PUBLISHED:April 25, 2019

Jennifer Baltimore ’92

As senior vice president of business and legal affairs at Universal Music Group, Jennifer Baltimore builds ancillary businesses around the company’s biggest asset: a huge, diverse catalog of sound recordings that date back over a century.

“When you think of the legal profession, oftentimes you don’t think of it as a creative field,” Baltimore says. “But creating the template for new business models and diversifying the revenue stream — those are the kinds of things where I am able to find creativity.”

Baltimore’s skill at deal-making has put her on Billboard’s list of top women music executives for the past two years. She recently negotiated a deal with 20th Century Fox to use the songs of Bob Marley on a forthcoming animated film about Jamaica. Marley recorded for Island Records from 1972 until his death in 1981. She also crafted a deal for a documentary on the late operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti, the most commercially successful artist in the history of classical recordings who spent his entire career on UMG-owned Decca Records.

“We’re looking for TV and film projects that leverage our catalog, either our catalog of songs, our catalog of recordings, or our existing roster of artists,” says Baltimore. UMG is one of the world’s largest entertainment companies, with a roster of artists that includes Taylor Swift, Jay-Z, Kanye West, Adele, Lady Gaga, Coldplay, and Rihanna. With more outlets than ever competing for content, Universal Music Group re-launched Polygram Entertainment two years ago to produce compelling film and TV projects spanning features and documentaries, scripted and unscripted TV shows, and premium short-form content.

Baltimore joined UMG in 2016 to create new commercial opportunities from its catalog, which came into focus when the 2015 documentary “Amy” broke British box office records, generated a hit soundtrack, and won awards including an Oscar and a posthumous Grammy for Amy Winehouse, who recorded for the UMG label Island Records. Baltimore also handles certain complex recording contracts, such as the deal UMG recently inked with Chinese actor and singer Kris Wu to market and distribute his solo records, like his debut album “Antares,” internationally.

An unexpected path

Baltimore didn’t aspire to join a glamour profession. She grew up near Washington, D.C., where her mother worked for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and her father boarded horses on a farm in Culpeper, Va.

“Dad was an outdoorsman and Mom was into politics and sports and fashion,” she says. “There was always a lot of fun around them. I think that’s why I love the entertainment business. The whole purpose of the business is to create fun.”

Like her mother, Baltimore was interested in fashion. But she was encouraged to pursue a more practical career.

“I definitely had a leaning toward creativity and I actually think I could have been a creative myself, but there was more comfort around being a lawyer than pursuing something like that,” she says.

At Duke Law, Baltimore envisioned a career in mergers and acquisitions and targeted a job at Morrison & Foerster. As luck would have it, “MoFo” offered her a position in its Los Angeles office, putting her in the center of the entertainment world. Two years later, through a friend with music connections, she found herself considering a job offer in MCA Music Entertainment Group’s business and legal affairs department. Baltimore was intrigued, but hesitated.

“I wasn’t even looking for a new job,” she says. “I was very focused at the time on what I thought my pathway was supposed to be, which was to become a partner at a big law firm. Then one of the MCA lawyers said, ‘Wait a minute. Do you understand that people line up for this job?’ He described his typical day and I thought, ‘Oh wow, that sounds like fun.’

“It’s ironic that so many people would love to be in entertainment but I was so focused on this one goal that I almost missed the amazing opportunity in front of me. That’s why the advice I often give is to take the ‘stretch’ opportunity. It’s great to have a direction, but be willing to deviate from that path.”

Baltimore spent more than four years at MCA before moving back to the East Coast for personal reasons. She became one of AOL’s first hires during its push into music and entertainment and spent 15 years as a corporate transactions, media, and intellectual property attorney for AOL and other organizations. In September 2016, she returned to California to assume her current position at UMG, which was formed by the merger of MCA and PolyGram. She had come full circle.

Riding the digital wave

Since Baltimore first joined MCA the music business has changed dramatically, due in large part to the digital revolution. But that transition has created opportunities for her. When she graduated from Duke Law in 1992, the World Wide Web consisted of 26 websites. At MCA, she was given responsibility for digital initiatives — then a low priority. Today, digital music streaming services such as Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora, and YouTube generate twice as much revenue for the industry as CDs and paid downloads combined, and a great deal of music marketing is done online and through social media.

“I’ve had such good fortune,” Baltimore says. “I really grew up in that business as it was growing up. When I came to MCA, I was the most junior lawyer and the whole dot-com thing was new and it wasn’t big business yet. So they said, ‘Here, you take this.’ I went to AOL with those music relationships and from there I’ve always been in music and entertainment plus digital — the merger of those two worlds. That has been the common thread throughout my career.”

Baltimore says she embraces the daily challenges — and sometimes fear — that comes with being in an industry in constant reinvention. It’s required her to have a “DNA for change” — a core value at AOL that she adopted for herself.

“I think that is really a big part of who I am — I really embrace discomfort and disruption,” she says. “That’s what I like about being in emerging businesses. There may be a bit of fear but it’s so gratifying when you can push through it and learn. You may not get the result you hoped for, but there’s always learning and I have a real passion for that.” — Jeannie Naujeck