It’s not surprising that in 2014 Billboard magazine, the most prestigious daily publication in the music industry, named Ivan Parron one of the Top 50 Music Industry Attorneys in the nation, saying he is among the “go-to lawyers in the music business” and recognizing him “for best performance in music law.” Parron, principal of Miami-based PARRON LAW, is one of those unique attorneys who grew up in the industry in which he eventually started practicing law.
Parron founded his entertainment, media and sports law firm a decade ago, but it was hardly the first of his entrepreneurial ventures. Often referred to as the inventor of the online music store, in the 1990s at the age of 28 he founded and served as CEO of Ritmoteca.com Inc., the world’s first legal source for buying downloadable music. Under Parron’s leadership, Ritmoteca forged strategic alliances with companies including Microsoft, AOL, Nokia and Motorola among others. At its peak, Ritmoteca employed almost 200 people with offices in Miami and Europe. Prior to that venture, Parron founded and acted as president of Internet Marketing Consultants Inc., one of the first Internet and new media consulting firms in Florida. He consulted for international television media brands and companies including MTV Networks, Nickelodeon and Discovery Channel.
Despite his early success, Parron’s career actually began much earlier than that. “I was always driven by the quest for the knowledge of how things worked. As a child I would take every electronic appliance in my home apart and put it back together; no television or stereo in my home was left unexplored. My parents always played music and would take my brother and I to the symphony and the opera. This inspired me to start playing the saxophone at the age of 6 which was a great outlet for my creativity. When Apple released the Apple II Plus, my father bought one for his business and I was hooked on computers. Recognizing my affinity, my parents enrolled me in a computer programming school for adults during the summer of 1979,” recalls Parron. “The owners of the school told my parents that I was too young, but to keep me enrolled my parents guaranteed payment in full even if I didn’t work out.” Parron thrived in the class beating the adults in quickly completing all of his computer programming assignments. “When I turned 13, I opened a mobile disc jockey company called Ambiance Productions, made business cards and started marketing my services for large corporate parties. I was hired by many companies including Delta and Eastern Air Lines.”
While attending undergrad at Florida International University College of Business, Parron worked at Paxson Communications, owner of the local Miami radio station LOVE94-FM. “I worked in all areas including promotions, production and sales,” he says. While there, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) changed the ownership rules for media, giving birth to the current industry of large radio conglomerates.
Perhaps the true “eureka” moment for Parron, already a budding entrepreneur, happened while visiting a cousin of his who happened to be a nuclear physicist at FERMILAB, near Chicago. It was there that everything fell into place for the ambitious son of Cuban immigrants. His cousin introduced him to the just released first Web browser, Mosaic, and the Internet’s hypertext markup language – now known universally as HTML. Parron was shown how a few clicks could instantly access images and sounds on computers from around the world. “I suddenly saw all my passions combined – business, technology and entertainment,” he says.
When he subsequently founded Internet Marketing Consultants in 1995, “it was such a new field hardly anyone knew what I was talking about.” As he built his reputation as an expert in the field, there were many dot-coms starting out. “I watched the TV network CNBC 24/7 observing all of the Internet IPO announcements daily and conceiving the launch of my own venture. I decided that I wanted to create an online music store in which customers could sample 30 seconds of a song and then buy and download the music to their computer. This was before the iPod or iTunes were even invented. I put together a business plan and organized a road show to pitch the business. We raised millions of dollars in venture capital from angel and institutional investors, including Bain Capital in Boston. I then went to all the major record labels asking for the rights to sell their music. I was trying to find a way to get content. That was what really mattered.”
After initially being rebuffed by the major record labels, Parron realized that an opportunity existed with independent Latin music labels whose distribution deals with major record labels did not include digital rights at the time, only physical. “I went to the largest independent Latin label and negotiated exclusive digital distribution rights and then, like dominoes, all the other independent labels signed deals with me. I aggregated exclusive distribution rights for many of the major Latin recording artists distributed by the major record labels and basically locked the majors out of a substantial segment of the digital market. Then the major record labels came to me,” recalls Parron. In a period of 60 days Parron quickly signed the industry’s earliest music digital distribution agreements with Universal Music Group, Sony Music, Warner Music Group and BMG. These agreements were not only for Latin music but for their entire catalogs of major artists. “I guided and counseled the major record label attorneys in drafting their digital distribution agreements because I understood the technology and the intellectual property rights that I needed.” As he headed toward an IPO, however, the stock market crashed in the year 2000 and the company Napster came onto the scene placing the business model for the legitimate sale of music in question. “I was caught in the quagmire with the right product at the wrong time when the investment environment took a downturn. I had to downsize the company and refocus on sublicensing our catalog of exclusive rights we had aggregated, but eventually the iPod and iTunes launched.”
It was around this time, with so much in flux that Parron decided to undertake a challenge he had considered years ago but had let fall by the wayside – becoming a lawyer. He was accepted as a member of the inaugural class of Florida International University College of Law, the same university where he had received a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a double major in marketing and international business. “Attending FIU was the best decision I ever made. The students were brilliant, the professors were from top law schools around the country, and the administration was like family. It was by far one of the most intellectually stimulating and rewarding experiences of my life.” En route to obtaining his Juris Doctor, he focused his studies on entertainment and sports law, business law and intellectual property.
