Prem Panicker – GoDigital Media Group
On the surface, Prem Panicker doesn’t have much in common with rapper Master P. But Panicker says never to judge a book—or a lawyer—by its cover, because he and the artist born Percy Miller go way back.
In his late teens and early 20s, Panicker was in a band with friends called Calcutta—the band played on the Warped Tour and opened for groups including Sum 41 and Slightly Stoopid. Things slowed down as members of the band finished their undergraduate studies and moved onto graduate school, including Panicker, who realized he was more likely to have a career in music as a lawyer than a musician.
“Law school was always in the back of my mind if music didn’t work out,” he says.
In 2006, during Panicker’s first year in law school, Calcutta was performing at the legendary Viper Room in West Hollywood, and the audience included Jason Peterson. The entrepreneur had just founded GoDigital Records with Master P as its first artist. Peterson was so impressed that Calcutta was one of the label’s first acts—and Peterson’s favorite band to this day. In addition to that deal, Panicker asked to intern in the legal department—he was the only person in the department as the company had only five employees.
When he graduated law school, he was the company’s in-house attorney until he left to start his own practice, taking the company as a client. Panicker’s path came full circle several years later when he was named the general counsel for GoDigital Media Group, the company that evolved from Peterson’s record label 10 years earlier.
“I was intrigued by GoDigital because it was a start-up, and the company was focused on music, which was aligned with my interests at the time,” Panicker says.
Hitting the notes
Though GoDigital Media Group started as a boutique record label, it has grown into a multinational conglomerate through acquisitions of companies in a variety of industries. Panicker has provided and managed the legal infrastructure for most of the company’s transactions.
Currently, GoDigital Media Group’s portfolio includes several music entities including a record label and Hispanic-targeted YouTube network and three streaming networks, including Mitu, NGL and Yoga Works. Recently, Panicker was front and center as GoDigital Media Group acquired Bob’s Stores and Eastern Mountain Sports. The company has expanded beyond music and content and is living its mission to “inspire happiness by connecting creativity to commerce,” he says.
“We acquired five companies during the pandemic, we’re always evaluating other opportunities to grow,” Panicker says.
His role involves integrating the acquired companies into GoDigital Media Group’s ecosystem. That includes everything from human resources and employee benefits to managing intellectual property and trademarks. He works closely with the acquired company’s attorneys and with outside counsels who are subject matter experts across all areas of the law that touch the business.
The COVID-19 pandemic complicated the mergers and acquisitions process because integrating new teams using Zoom and under lockdown was challenging, Panicker says.
With offices in nine countries—a 10th office is set to open soon—and nearly every region in the world, Panicker says there is an obvious opportunity for continued growth. He also recognized the need for the legal department to grow and recently brought on a co-general counsel to assist and manage legal matters across the various businesses.
Panicker says his own expertise is in intellectual property and copyrights in the music business, so he relies on subject matter experts in areas like mergers and acquisitions, employment law and litigation. In fact, Panicker struck a partnership with Zeevo Group to manage and track all acquisitions and with Stubbs Alderton & Markiles to help throughout the acquisition process.
The partnerships help ensure that all necessary work required to close a transaction, like legal and finance, is being tracked and that all material issues are identified and resolved. For music catalog acquisitions, GoDigital Media Group works closely with the attorney Bob Lieberman of Fischbach, Perlstein, Lieberman & Almond.
Right now, Panicker is working on integrating a robust system for the legal department that would make the day-to-day operations and long-term projects easier to manage. He recently started using a project management platform called Jira Work Management, and at a recent conference for corporate counsels in Las Vegas, Panicker met with several companies in hopes of finding a solution for the legal department’s daily activities.
The Jira tool has helped Panicker manage projects in the company’s music division by harmonizing the legal workflow with the other parallel and dependent processes, such as finance.
“We are always looking for new solutions that fit our ever-changing needs,” he says. “The work can be overwhelming but setting expectations has been important and managing them is what sets apart success and failure.”
A rockin’ career
Panicker grew up in Camarillo, California, and was interested in music at a young age. He laughs when he recalls opening for major music acts and playing shows at the Viper Room and other venues filled with young and energetic fans.
“And in the front row were two Indian parents supporting their son and his bandmates,” he says. “I think they knew we would fall back on our degrees if a music career didn’t pan out.”
After earning a degree in political science and history from the University of California-Irvine, Panicker continued playing music before deciding to take a different career path. He earned a Juris Doctor from Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles and worked for three years for GoDigital Media Group as its business and legal affairs counsel.
In early 2012, Panicker opened his own practice and started representing musicians and others in the music industry. But GoDigital Media Group was his biggest client—he acted as the company’s outside general counsel. About six years later, he joined GoDigital Media Group in his current role and hasn’t looked back.
A lot of his lawyer friends work at big law firms, and while that thought has crossed Panicker’s mind over the years, he has stayed loyal to the company that gave him his start. He’s enjoyed GoDigital Media Groups’ trajectory and growth and is excited for the future.
“I like the people I work with, and I like the work I do as a lawyer,” Panicker says. “I am proud of what our company has done and continues to achieve.”
View this feature in the Vanguard Spring I 2023 Edition here.
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