Behind the Music
Before musical artists such as Chance the Rapper can release new work, a lot has to happen behind the scenes. That’s where Sharde Simpson ’08 comes in. As a legal associate at the boutique entertainment law firm Davis Shapiro Lewit Grabel Leven Granderson & Blake, Simpson negotiates and drafts contracts integral to an album’s rollout: the parceling out of royalties percentages, the copyright registration, the negotiation of the commercial life of an album, and a host of other legal formalities that must be attended to.
It was this ironing out of details that caught Simpson’s eye when she was interning in the music industry as a Barnard student. Though she majored in political science, she always had a passion for music, interning first in music copyright, then in marketing. During her time as a marketing intern at the Island Def Jam Music Group, she noticed that it was the lawyers who had the final say. “That piqued my interest in attending law school,” Simpson explains. She completed her J.D. at Fordham University in 2014.
Simpson’s love of music has only continued to grow through working on the legal side of the industry. “Understanding the inner workings behind an artist’s enterprise is inspiring and also challenging,” Simpson says. “Having worked behind the scenes, I have a greater respect for all that it takes recording artists to engage in their performances, run their companies, and daily life in general.”
In her own day-to-day, Simpson’s work relates to all of an artist’s activities in the entertainment industry, completing tasks such as negotiating endorsement agreements and granting licenses for songs to appear in commercials, TV shows, or movies. In addition to Chance, she’s also worked with music icons Jay-Z and Beyoncé.
Simpson finds that her Barnard education remains integral to her occupation. “Barnard’s curriculum consisted of the Nine Ways of Knowing, and I think taking that approach at work and in life still applies,” Simpson says. “It helps to want to continue to think about the world in a critical way and to encourage myself to keep learning.”
Barnard factors into Simpson’s work in a more concrete way, too. She works directly with Chance’s management team, which happens to include another political science department alumna: Binta Brown ’95. “It is extremely exciting to work alongside another Barnard alum because I know that they are likely using the tools learned in college to carry out their functions as well,” Simpson says. “It feels like we are a part of a network, and we tend to understand one another, which helps to make working with that person seamless.”
“Seamless” seems to be the perfect word to describe Simpson’s career. Through her legal work, she has found a way to connect her love of music with her desire to think critically about the world, making herself integral to the music that she and many people around the world enjoy.