A career set to music

Publication Date

The Nott Memorial saw something on April 14 its venerable, usually-hushed confines will probably never see again— Joe Elliott (long hair, ripped jeans and all) belting out a rock anthem.

“If this were louder,” Julie Swidler ’79 said as she grinned at the crowd, “you’d be able to hear this is Def Leppard, ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me.’”

Nobody turned up the volume, but everyone laughed, enjoying the YouTube clip, one of several Swidler showed as she spoke about her career. Executive vice president, business affairs, and general counsel at Sony Music Entertainment, Swidler’s professional life has an awesome sound track.

Julie Swidler ’79 with Union students

“A few years ago, I realized basically my entire career is on YouTube. This,” she said, gesturing to the Def Leppard video, “was the biggest record when I started at PolyGram Records in 1988.”

1999, she moved on to legal affairs at Arista Records, a chapter illustrated during her talk with a clip of “Smooth” by Carlos Santana and Rob Thomas. The song was playing during her first meeting at the company with Clive Davis, she said. From Arista, Swilder went to J Records, RCA Music Group, BMG North America and RCA/ Jive Record Label before taking on her current role at Sony.

“My job changes every day,” said Swidler, who majored in political science and graduated from Cardozo School of Law. “It could be that one day I’m working on renegotiating an artist deal, or working on a new creative joint venture, or trying to figure out what our strategy should be in Brussels for copyright.”

Through it all, she’s been one of the only women in the top echelons of music.

“As far as being the only woman in most circumstances, most of the time I’m not focused on it,” she said. “There isn’t anyone who has any success in life who doesn’t work their butt off. I don’t know that I’ve had to work any harder, being a woman; there just are no shortcuts to hard work and experience.”

Still, she acknowledges that being comfortable in this kind of setting to begin with was helpful.

“Union was a supportive, mostly male place when I was a student,” Swidler said. “It allowed me to get used to speaking my mind—hopefully in the right way—rather than losing my voice.”

And speak her mind she does, to the tune of the likes of Aerosmith, Miley Cyrus and Tyler Farr (all punctuated her talk in the Nott).

“I can’t imagine talking to anyone without music,” said Swidler, a member of Union's Board of Trustees. “So much of what I do involves music; it’s an important part of my story.”


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