Kendall Minter never sleeps.
Okay, maybe that's an exaggeration. He does, in fact, take time out for family, vacations, and fun.
But Minter, who has been running his own successful entertainment law firm, the New York-, then Atlantabased Minter & Associates LLC, for more than thirty-five years, dazzles with his ability to keep a virtual solar system of tasks in the air without letting a single one fall.
Minter has represented, among others, such diverse and prominent clients as South African human rights activist Bishop Desmond Tutu.
What was it like to be lawyer to the man who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his anti-apartheid efforts? Says Minter: "Bishop Tutu had done so much and shown so much courage, yet he was such a humble guy that I was in awe of him the few times I was around him. I just sat, looked, and listened."
More typically on Minter's client list have been jazz greats Cassandra Wilson, and Roy Ayers, Reggae giants Peter Tosh and Shabba Ranks, and most recently Jamaican singer-songwriter OMI, whose remixed number-one hit "Cheerleader" has shattered record sales worldwide.
"Part of what I do is create new opportunities to brand OMI while he's hot and running," explains Minter. "Those merchandising and publishing deals have underlying contracts to keep all the pieces moving-and paying." Sometimes he even goes out on the road with his client.
This July, Minter was honored as a recipient of the National Bar Association's Living Legend Entertainment Attorney Award at the NBA's convention in Los Angeles. (The group is the nation's oldest and largest affiliation of predominantly African- American lawyers, judges, educators, and law students.)
"It's an honor that's long overdue," says New Kids on the Block record producer and publisher Tony Rose. "Kendall is the greatest entertainment attorney around. He's a classy, talented, genius-level lawyer who loves and understands the music world. He answers your 2 a.m. phone calls. Whatever problem you have, he's gonna be there for you."
"He was a serious and focused student, with high standards and a strong sense of direction at Cornell," says college roommate Keith Earley. It impressed him that Minter could study political science, then law while running his own radio show and producing sold-out campus concerts with stars like Stevie Wonder.In fact, Minter, who was in the six-year undergraduate/law program, says that much of his Cornell connection came from outside the Law School. In addition to his efforts as a DJ on WVBR and then WSKG, and as a concert organizer, Minter says, "Seventy percent of my Ithaca life was outside the Law School, working at the Straight [Willard Straight Hall] desk and working with Cornell VP for student affairs Bill Gurowitze in Day Hall. We jump-started the Cornell recycling program on campus."
The law professor who was most influential to Minter in terms of his career was Harry Henn, whose course on copywriting law Minter took, and who wrote THE book on the subject, Henn on Copyright Law: A Practitioners Guide. It's third edition is still available, although Henn himself died in 1994.
Minter says that his Cornell Law degree led to an interview with the New York City law firm of Burns, Jackson, Miller, Summit & Jacoby [founder Arnold Burns was a Cornell alumnus] that led to a job as an associate in 1978-his second job out of law school (the first was with Fairchild Industries in D.C.)-and his first exposure to doing entertainment law, which led to Minter's decision to go out on his own as an entertainment lawyer two and half years later. "It's what gave me the encouragement to make that a specialty," he says.
"He is personable, has great listening skills, and is able to relate to clients from different circumstances," says Louise West, a fellow entertainment lawyer who encouraged Minter to leave corporate law for entertainment law.
Minter and West were among a small group of lawyers who help form a professional organization that became BESLA, the Black Entertainment and Sports Lawyers Association. Today, it awards scholarships and mentorships to African- American law students that lead to jobs (and sometimes even love, marriage, and "BESLA babies," says Minter). But back then the group was so strapped for cash that, "Louise and I would use our own credit cards for hotel deposits for our annual conferences," says Minter, who was BESLA's first executive director.
That volunteer work led to the creation of the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, which offers financial assistance and grants to pioneer R&B artists from the '40s to the '80s who never benefited financially from past hits and "are now unfortunately falling on hard times," Minter says. Raising large donations from top record producers at such places as Time Warner, Atlantic, and Motown, "we would give it away to the honorees along with justly deserved recognition, recalls Minter, who is currently chairman emeritus."
He also is on the board of the Living Legends Foundation and serves as its general counsel. Among other things, the group helps devoted longtime record store owners remain in business.
Why does Minter volunteer with those nonprofits? "I just got bit by the bug of being able to give back and pay it forward," he says.
During law school, Minter volunteered for the Legal Aid Clinic. "I found it rewarding," he says. "The experience led me to pursue a summer job working for the Legal Aid Society in Brooklyn."
And as if all that weren't enough, Minter just published a helpful book, Understanding and Negotiating 360º Ancillary Rights Deals (Nam Chi LLC, 2015), that one fan called "required reading for every music industry professional on the planet."
Among other things, it shows recording and performing artists and their teams how to survive and thrive in the transformed world of free file sharing and downloadable music. "I wanted to show what today's record deals look like and how to intelligently negotiate a fair deal-one that makes sense for everybody," Minter says.
There is also a parallel website, askmusiclawyer.com, which markets contracts, how-to guides, hot topics, and discussions. "It's Music Zoom on steroids," he says.
Minter has had a birds-eye view of the changes in the music industry. For the past seven years he has sat on the board of Sound Exchange, the only performing rights organization in the United States that collects and distributes royalties for the streaming of music.
When people stream music onto mobile devices via Pandora, Spotify, and other similar services, he explains, "the companies providing them pay royalties to Sound Exchange, which distributes them fifty-fifty to the owners of the records and masters, and the artists who recorded the songs," Minter says. It's big business. "This year that pool of distribution is expected to rise to just under a billion dollars."
Predictions? "Technology continues to evolve, and consumption is at an all-time high," Minter says. "Our challenge right now is how do we, on the content-provider side, monetize the consumption?"
When he's not working, Minter golfs, scuba dives, and travels with his second wife, a celebrity hairstylist, to places where he might pilot a boat and enjoy great food and wine. He and his first wife have three grown children: Kamali, a filmmaker and TV editor; Namik who does media and promotional campaigns (Oprah was a client); and Amani, an executive at the women's fashion chain Bebe."He's a great father," says West. "As hard as he worked, he still made his family his priority."