Fordham law alumnus Julian Petty ’06 was interviewed by Billboard about his work as a music industry attorney.
For a place with a population under 10,000 people, the village of Amityville, N.Y., carries an outsize reputation. For some, it’s The Amityville Horror, the book and film from the 1970s; for others, it’s the wave of crime in the 1980s that turned it into a microcosm of the drug war tearing apart the country. For music attorney Julian Petty, Amityville was the breeding ground of a hip-hop scene that was both sanctuary and a way out, and which shaped the decisions that would take him to the highest reaches of the music industry.
“I remember hearing De La Soul’s first single, ‘Plug Tunin’,’ as a demo,” says Petty, 40, now a partner at Los Angeles-based law firm Nixon Peabody representing the likes of Childish Gambino, A Tribe Called Quest, Vince Staples and the estate of The Notorious B.I.G. “I remember seeing Rakim driving around with his pearl-white Benz. Prince Paul was a local legend, and he lived a couple of blocks over. Hip-hop was just omnipresent.”
That immersion led Petty to a brief local rap career and then, during a summer break while studying at Howard University, to an internship at Def Jam in the mid-’90s, where he witnessed firsthand how heavily involved attorneys were in the everyday operations of the music business. “I felt like urban artists weren’t schooled on what was in their deals,” he says now about the experience. “So I just thought that if there was ever anything I could do about this, one day I would.”
A few years later, while working at AOL, Napster’s digital revolution captured his attention. While in law school at Fordham University, Petty came across a copy of Black Enterprise magazine with attorney L. Londell McMillan on the cover; a cold call to McMillan’s office led to an internship, and then his first job as a music-business attorney after graduation. “He had Prince, Stevie Wonder — the crème de la crème,” recalls Petty. “He gave me a shot and had me working on Michael Jackson deals.