Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Dina LaPolt

Dina LaPolt at her L.A. haven, SoulCycle West Hollywood


Entertainment Attorney DINA LAPOLT

At SoulCycle

8570 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood 310-657-7685

Dina LaPolt's life has certainly taken many unexpected twists and turns since her childhood in Upstate New York that was filled with dreams of becoming a rock star. After spending years on the road pursuing her musical passion, while simultaneously earning a bachelor's degree, she realized she wanted to become an entertainment attorney. Dina established her own firm, LaPolt Law, P.C., in 2001 and has worked tirelessly to build an A-list roster of rock, hip-hop, heavy metal, pop and singer-songwriter clients. In addition to being named one of the most influential women in music by Out Magazine and The Advocate and co-producing the Academy Award-nominated Tupac: Resurrection documentary, Dina is the instructor of a Legal and Practical Aspects of the Music Business UCLA Extension course.

She took time out of her busy schedule balancing clients, twin baby boys and preparing for the Jan. 7 start of her 14th year teaching the UCLA class to meet me at the place in the city where she reinvigorates her mind, body and spirit four times a week, indoor cycling mecca, SoulCycle. It's immediately apparent that SoulCycle is anything but your typical fitness center just stepping through the West Hollywood location's tall glass doors. The bright and airy atmosphere is accentuated by a wall full of snapshots of smiling regulars and a warm greeting from the staff behind the counter, whom Dina knows by name.

Eager to show me one of her favorite parts of SoulCycle, we head into the studio. Housing 54 bikes, the room is not cramped but inviting, with overhead lights dimmed and scented candles aglow. Music flows from the speakers, adding to the expectant, excited energy in the air before class begins. Dina points out a white wall decorated with a list of six words painted in black block letters: athlete, legend, warrior, renegade, rockstar, soulcycle. Strong, inspirational words that I realize can all be applied to Dina herself.

Dina's all set for today's SoulCycle session
Finding encouragement in her artist mother and firm motivation in her father, music has always had a role in Dina's life.

"When I was young, I was into bands like Led Zeppelin, but when I saw Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, my entire life changed. I was 12 or 13 and said, 'Wow, that's what I want to do,' so I set out, touring in a van for 10 years. It was really fun; I learned how to make macaroni and cheese powered by a cigarette lighter on a hot plate with powdered milk," she laughs. "My dad would always say, 'You need something to fall back on.' In retrospect, it gave me a lot of motivation, for failure was not an option. It took me almost eight years to get my bachelor's degree because I was constantly on tour and traveling. I graduated from the State University of New York at New Paltz as a music major, but I always had a knack for business. I was running their campus concert committee, so I would book all of these shows and had this idea one day to book an enormous concert with Joan Jett & the Blackhearts. I did it, and 25,000 people showed up."

Dina continued performing music while using her business savvy as a talent buyer and show promoter for clubs in Upstate New York. She consistently filled venues, regardless of the bands playing, and eventually impressed KISS' Eric Carr, who gave her a position managing bands in his Streetgang Productions company. When KISS relocated to the West Coast, Dina made the move to San Francisco where she kept managing bands and doing club promotion until her band was chosen to play a showcase at a music business conference, and she had one of the biggest epiphanies of her life.

"There was a pass for one of us to actually go to the conference, and when I opened the booklet to look at all the different things they had during the day, I thought they looked interesting. I decided to go to a panel described as 'three music lawyers talk about negotiating record deals in today's industry.' We had a show that night until 2 a.m., and the panel was early, so I ended up being late. I looked at the three guys up there – one had long hair in a ponytail, one had tattoos on his arm and the other guy had two earrings – and I thought, 'oh god, I'm not at the lawyers panel.' I asked the girl next to me, and she said, 'Yes, this is it. Shh!' I had an epiphany: This is what I want to do," she recalls. "I waited in line to talk to the one with the two earrings to find out where I should go to law school. He saw that I was holding a cassette tape and said, 'I'm not taking unsolicited demos.' I tossed it and said, 'No, I want to go to law school and do what you do.' He said, 'First you need to get a bachelor's degree. I said, 'Oh, I have that,' and he gave me a list of law schools to call. I got back that afternoon and called. That conference was in March, and by September, I was in law school."

