At the Women In Music Awards 2023, we celebrated the achievements of 13 game-changing executives and artists as the industry came together to honour their work. Music Week has spoken to all of the winners to tell their stories.
Interview: Anna Fielding
The winner of this year’s Entrepreneur Award is Praveen Bhatia: CEO, co-founder and co-owner of legal practice Tan Ward.
A highly notable figure in the field of music law and a seasoned advisor of intellectual property rights offering commercial expertise for talent in the music sector, Bhatia has made a reputation for excelling in strategy-based work and deal negotiations.
Video tributes during the ceremony came from Wretch 32, Universal Music UK CEO & chairman David Joseph, Sony Music UK CEO & chairman Jason Iley, Warner Music UK CEO Tony Harlow, Rich Castillo, EMI SVP, A&R, and her Tan Ward co-owner Daniela Korn.
Across her 22-year career (and counting), Praveen Bhatia has represented numerous high-profile clients – from household names, music executives, recording artists, songwriters, and creatives of all types, helping them navigate the complexities of the music industry.
Starting her legal career as a paralegal at a prominent City firm, Bhatia soon realised that the more corporate and traditional structured firms did not align with her ambition, desire for freedom and a fair working culture. Hence, she went on to embark on a quest to find smaller, specialist practices that would facilitate her professional growth and afford her greater control over how she serviced her clients. Prompted by her experiences, and with a fierce passion for creating a better path for lawyers, particularly women, Bhatia co-founded Tan Ward in 2019 – a company with autonomy, flexibility and work-life balance at its core.
Here we join Praveen Bhatia to reflect on her incredible career so far…
How does it feel to win entrepreneur of the year?
“It’s surprising, as a lawyer, because we’re mostly back office people. But I’m really excited and honoured and it’s great to have that validation and recognition. It’s also forced me to take a moment, to pause and stop and think, ‘Oh yeah, I did that’. And that’s actually quite cool.”
What was your entry point into the music industry?
“I did a science degree. I did my law qualification. Everyone else in my tutor group seemed to have planned training contracts with City firms, so I was on a bit of a back foot. I applied to lots of law firms, and I was lucky and got snapped up by Lovells because I had a first in my degree. Then Sheridans must have liked the look of me being a paralegal at Lovells and they interviewed me and gave me a training contract. Everyone spends their first year in litigation and mine happened to be in Human Rights litigation, which I was really passionate about and is a worthwhile thing to do. I worked with a partner who represented the Chagos islanders who had been removed from their main island as the British had sold or leased it to the US for a military base. It was an amazing experience, but I knew I wasn’t a litigator. Following that, I did six months in the music department and I loved it. Howard Jones was, and still is, the managing partner and we got on very well. I was offered a permanent position at the end of my training contract.”
This award has forced me to pause and stop and think, ‘Oh yeah, I did that’ – and that’s actually quite cool
Praveen Bhatia, Tan Ward
What challenges have you faced throughout your working life?
“In any lawyer’s career there will be challenges. And for women lawyers there will be different challenges. But I feel very lucky, actually, that of all the industries I could have worked in, I've worked in music. Law is very male-dominated and the views that were held back then a couple of decades ago, are still the views that are held today. So, I’m very lucky to work in music: I think that it's an industry that has been careful, perhaps because of its own issues in the past, to be fair, to be open minded. I don't want to diminish other people who might have their own negative experiences, but generally speaking I think I'm very lucky to work in this industry that has welcomed me with open arms.”
What led you to setting up Tan Ward?
“Law is a business model that depends on billing hours worked. My sister is a doctor and in medicine you can be at the top and work part time hours. But the structure in law rewards hours worked. Once you have a child you take yourself out of the running for the highest salary or becoming an equity partner. You could be the best lawyer in the world, but if you only work three-quarters of the hours you will never get the recognition. I set up Tan Ward because I really love my job, my work, and what I do, and I wanted to be able to practice as a lawyer and do what I love without the difficulties of a more traditional practice. I wanted to create a safe space to work, and I am really proud that I’ve done that. It all comes from a place of passion for what I do for my work and I can even say that I have borrowed some of the healthier practices I see in the music industry and tried to bring them into my own small business.”
There are more women music lawyers now than when I started and all the ones who have made it to a senior level are really bloody good. Because they’ve had to be.
Praveen Bhatia, Tan Ward
Why was having creating a new kind of working culture so important to you?
“Because it’s fair and right and how it should be. There’s no bullshit, no pretending, no leading people on, no ego - well, everyone has a little bit of ego, but we don’t have very much. We work really well as a team it’s solid and good. We work on a consultancy model, rather than the equity partnership traditional model, but we tag team, we support each other. It’s super fun.”
What was the biggest challenge in setting up your own company and how did you navigate it?
“I spent many hours crying in the garden, last spring. That was how I navigated it. But the biggest challenge was getting approval from the Law Society, dealing with all the compliance stuff and getting professional indemnity insurance.”
What legal advice would you give to artists who are just starting out?
“The challenges don’t need to be negative, but sometimes a young musical artist is so desperate for an opportunity that, even before a lawyer is on board, they’ve made up their mind to sign a bad deal. As a lawyer, you explain that it doesn’t feel, smell or look right and they say ‘I hear that’ and sign it anyway. You don’t want to leave a person on their own, but sometimes you have to step away at that point. My general advice would be to take the time to listen and understand and know your business. You don't need to know precisely why something works, you can leave leave that to your specialist advisors like your lawyer or your accountant, but you should take the time to understand how the business works.”
How has legal representation in music changed during the time you’ve worked in the field?
“I’ve noticed the gender balance change. There are more women music lawyers now than when I started and all the ones who have made it to a senior level are really bloody good, both in-house and in private practice. Because they’ve had to be. Times are changing. It's a better place for us in the world today than it was a decade ago. I very much hope those women who are my age or a bit younger will know there’s still time for them to get their recognition.”
Looking back over your career, what’s been your proudest achievement?
“It sounds really cheesy, but it’s every time I make someone happy with a deal they really love. That could be a senior exec, a household name artist or someone just starting out. What I always endeavour to do is to ensure you understand what you’re signing up to, that everyone goes in with their eyes open. The music industry has evolved so much since I started, CDs were still a thing then. I saw the move from physical. I've seen recessions in music and many commercial challenges. But it's still an interesting and buoyant and wonderfully creative industry. And, obviously, I am proud of Tan Ward. It’s been blood, sweat and tears, but I’m proud of what we’ve done.”