A passion for music led Shana Fried, paradoxically, to law school. Today she straddles the best of both industries, running her own creative law firm and also a record label. Shana’s desire to create inclusive, non-elitist spaces makes her a uniquely positive force in whatever circles she moves in.
Do you remember your first week in New York?
Yes, I was thrilled to be here. I moved from Los Angeles after working for a record label for a while. I wasn't really getting where I wanted to go in the job, and I wasn’t particularly interested in climbing the corporate ladder. It was very much about who you knew, who you’re cool with. I needed an excuse to move to New York. I loved it since I came here when I was 13. My eyes blew up twice the size when I got here.
And what was your excuse to move here?
I decided to go to law school. I previously had never wanted to study law for any reason, but it was my justification for moving.
My first week here I got a job working at Applebee’s on 42nd Street, and I spent the whole week walking from work to my apartment in Battery Park. I was infatuated by the city.
Why did you decide to go to law school?
So, my background is primarily in entertainment, with tremendous focus on music. My undergraduate degree was in music business, and I also studied music composition. I was writing and composing music, and then simultaneously learning about management deals and publishing. I had always intended to work in music, but as I said, I just couldn't get down with the social bullshit when I was working at the record label in Los Angeles. I'm certainly a people person, but I'm not like a bullshit people person. [Laughs] So, I wanted to find a way to sort of jump the line.
I considered getting my MBA, but both of my parents are entrepreneurs. I've been around self-employed, self-starter folks my whole life. I felt like I had that in me inherently. What I lacked was understanding of the legal system, and the intricacies that the law contained. I thought, “You’re always going to need a lawyer. If you’re a manager, a record label, an artist… a lawyer is always going to be brought in at some point.”
And you could be that lawyer!
Exactly. I don’t really like the stigma that lawyers have. I don't even really like some lawyers, although there are a lot of cool ones around these days. When I went to law school, I wanted to get all this amazing information and give it to my friends, and to enable creative people. I wanted to be the person that went into the school, learned all the tricks of the trade and said, "Hey guys, let's make cool shit. We don't have to pay some dude in a suit all kinds of money to make our dreams come true.” I guess that was my motivation and, luckily for me, I was able to hold onto that. That's the mission of The Fried Firm—to keep it simple, translate the law for my clients and have fair pricing. Then I still get to participate in some really cool things.
Did you enjoy law school?
So, law school... I walked in similar to how I look now, except I had a mohawk and piercings. I was such a punk. I don’t know how I made friends, or how the teachers took me seriously. But then that attitude kind of fell away in the classroom. I was really challenged intellectually, and that was where I was able to find my common ground with my fellow students and teachers. Overall, I actually loved law school. I was constantly thinking and debating with my friends. It afforded me an opportunity to continue my education, to have a level of intellectual engagement I’m not sure I would have found otherwise.
The other thing that made law school a hell of a lot more enjoyable was that I was DJing on the side, throwing these huge parties.
When did you start DJing?
I actually started DJing in college, during my undergraduate years. When I first moved to New York, I had a year before I started law school. I started DJing again, and started a weekly Tuesday night party that ended up running for 10 years.
That is a serious party.
During law school, it enabled me to have one foot in the life that I wanted to live—the creative, social life. Then by day, I could get the skills I needed for the job I wanted. It kept me sane, and I was able to bring a lot of my law-school friends into that scene, as well.
You lured them over to the dark side! Your party must have been pretty amazing to have survived in New York for 10 years.
The party was called Snapshot, and I think it answered a need for the queer community at the time. There were plenty of parties around, but they only catered to very specific types of people. I wanted to create a space where everybody was welcome—queer, trans, gay, lesbian, straight, bi, whatever. It was exciting for people to have a place they could feel at home. I think it was really at the forefront of a lot of issues, and that enabled the party to maintain its success for such a long time.
So, what was the first step after you earned your law degree?
During law school, I had been interning for this old-school entertainment lawyer. He had been around forever, and was actually on the management team for The Beatles. The dude was legit, but at this point he was 96. He would come to the office maybe once a week, and we would sit and have coffee. I didn’t really do anything. He had several counsel attorneys, and one of them was a gentleman by the name of Jose Martinez Jr. He also ran his own firm and worked with a lot of film studios. Luckily, he offered me a job after I graduated. I had a pretty good database of friends, acquaintances and creative folks, so once I passed the bar exam they started to come to me with legal questions. Now that I was working at a legitimate law firm, I was able to offer them legal services. I guess I was doing a good job, because after only two years he made me partner. He wanted to go to Los Angeles to establish a practice there, so I was able to run the New York office.