Right out of law school, he was hired as an in-house attorney by the Miami regional office of Universal Music Group which oversees the U.S. Latin market, Spain and Portugal. “I helped them revamp their artist contracts to include digital rights,” he says. While at Universal, he had the opportunity to negotiate and work with Lady Gaga, Jay-Z, U2, Madonna and Enrique Iglesias, among many others.
After making a name for himself at UMG and gaining a wealth of experience, Parron decided to launch his own law firm. “My father was my biggest inspiration,” he explains. “He was a serial entrepreneur and over the years I’d gotten a feel for his interactions with attorneys.” Parron says he loved business and was always fascinated by it – he saw the obvious connection to the kind of law he wanted to practice. “Entertainment law is one of the most entrepreneurial areas of law there is; I help clients create, grow and run their businesses,” he says. “I represent TV networks, production companies, motion picture studios, record labels, songwriters and screenwriters, recording artists, actors, athletes and everything in between. When I worked at Universal, I had the opportunity to conceptualize reality TV show business models and draft and negotiate agreements for shows like American Idol. That broadened the scope of my knowledge in entertainment law well beyond the music industry.” Parron’s acquired experience and unique skills were well-timed with his exit from Universal into private practice with the reality television explosion in the mid- 2000s. His firm began representing some of the largest television production companies in the world in the international licensing and distribution of format television.
One of the most fascinating parts of his practice, says Parron, is contracts and transactions in the reality television world. “I’ve represented several TV shows as production counsel including the X Factor, traveling across the country with the production team and advising them on numerous matters including contracting with minors as contestants in multiple jurisdictions. TV agreements are usually upwards of 75 to 100 pages long. When a show gets a greenlight, the contracts must be drafted and negotiated quickly. It’s very intricate, especially when the talent is a minor or may have privacy or ethical limitations such as with celebrities, politicians, doctors and lawyers. There’s several weeks of rapid back and forth and sometimes a client is in London and the production company is in L.A. Multiple time zones on these deadlines are a challenge. Timing is of the essence.”
Parron, who says he listens to music all the time and is a self-proclaimed “Netflix junkie,” says the core of his firm is entertainment and sports law. In addition to his firm’s headquarters off Brickell Avenue in Miami, he has an office in New York City and is planning to open an office in Los Angeles in the second quarter of 2016. “South Florida has a lot of major media companies with offices in Miami, but limited opportunities for young attorneys, especially if they aren’t fluent in Spanish. I constantly tell young and aspiring entertainment and sports attorneys that if this area of law is their true passion they must be prepared to move to New York or L.A. where there are many more opportunities,” he says, adding, however, that Miami has been his home for 46 years.
Representing clients in Russia, Europe, Asia, Latin America as well as the United States, Parron enthuses, “It’s exciting to be a part of a client’s career and guiding them in negotiating a big contract then listening to them on Spotify or watching them on TV. I help them create, build and protect a brand. That’s the end game of entertainment. But in order to give them sound legal advice, you must be immersed in the entertainment industry daily because of its constant and ever-changing nature affecting the business and legal affairs.”
“Entertainment law is a very difficult practice to get into. It takes a while to build a practice. This is an industry of trust and reputation. It’s a small community that works in this area.”
His advice to those who might be tempted despite the challenges is simple: “The only real way to learn is to go to work inhouse for a media company. It’s that consistent repetition and simultaneous juggling 150-200 matters that will help you understand the business. It’s not something you can pick up in a few months, it takes years.”
Naturally, Parron has earned the industry’s respect and trust and has achieved much in his lengthy career. He is the past chair of the entertainment, arts and sports law section of the Florida Bar and currently an appointed board member of the Miami-Dade County Film and Entertainment advisory board. He is also an elected Grammy Governor of The Recording Academy and an active member of both the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and the International Association of Entertainment Lawyers. Parron serves as an adjunct professor of sports law at his alma mater FIU College of Law, his articles on protecting television formats have been published by the American Bar Association, he frequently speaks at entertainment law conferences around the world and he is a contributing writer to The Huffington Post in the areas or entertainment and sports law.
When he was voted one of the top 50 music industry attorneys in the country by Billboard Magazine in 2014, he was one of only two attorneys selected in Florida. He has also been selected by Super Lawyers five years running in the area of entertainment law in both Florida and New York City. Parron is also proud to sit on the executive board of the Little Dreams Foundation. Launched in 2000 by recording artist Phil Collins, the foundation’s mission is to fulfill the dreams of young aspiring talents without financial means to achieve their goals. Children are selected through auditions within three areas – music, arts and sports. A group of disabled children in these fields is also selected each year through its “No Difference” program.
In addition to his law firm, Parron launched ip Agency, a talent, sports and content agency based in Miami, New York and Los Angeles. As he proudly notes, “I am an NBA and FIBA certified player agent.” Recently he inked a deal for a major hip-hop music producer client who produces music for superstar recording artists including Rihanna, Drake, Justin Bieber and Kanye West among others. “The hip-hop music world is truly a challenging market to do business in,” says Parron.
But it’s obvious that Parron thrives on these challenges and judging by all he’s achieved, his timing is excellent.