This week, ALFIES Folk meets a living legend in the world of law: Kienda Hoji. A man who was once a civil rights lawyer, Kienda talks about his move into the world of music law and explains how he uses industry events as an extended boardroom. We also find out about his experience of meeting Michael Jackson, his effortless work to increase diversity in the corporate world, the importance of teaching and mentoring and what Kienda thinks about ALFIES.
Kienda is a renowned and respected lawyer for various leading music moguls and artists. A distinguished member of the Georgia and California Bar associations, he has a wealth of experience in media law and music, which he teaches to students across various jurisdictions. Kienda has held two international lectureships in Helsinki Finland and St Petersburg Russia. If this doesn’t clock up the air miles he is also a visiting researcher and lecturer at Peking University, Beijing China teaching global music industry management.
Kienda is a staunch community supporter, sitting on the boards of various music industry committees including the current UK Music Diversity Taskforce. In the past he has sat on the Performing rights society advisory forum, British R&B Association and BMIA|BMVox as well as being a founding member of the Entertainment sport and media law committee of the African Caribbean and Asian Lawyers group. To top it off he has advised government on several music-related social mobility and British music export initiatives.
You are a renowned lawyer and a significant name in the music industry. When did you first decide you wanted to become a media lawyer specialising in music?
Kienda: That aspiration started while I was at Law School in Atlanta. I found that I was surrounded by a huge creative community of artists and entertainers. At that time there was a great post civil rights energy around aspiring talent, all of whom needed advice and help navigating their way into the music industry. I loved being part of that community but as I didn’t have any real artistic talent I began to offer services to these artists on legal and business matters. So a lawyer who was heading into civil rights law fell in love with the music industry.
You have had an illustrious career to date working with several high profile music artists. Tell us what has been your most memorable moment so far?
Kienda: I guess I would have to say it was meeting Michael Jackson backstage at one if his shows in LA in the early 80s. He asked me for some advice and I believed, that for a brief moment that one day I would be his lawyer. I didn’t go on to represent him, unfortunately!
Networking seems part and parcel of being in the media industry and I am sure there are many high profile parties and events you attend. Is it all just about being seen at these events, or do you find time to meet people and build fruitful relationships?
Kienda: I won’t deny that I love the social aspects of being in the music business but as you quite rightly say if you are serious about the business you’ll see every party as a battleground. I mean that in a Sun Tzu Art of War kind of way. What I’m saying is that it is at these events that you first engage with people you desire to do business with. Going to these events is fun but it’s also a massive opportunity to engage with people you could work with. It’s where many deals begin and agreements are made. I often refer to music industry parties as the extended boardroom.
More from the series: ALFIES Folk: a series of interviews with our members. Indre Butkeviciute.
The media industry is often in the spotlight and I am sure you have been the focus of a few high profile industry related deals. How do you channel what you say, or what is said about you to increase your profile and how does it help to drive your business?
Kienda: I think it’s important the recognize that most of the time you will not get highlighted as the architect of a deal. Often it feels a bit odd for people not to know that you were the person behind a successful deal. On the few occasions when that happens, it’s all about ensuring that you keep a good reputation and that whatever is said is fair. I’m not big of self-promotion as most of us in this area of law rely more on word of mouth rather than a high profile. I really like being the man behind the scenes of a high profile deal. Put it this way those that need to know just know because word gets around the industry and that drives business very well indeed.
You have been involved in some commendable academic work as a lecturer and mentor, particularly regards your work with local and international Universities, Governments and foundations. What is your advice to our members who may wish to consider increasing their mentoring and academic work? How easy is it for people to mentor and teach and continue to successfully work in their chosen profession?
Kienda: I have to say that teaching and mentoring is what I find incredibly rewarding. I have been lucky enough to have taught some incredibly talented and successful individuals on both the creative and business side of the business from all over the world. I’m currently involved in a very exciting startup with an ex-student of mine. I’ve also negotiated deals with lawyers that I have taught and that has been great fun in a Master/student kind of way.
The advice I would give is that you really need to be genuinely excited about passing on knowledge and experience. I would suggest that you should also be willing to learn lots from those you teach or mentor. The very first time I heard of Twitter was from students doing a presentation on music marketing for their examination. Of course, that’s because students always have their ear to the ground when it comes to new things. I love learning and see it as a fundamental part of teaching if that makes sense. I would advise anyone seeking to enter the world of academia or mentoring to maybe start by seeing their clients and friends as mentees as well as teachers.
One last thing I would say is that the best teachers and the mentors are those who actually practice in the field of what they teach or who have experience in the field.
You have also been involved in some exceptional local and international Community work helping to drive the success and awareness of BME Lawyers in the industry. How has your work helped develop the professional over the last decade?
Kienda: I have always been concerned about the issue of diversity and equality within the music and entertainment industry. Largely this is because the representation on our TV screens and on a radio would give the ordinary punter the idea that BME people are very successful and whilst that is true at the front end, I would invite anyone to say the same was true of the Boardrooms and decision making areas of the business. This dynamic is one that needs addressing. This is why I was happy to be invited to join the UK’s first diversity taskforce.
I do believe that things are changing for the better though but we still have a long way to go. We need to change the assumptions that all BME people like BME music or entertainment. One of my most favorite genres is indie rock. I even managed a White heavy metal band back in the day.
More from the series: ALFIES Folk: a series of interviews with our members. James Gordon.
ALFIES is a new platform for our members to collaborate and provide each other with support and advice whilst being treated to special events and opportunities. How will you use it and how do you feel it will be most useful to you in the future?
Kienda: I love the idea behind ALFIES and I will use it for finding and interacting with potential collaborators in my field and those related areas. I think it’s a great idea as it utilizes the power of social media to bring people together in an effective and immediate way. I would actively encourage others to join ALFIES.
Kienda is a first class lawyer, lecturer and mentor who puts the cool into law school. He was initially a civil rights lawyer who fell in love with the music industry. He demonstrates through his chosen career that you should do what you love which in turn will allow you to gain the most from the work you do. He is shrewd and wisely treats music industry events as an extended boardroom rather than any excuse for just a social. A man who briefly provided legal counsel to Michael Jackson, he is greatly respected and has built a solid reputation for himself as the man behind high profile deals in his industry. Commendably, Kienda is a staunch activist, promoting diversity in the boardroom and at a business level. He sees ALFIES as a conduit that harnesses the power of social media to bring together people in an effective and immediate way and we believe that he would be an incredible person to connect with.
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