It was crazy. I did that for a little while and then, of course, we had the recession and business slowed down a bit. I was turning 30 and sort of had an existential crisis. Here I am, running this law firm in New York. But I started to think, "I don't know if this is what I wanted.”
I ended up leaving the firm on good terms and hit the pause button. I went to Barcelona and I tried to become a DJ.
You went the opposite way, professionally.
The complete opposite. But with the recession I couldn't get any gigs, or if I did then they only paid like $50. It was rough. I couldn’t find places to live, I kept hitting a wall and I felt like the world was trying to tell me something. I was sitting on a beach in Barcelona one day, looking at the water and thinking, "I'm a lawyer. I'm an actual attorney. I have the ability to make money this way and I don't hate it. Why don’t I try it another way?” I could establish my own business in a creative way, in a way that suited me. I met up with a colleague I went to law school with. She was miserable working at a big firm, and we decided to form the predecessor for The Fried Firm, which was called Higgins + Fried. I had a bunch of clients already and she had a few and we really endeavored to make it something special. We didn't want to create a typical law firm. We wanted it to be approachable, friendly, understandable.
We parted ways in 2013 and I continued as The Fried Firm.
Do you feel like you’ve been able to “jump the line,” as you said? To create a job you want in the entertainment industry?
Yes, it’s amazing. It’s expanded a lot past that, though—we work with animation studios, advertising and talent agencies. We represent people in creative fields. I'd probably be miserable if we were only working with musicians, because there's no diversity in that. I need to be challenged.
Speaking of that, what's the most challenging thing about having your own business?
I think the most challenging thing that I face personally is bringing together my inspirations and business. I'm motivated by feelings, I'm not logical in any sense of the word, so that's my weakness. It’s also the fun part, because it enables me to go out, come up with cool ideas and then sit down, go to the drawing board and build the road.
You also have a record label. Can you tell us how that came about?
One of my friends came to me with a vision for a label. He’s a DJ, and we initially met each other at Coachella. His stage name is Jillionaire. Around the same time he became one of the members of Major Lazer, which is now an amazing international act. He's literally touring all the time. So, I started off simply as his attorney representing him in some minimal things, and then he really started getting traction. I was advising a few record labels at that time, so he approached me about forming a record label together.
In early 2015, we formed Feel Up Records. He does more of the creative direction of the label, and I do more of the business side. His musical stylings are tremendously influenced by Trinidad, where he is from. He plays a lot of dancehall soca, so we really wanted to sign artists that would be amplified by his presence in the music industry.
Behind the scenes, I run the record label from this office. So, in addition to having a team for legal, we also have a team that works on the label.
The label really lets me throw on my producer hat. We actually recently threw an event in Miami for the Winter Music Conference and we are doing a tour of events this summer. It’s a series of parties called Chicken and Beer.
Do you serve chicken and beer?
We do! We also have a tremendous roster of DJs. It’s a super, super fun party. Just really good vibes. Again, a lot of Caribbean-inspired dance music, but with a modern electronic edge. We've just released a song called "Sunrise." It’s exciting because it's really starting to take off. I guess I kind of replaced the weekly parties I used to throw with the label. I still get to fulfill my creative side. It's a really awesome outlet.
What’s the best piece of advice you could give?
It’s a common phrase, and one that my father used to say all the time: "Do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life.” When I work with a client, I try to have them focus on what they want to do and what they're good at—hopefully those things aren't mutually exclusive. I want them to succeed in that way. Find something that’s good for your soul, that gives you some type of satisfaction. That way, you can wake up and find joy in your day.
What does New York mean to you?
Home and adventure. To this day, I still do what I did during my first week here. I'll chose a different way to walk home and just take in the city. I'll stumble upon things, I'll marvel at buildings or find out who used to live in an apartment and stand there and be like, "Man, Teddy Roosevelt was born here. That's crazy.” It never ends. New York is an endless adventure, and it fascinates me every day.