Dance to the Beat of Your Own
So you want to work in the music business but you can't sing, dance or play an instrument? No problem. There are behind-the-scenes, away from the spotlight gigs vital to the industry that you can get into. Artist managers, accountants, entertainment attorneys, and sound engineers earn lucrative salaries while they enjoy some of the same perks special invites, free tickets, royal treatmentas the most sought-after celebrities. As long as you don't mind being the wind beneath other people's wings, the following careers could be for you.
There's more to music than turning a tune. The machine that churns out the likes of Erykah Badu and Eminem is not about the bling-bling but the ching-ching of the cash register. Those who control the purse strings rule the music world. At least that's the belief of Frank Fraley, chief financial officer at Motown Records Inc. in New York City.
"It's not the most lucrative to be a bean counter, but it is necessary," Fraley explains. "It's very important to know the level of profitability of the artist, not only for the record company, but for the artist as well."
Although opportunities exist in this side of the business, African Americans are generally not pursuing the financial side of the business as a career option. Fraley encourages more African Americans to enter record companies at this level. According to one industry expert, "The biggest problem when dealing with independent labels is the lack of qualified [African American] personnel handling the financial aspects of the business."
Consequently, these labels are forced to turn to majority-owned financial companies to assess their profit margin and revenues. Unfortunately, this results in a reactive response to problems rather than proactive measures to reduce them.
He advises accounting grads to cut their teeth by becoming CFOs with smaller, independent labels or even as members of a business management firm that represents artists, producers or publishers. Starting salaries for new grads with accounting degrees can range from $37,000 to $46,000 per year. Seasoned professionals who are CPAs can earn $200,000 or more annually.
Besides knowing the financing involved in a record deal, knowing the intricacies of a record contract can be vital to an artist, and, consequently, their attorney can become their best friend.
When Suzette Becker, an entertainment attorney and owner of Becker Entertainment and I-Net Law in New Orleans graduated from law school in 1979, she was a real estate attorney. However, 10 years into her career, she wanted to find a way to combine her legal background with her love of the arts. Since many law schools didn't offer courses in intellectual property, Becker began teaching herself about entertainment law. As a start, she read books like The Musician's Business and Legal Guide by Mark Halloran (Prentice Hall, $35.95) and Legal Guide for the Visual Artist, 4th Edition, by Tad Crawford (Allworth Press, $19.95). She also took programs at the Practicing Law Institute, a New York City-based nonprofit organization geared toward educating legal professionals. "Entertainment law caught my fancy and I realized it was doable," says Becker, who further honed her skills by working with small acts and music groups. "[In the early days] whenever I had to negotiate a contract, I would ask an experienced entertainment attorney to co-counsel with me," Becker explains. "It was a great way to learn." Becker advises new grads to land a job that will give them experience in handling transactional entertainment laws and clauses. Depending on what region of the country you live in, fees for entertainment attorneys can range from $200 per hour to more than $500 an hour. For those who have a good ear and are technology driven, a career as studio engineer might be a match.
Shawn Brown was more than prepared for his current career path you can say it's in his blood. His father was a former singer with the funk group Parliament and his mother was a computer technician for NASA. So after graduating from University of California at Berkeley in 1988 with a major in music and video and audio engineering, his first forays into the entertainment industry were as a performer with rap groups Digital Underground and Trends of Culture.
Today he is the owner and founder of Hit Man Productions Inc. in Mt. Vernon, N.Y., where he works out of his own studio writing, composing and producing his own music. He lays the finished product down on tracks, ready for a singer to add the vocals. It also helps that he can play nearly every musical instrument under the sun.
"You have to have a good ear for music," says Brown, "and combine that with the technical aspect of producing, then you can understand how the music should be formatted." According to Brown, a good song is one in which every instrument can be heard clearly while being perfectly balanced with the vocals.
He averages about nine songs, which he copies onto a CD and hands off to his management company. The company, which he co-owns, then goes out and solicits artists and record executives. "If an artist likes my songs, I charge them $5,000 to $50,000 to buy the rights to the songs," Brown explains.
In order to protect his interests, Brown copyrights the masters of the music he creates by submitting them to the Library of Congress, which stores his recordings in a vault.
Furthermore, in his contract with the artist, Brown receives two points for every dollar the songs receive. Typically, one point is equivalent to 8 percent to 9 percent, so he usually receives 16 percent to 19 percent of the royalties. The management company generates about two to three customers per month, and along with his other side businesses, this hard-working entrepreneur is able to support his family.
"To be successful in this field, you have to have ingenuity, willpower and be very persistent," advises Brown. "You have to be your own best promoter, because who's going to believe more in your product than yourself?"
Despite how things may look to outsiders, insiders those who climbed to the top know that overnight successes in the music industry are almost nonexistent.
For the most part, it takes years of careful planning and an astute personal manager to claim the victory. Although unscrupulous artist managers have given this career path a bad rap, don't rule it out completely.
Professionals such as Frank Moultrie, a seasoned veteran of the music industry, have had substantial success in this arena. When Moultrie started out in the 1970s, he worked as a business manager for film stars like Louis Gosset Jr., Melvin Van Peebles and Billy Dee Williams. However, in the 1990s, he shifted his focus to the music side of the business, and served as the personal manager for artists such as Chante Moore, El Debarge and Patrice Rushen.
Moultrie equates the role of a personal manager with that of the quarterback of a football team. He creates the overall game plans that help artists maximize and sustain their careers. Moultrie also coordinates the efforts of all the other members of the team (i.e., the attorney, business manager, agent and marketing personnel from the record company) to ensure they're all working toward the same goals.
"A personal manager must be able to balance the creative and business aspects of an artist's career," explains Moultrie. "It is a 24/7 job, because you are always on call and your life and career are immensely affected by the actions, work habits (or lack thereof), and personalities of the artists you represent."
Typically, personal managers receive 15 percent to 20 percent of an artist's earnings in commissions. As lucrative as this may sound, it is also incredibly risky, as there is no guarantee that the artist will ever realize their potential and become famous. It is also not unusual for those same artists to drop their personal mangers once they hit it big.
Moultrie, who is also a CPA, has now gone back to his first love, accounting, and is currently a consultant in the royalty compliance division of Moss Adams, an accounting and consulting firm in Los Angeles. Still, he believes his experience as a personal consultant helped prepare him for numerous opportunities in the industry.
So what is the future of the industry? There are those who believe the time is ripe for opportunity, despite the current challenges the industry is facing. "The major labels are consolidating, their sales are off, I think they're imploding from within," asserts Becker. However, she feels this implosion will give rise to smaller, independent labels, and move the business away from the mega-companies.
Becker says that in New Orleans, they're doing joint venture deals between indie labels and artists, who then enjoy higher royalty rates. "It is more of a cooperative between the artist and the label, because they're both in it together," she explains.
Moultrie also shares Becker's positive outlook regarding the future of the music industry. "However, it just won't be the business model that we've become accustomed to." And just like the film industry had to adjust to the new technology that videocassettes brought, so too will the record companies learn to benefit in the long run from the Internet. But no matter how the industry evolves, there will always be a need for those who keep the wheels turning. "Artists come and go," quips Fraley, "but executives are forever."
By Bevolyn Williams-Harold