one of a kind musical journey featuring Travis Scott and the world premiere of a brand new track”.

It was billed as an other-worldly experience inspired by Cactus Jack’s creations, built from the ground up in Fortnite.

“I think Travis Scott’s Fortnite event was amazing. One thing that I do know over the years in general in terms of music, because music moves culture so much, even when promoters have done deals with our artists and they’ve also taken the performance for a particular show but they’ve also gotten the broadcast or simulcast rights.

“Its a very interesting crossroads (concerts and gaming) because we do know that gaming on a subscription or a per-admittance fee basis is extremely successful.”

However, Yu sees limitations to certain aspects of the technology meets music intersectionality.

“About ten years ago they were trying to do pay-per-view. What I notice is that people are not willing to pay money for that concert experience. They may pay money for a stream but in terms of the same similar model of paying for ticket and “entering” a venue, its not going to transition. There is something about being around an artist with a crowd of people. Its not going to be a major revenue source.”

Music Cares

In addition, Yu sees the music industry lending a helping hand during these times of extreme trauma.

“One label head actually called one of my managers and said, ‘look if you guys need any money, any advance, anything to get through this, come to us.’ I’m acually proud of the music business that they’re not completely exploitive (laughs).”

“Music has always influenced culture. You used to have musicians that had the natural sister businesses. A lot of musicians are really good visual artists like digital illustrators. A lot of them are really good chefs because that creative energy basically transforms into different types of media and also their brand.”

With technology aiding artists during this rough time, Yu looks at what is working and is hopeful that younger generations will keep oiling the wheel of success for artists of today and yesteryear.

“This TikTok thing. Its bringing old songs back to the forefront. In fact we had two songs that weren’t super legacy songs and it brought them back. I think its going to help music catalogues and new releases as well.

“I think its great for younger audiences to get familiar with older music. For the younger generation they don’t even need access to the physical products, the records, they can just get it over these new means.”