“The greatest trick the music business ever pulled was convincing artists that they couldn’t make money and art at the same time” – Sean “Jay Z” Carter
The financial condition of the music business has been much documented. The decline of physical cd sales, the changing business models, and the rise of 360 deals have all become common knowledge to anyone even remotely involved in the recorded music industry. However, the area that has received the least amount of discussion, in my opinion, has been the lack of artist development in the music business. Artist development has become a lost art in this day and age of microwaved, flash in the plan success. Multitudes of executives are looking for artists with established brands and don’t have time (like most of corporate America) to train and develop young talent, but the question I asked when I graduated from graduate school (and couldn’t find a job because I had no real or relevant work experience) is the same question I ask now; “how can these companies expect established professionals if they are not willing to train and grant that experience?” What I came to realize and what every artist should realize is that you have to seek your own development. You have to have a vision of who you are meant to be; and then seek to collect the ingredients you need to build that person. You cannot depend on someone else to do it for you, especially not in the music industry. The modern recorded music industry was created to take money from artists not put money in their pockets.
It is for that reason that I question how effective the recorded music industry’s artist development operations ever were and if they ever existed at all. I’m sure that some company’s artist development operations were and are effective, but when you consider the gross exploitative nature and history of the music business; it makes it hard to believe that many in the business truly were and are concerned with artist development. See, when I say “artist development”, I’m not just talking about teaching kids how to be musicians, how to conduct themselves in interviews, and other things that they should learn in middle and high school. When I say “artist development”, I’m talking about everything from how to be an artist to how to be a mature human being who is able to properly conduct themselves in all environments including, but not limited to, the music industry. When I say “artist development”, I’m talking about developing your mind and soul. When I say “artist development”, I’m talking about understanding life, business, and legal principles in order to affect your world as you so desire; free from the manipulation and control of others. If your artist development operation doesn’t include those things then what exactly are you developing? I’ll tell you what you’re developing; you’re developing what the music business is notorious for developing: ignorant musicians who end up getting screwed over. As my mentor, Attorney James L. Walker, says, “It’s called the music business and BUSINESS is the bigger word!” In the music business, an artist’s personal development is truly the greatest asset they have.
When I graduated with a Master’s degree and had to take an unpaid internship because I did not have any experience, I took the words of Jim Rohn to heart: “Success is not to be pursued, it is to be attracted by the person you become”. Artists within the music business must understand that whatever is within them will always manifest itself without. In other words, if you get caught up in the smoke and mirrors of this industry and take on that prevalent mindset, your life will also become one of smoke and mirrors. Take concrete steps to build yourself up from within, and in the process, your steps will become concrete.
In conclusion, maybe it’s a good thing that (so-called) artist development is scarce because it has prepared the way for legitimate artist development to arrive on the scene. I firmly believe that having educated artists and music industry professionals is in the best interest of the music business because educated and empowered members bring innovation to their respective industries; something that is desperately needed in our industry. Let’s get rid of the sharecropper mentality and take ownership. In the words of Andy Warhol, “Good business is the best art”. I think it’s time for our artists to get their “business” right.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Elijah Adefope is a law student at Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School in Atlanta, Georgia. He is also an Associate at ‘Walker and Associates’, an Entertainment Law Firm in Atlanta, Georgia. He can be found at @ElijahAdefope or www.walkerandassoc.com. You may also direct any business inquires to his email at [email protected]