Dual Nebraska degrees are helping Stephanie Taylor make an impact on the music industry.
The Nashville-based entertainment lawyer — who earned a Bachelor of Music Education from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln in 1999 and a juris doctorate from Nebraska Law in 2002 — began her life-long passion for music at the age of three by learning both classical violin and fiddle music.
“I started playing the violin through the Suzuki method,” said Taylor, who is a native of Burbank, South Dakota. “I started taking Suzuki violin lessons from Karen Lipp. She was a member of the Sioux City Symphony and lived in Vermillion.”
At the same time, she was also studying old-time, fiddle music.
“A farmer up the road from my parents, Chester Olsen, taught me fiddle tunes,” Taylor said. “We would go there every week, and he would teach me fiddle lessons, so I was learning Suzuki classical and learning old-time fiddle, all at the same time.”
After completing the Suzuki curriculum, Taylor began taking lessons from David Neely, who was then teaching at the University of South Dakota and is now professor of violin in Nebraska’s Glenn Korff School of Music. When Neely came to Lincoln, he recruited Taylor.
“What I loved about the university was not only was I getting a great music education, but I was getting a great overall education,” she said. “I was exposed to a lot of wonderfully intelligent and creative people. I interact with people from Ivy League schools every day as an attorney, and I wouldn’t trade my Nebraska education for anything. I think I’m fully prepared to compete in the marketplace.”
She saw school orchestra programs getting cut across the nation, so she decided to go to law school at Nebraska after graduation. She had no idea, however, that she could be doing entertainment law like she is doing today.
“Nowhere on my radar was I aware that I could do what I’m doing today,” Taylor said. “You know, there weren’t TV shows about what was happening in the music industry in Nashville. I couldn’t Google news articles about entertainment attorneys. That just wasn’t available to me at the time. So really, the law degree was something I got, but I didn’t really know how it was going to fit into my life until I moved to Nashville.”
When Taylor moved to Tennessee, she began pursuing a Master of Business Administration at Belmont University — which is well known for its music business program. Along the way, she answered a call for musicians. Her first gig was playing with Chris Young, who was recently inducted into the Grand Ole Opry.
From that first tour with Young to her last with the country duo Joey + Rory, she’s had a wonderful experience as a musician in Nashville.
“But ultimately, being on the road is not easy, and road musicians do not make a ton of money, and I wanted to have kids,” she said. “So somewhere in that process, I started building a law practice with artists and songwriters and record labels and publishers and venues as clients. And that’s been a perfect marriage of the things I love — the practice of law and music.”
She has practiced entertainment law for the firms Stites and Harbison as well as Bone McAllester. In September 2017, Taylor launched a new entertainment law firm focused on music, copyright, film and television industry contracts, and other entertainment work.
Taylor described herself as a transactional attorney who helps negotiate deals. One client she’s represented is Bluegrass Underground, a world-class venue located inside a cave.
“People come into this cave, and they hear music from some of the finest Americana, roots, rock and country musicians in the world in a really cool atmosphere,” Taylor said. “And that is a really fun experience, but it’s also turned into a series on public television.
“The deals I make are to make sure everybody has the rights they need to use the music, to use the songs and to create whatever exploitation — exploitation being a good word — that they need. What I’m doing is figuring out what rights need to be cleared and making sure the money is fair and equitable and that it’s a positive opportunity for the client.”
Her advice for aspiring musicians and artists is to know your rights and how to protect them.
“That means knowing who to call if something is happening in your career, so typically artists, as things are happening, work with me pretty early on. That’s important because you want to make sure you sign the right deal, especially because as the industry has changed, the money has changed. Too often if you’re in the wrong deal and you’re not making a living, you’re going to have to go back to waiting tables or whatever you were doing before.”
“I wouldn’t trade my Nebraska education for anything. I think I’m fully prepared to compete in the marketplace.”
— Stephanie Taylor