Her fierce determination led her to John F. Kennedy University, School of Law in Walnut Creek, Calif., where she put herself through school by teaching children guitar lessons and eventually earned her J.D. while still playing in a band. She passed the bar and was sworn in on June 5, 1997. Just two days later, she received a phone call that would change the course of her life yet again.

"My ex-girlfriend's sister called me and asked if I was an entertainment lawyer yet. I said, 'Yes, as of two days ago!' She said, 'Great, I'm Miss June and on the cover of Playboy, so you should move down here.' Within four days I was living with Miss June in Sherman Oaks, and that's how my law career took off. I started representing a lot of the Playboy Playmates and worked myself up from there. That was a pivotal time for me. It was difficult for me to find a job at a law firm because even though I had a knack for the business I was always a musician, tour manager or manager, and never had a job in the music business. I didn't have the experience."

After that fateful day at the music conference, Dina had kept in touch with that 'lawyer with the two earrings,' and he was able to get her an internship at a friend's practice that represented the likes of Susan Tedeschi and Cake. She started learning the business side of the industry, but it was still hard for her to secure a paid position. She used the last money she had to sign up for a class with Don Passman at USC. She read everything he assigned and sat in front of every class each week so she could focus on engaging with him to learn as much as possible.

Around this time, Dina was also struggling with inner demons, but the light at the end of the tunnel included not only recovery but the discovery of a new passion.

"I had a horrible drug and alcohol problem. The Playmates did an intervention on me, and you know you're really screwed up when the Playmates are doing an intervention on you. But I got sober in 1998 and have been sober ever since," she tells. "I joined Crunch gym and there was a woman there, Stacey Griffith, teaching spin classes. I didn't know what they were, but she was fun, always so happy and confident. She took me under her wing, and I started spinning. My friend and I would schlep to her classes at 6 a.m., and I lost 30 pounds. I also had a pack of people who didn't drink or use drugs, they just did spin class. There was such a camaraderie. We all loved music, and Stacey would play my developing clients' music in class. It really became something."

Stacey eventually moved to the East Coast and started working for the very first SoulCycle in New York City founded by Elizabeth Cutler and Julie Rice in 2007. The fitness routine quickly caught fire and spread to 25 locations throughout the country (and they're going global with a location in London opening next year), attracting 6,000 riders to class each day. From their first 45-minute class, everyone from Lady Gaga, Max Greenfield and Lena Dunham to Eli Roth, Emily Blunt and Kelly Ripa has become a devotee. Each class is $30 (plus $3 shoe rental if you don't have your own clip-ins), and there is also a 60-minute SoulSurvivor endurance ride or a 60-minute SoulBands class that uses resistance bands to tone your muscles.

Dina and one of her favorite SoulCycle instructors,
Heather Peggs (left)
We stand in the SoulCycle shop that's full of branded tanks, tees, hoodies and other apparel when Dina's instructor for this afternoon's class, Heather Peggs, walks by. Along with MB Regan, who used to teach movement for the National Shakespeare Conservatory, Heather is one of Dina's favorites. The former acrobatic dancer and music executive, who was named to Billboard's Top 30 Music Executives Under 30 in 2009, is full of energy as she tells me that she's included two of Dina's clients in the soundtrack for today's class.

"What I love about SoulCycle is that it's about positive affirmations and you're not competing in the class. You are together, a team of people, and the instructor's very motivating," Dina offers. "You see the words on the wall – athlete, warrior, etc. – everything's about positivity. If you can do this, you can do anything. That's what really gets me going. When I come, I feel empowered. When I leave here, I know that I'm capable of anything."

Coming from the frenzied pace of life in New York, Dina took to the laid-back environment of Los Angeles with ease.

