Katz, who was introduced by KSU President Dr. Dan Papp as an "impressive man" who "is having one impressive career," shared his stories of working more than 40 years in the music business, and what he sees for the industry's future.
The lecture hall at the new Prillaman Hall building buzzed with excitement, as about 100 students, professors and faculty members waited to hear the entertainment business guru speak.
Katz graduated from law school at the University of Tennessee. After working for Department of Housing and Urban Development, moonlighting for an Atlanta law firm and working part-time as a professor at Georgia State University, he started his private law practice in 1971, he said. He shared a small office with several other young attorneys.
"And I had absolutely no clients - not a one," he said.
Several weeks later, Katz got a call from a banker who had taken his class at GSU. The man asked Katz if he knew anything about entertainment law. Katz answered no. The man told him he had a client who needed an attorney to help him negotiate a contract with a record company, and that the client had specifically requested a lawyer who knew nothing about entertainment law.
"I said, well, I'm your man," Katz said.
The next day, Katz met his first client, James Brown.
Katz helped Brown negotiate a $5 million record contract with the newly formed record company, Polydor Records. The magnitude of the contract, which included access to a private jet for Brown, was almost unheard of at the time, Katz said. For the job, Brown gave Katz a $50,000 check.
When Brown held a press conference announcing the contract, Katz said, he told the world about his new entertainment attorney.
"To be honest, I had absolutely no idea what a press conference even was. I was very sophisticated in 1971," Katz said. "... At the press conference, as it was going to close, as (James Brown) was finishing his really emotional and intelligent remarks, he stated, 'and I want to thank my lawyer, Joel Katz from Atlanta, Georgia. The very best lawyer in the business.' And I was so shocked."
A few weeks later Katz said, he got a call from his next client, Willie Nelson. He went on to represent other music giants such as Julio Iglesias, Sheryl Crow, Michael Jackson, James Taylor and Jimmy Buffet.
Through the years, Katz said, he has seen the entertainment industry grow and change with technological advances. Katz told a story about how the revolution of the CD in the early 1980s caused anxiety among record companies, but turned out to incite what Katz called the "golden age of music."
Technology again changed the industry in the late 1990s, Katz said, with the Internet and the technology of file sharing, which allowed consumers to download music for free.
"What caused this dramatic downfall in the late 1990s, the very same force that created the boom in the 1980s - technology," Katz said. "Coupled by the lack of understanding by the world's music executives of how to get out and deal with this technology. They ignored the impact that technology was having on their industry. And technology overcame their businesses and totally negatively effected it, commercially."
But, Katz said, as the technology of mobile phones and Apple's iPod developed in the early 2000s, the music industry began to realize how to gain a profit from legally downloadable music and how to offer consumers products that allowed them to access music at the touch of a button from their phones.
As Katz said, it seems that the music industry is finally getting the picture, understanding how to harness technology to help the business grow, instead of debilitating it.
"History has taught us that attempts to stifle innovation by technology, which the music industry tried to do, are misguided and are clearly impossible," he said. "But we have every reason to insist, and we really will insist, that a business which is predicated on the theft of property - the theft of property - are not businesses at all."
For the future, Katz said, the music industry is excited to provide new and legal ways for people to access music and entertainment products through the technology of phones. This will, in turn, create a myriad of job opportunities to young people seeking work in the industry, Katz said.
In June, Katz, of Greenberg Traurig LLP, made an undisclosed contribution to the KSU Foundation, providing initial funding for the academic certificate program targeting business majors and music students interested in working in the business side of the entertainment industry. At the time, Katz said he chose KSU because he was introduced to Papp by his friend Dr. Bobbie Bailey, a longtime trustee and benefactor of KSU, and he liked Papp and some of his ideas for the university.
The program, which started its first semester in January, has reached a capacity of 50 students, program director Bruce Burch said. The introductory class on the music business has also reached its maximum 50-student capacity. A joint effort between the College of the Arts and Coles College of Business at KSU, students in the program will be able to earn a certificate in entertainment and music management while majoring in arts or business. It will require 24 hours of coursework, which is usually completed within two years
Following a brief question and answer session, Katz left the students with one final piece of advice: "If you asked me one thing that I learned in my life, I learned that the tortoise wins every, single race. The rabbit never wins the race. Just work hard and do it everyday and all of your dreams really will come true."
Papp said of Katz: "This is a man that all of us should emulate."