Navigating Perilous Waters

Navigating Perilous Waters On the eve of his new release, Eric Burdon told Elmore: “I would say to any kid who is starting out to be a live performer, Learn how to read contracts. Maybe learn a little law before you start treading the waters. Because the waters can be dangerous.” (see page 15)

With Burdon’s words in mind, I asked some New York music business insiders for their perspectives on navigating the industry in the 21st century.

“While the business is not the same today as it was when Mr. Burdon was starting out, his advice is still sound,” said Rob Cohen, a partner at the law firm of Carroll, Guido & Groffman, and whose clients include Kanye West and the Jonas Brothers. “While a good lawyer will help you navigate the waters, there is no substitute for taking an active interest in your own affairs. Understanding what you are signing is a good place to start.”

Joseph Donofrio, Grammy-winning producer and manager of jazz guitarist Pat Martino, among others, agrees: “Education sets the stage for the launching of new talent and part of that education is the business side of things—as long as it doesn’t interfere with the artist’s vision and development.”

It is the music business, and artists should understand that business. One central responsibility of a young artist is to manage the details of his independent and growing business, Alex Miller advised—a former president of Sony/Masterworks, he ought to know. George Cole, veteran musician/producer and mentor to Green Day, urges performers to “read, ask questions, plan and book your own tour so you see what it is all about. Put a team together: get a publicist, booking agent, a street team, and make a plan.”

New technology has placed more responsibilities on the artists to make it happen for themselves. “Talent doesn’t equate to revenue; marketability does,” Jared Shahid, president of the Guild Agency pointed out. “The business was once designed to create longevity and build careers; rarely do you see that now. Turn and run the other way if you’re not 100% committed to doing it with every ounce of your being.”

“Aspiring to be a rock star is over,” said Alan Wolmark, former manager of Ben Folds Five. “Embrace the technology that surrounds you as your best vehicle to get your message and your music out there. Embrace your fans.”

No matter the new roles and responsibilities of the artist in the 21st century music business, the essential elements remain unchanged. “Most important is to enjoy the process and have fun,” Cole reminded us. “Become a real player, write some great material, work up a dynamite live show and call me in the morning.” —Kirk Yano

A multiple Grammy-winning recording engineer with several Platinum and Gold RIAA Awards, Yano has worked with everyone from Mariah Carey to Miles Davis and Phoebe Snow, and has toured as a musician with Snow, Savoy Brown and Texas Scratch.

Got something to say?