"When I came out here, taking my new York work ethic and putting myself in the middle of Los Angeles, I just soared from the minute I came here. I was used to my parents' you've got to do something attitude. I never stand still because I wasn't brought up that way. Coming to L.A., I finally had an environment where I could just go, go, go because Los Angeles gives you as much as you can take. It's a never-ending energy source, if you have enough energy to keep up with it, and the weather just makes it unstoppable. In New York, you might have a whole agenda worth of things to do that day and then you get an ice storm or five feet of snow and suddenly everything is done. We don't have that in L.A.," she says. "What I love most about L.A., though, is the that there's such an emphasis on taking care of yourself. New York is a very selfless environment, and L.A. is a very selfish environment. I go to spin class at lunch, and no one blinks an eye. I have to leave early to go to Pilates or get a facial, and no one blinks an eye. It's not only accepted in L.A., but it's encouraged, and I encourage that with the people that I work with, too. I tell them that they have to take care of themselves, and they say, 'But I have to do this, this and this.' If you don't detach, go take the night off and do something good for yourself, you're going to do all of those things half-assed. If you take the night off, you're going to come back tomorrow and be loads more productive."

To keep up with the many demands on her plate, Dina visits SoulCycle four times a week, in addition to yoga and Pilates classes.

"My kids were born in February, and in March I had this back pain that wouldn't go away. I went to my chiropractor, but it couldn't be fixed, so they sent me to their orthopedic doctor who ordered an MRI. She gets the results and says, 'You have three bulging discs in your back. I'm writing you a prescription for Pilates.' I said, 'What?! I don't even like Pilates, I'm type A personality, I need to be drenched in sweat to think it's working. Pilates is for pussies,'" Dina laughs. "She said the alternative was pain medication and surgery, so I tried Pilates. Within 60 days, I had no back pain, and, not only that, people kept telling me that I looked great. Pilates changed my body, so I've kept with it twice a week at Back to Total Health Wellness Center where they have acupuncture, vitamins, orthopedics and a Pilates studio all in one."

The LaPolt Law office is located on the Sunset Strip, so she has several lunch spots that she frequents in the area. Urth Caffé, Veggie Grill and Talesai ("the best Thai food in L.A.") are her favorites. On the weekends, Dina and her wife usually take their twins to the Grove, where the love the lights and music, or for a walk around Dina's old stomping grounds in West Hollywood, where the family is looking forward to relocating to after the New Year.

"West Hollywood Park is so great for the kids, and now that we're moving back to the neighborhood, we can just walk out our door with the stroller to Starbucks," she says. "We take our kids to Fit For Kids where they do Baby Belugas twice a week, and we'll be able to walk there now."

Dina lights up whenever she brings up her two boys, and she is, of course, filling their lives with music.

"When the kids were born, they responded to music and singing immediately. We have music on in the house constantly. When they were about a month old, one of my clients was doing the Ultra Music Festival so I was streaming it live on the iPad, and my one son, Buddy, would not take his eyes off the iPad for over an hour," she remembers with a smile. "I always sing to them, especially to get them to sleep, whether it's music from The Sound of Music or Mary Poppins."

Aside from sharing her love for music with the twins, Dina is passionate about exposing all aspiring musicians to the business side of the industry.

"I would tell the people in the music department at my college that they needed to have a music business minor, but they just wanted to focus on technique in the curriculum. And now, let's cut to 20 years later, that university is calling me to ask me for help setting up a music business program. They're trying to recreate the class that I teach at UCLA to compete with schools like Berklee College of Music and Juilliard that have had business programs for 15 years," she shares. "They can't keep putting people out on street with a music degree who can play a mean arpeggio and memorize a Rachmaninoff concerto but know nothing about the business."

"I am so blessed and grateful that I have been in the music business my whole life and was never forced to take another career. I feel like I'm giving back by teaching this UCLA course. A lot of people have taken this class over the years who have gone on to become vice presidents at record and publishing companies or managing artists like Christina Aguilera," she continues. "It's such a good feeling to see them give interviews and say, 'I learned everything I know from Dina La Polt' or have them come up to me at the Grammys and say, 'I'm working at this place now, and if it wasn't for you…' That is worth more than a million dollars."

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