Akon talked to Radio Facts about how he grew as a businessman when he got involved with solar power and providing sources of energy for Africa after a disastrous concert.Radio Facts - Originally posted Jan 23, 2020
While music is a true passion for many artists, it has also become a vessel for some to pursue ventures that exist outside of the intoxicating impact of lighting up a stage in front of thousands of screaming fans. Artists have historically been at a disadvantage when it comes to understanding the business of music, however, many of today’s artists transcend that aforementioned narrative because they truly embrace, understand and work the power of their personal brand.
"Don’t let your pride get in the way of – because most people don’t know because they don’t want people to think they don’t know or they may think that this nigger is stupid."Akon
With a childhood that boasted several musical influences within his own home, to a somewhat tumultuous teenage life that led to some time in prison, and now becoming a Grammy-nominated music maven, Akon is the quintessential artist-turned-mogul. His business acumen equals or more likely surpasses, his accomplishments in the music industry.
As he continues to light up arenas globally with his myriad of hits, the Senegalese icon has successfully illuminated Africa with his business venture, Akon Lighting Africa. The company was formed in 2014 with the goal of providing electricity by solar energy in the motherland. Akon now has his sights set on Akon Lighting America via stage and through his flourishing company.
The affluent entrepreneur talked with Radio Facts about the business of music, running a successful organization, and the trials and tribulations of using his music platform to build an empire outside of the studio and stage.
RADIO FACTS: So you are working on a new project, Akon Lighting America, tell me exactly how that works?
AKON: Akon Lighting America is a for-profit business and I created it because of the success that we had in Africa and ultimately we were able to branch off in the US and we aligned the company with the UN’s sustainable development goals and ultimately what we're doing is creating the solution for the traditional energy consumption to be converted over to renewable energy.
So we're coming in, playing our part, after putting together you can say a solar initiative on our end for solar rooftops, solar grids throughout the cities, and so on and so forth. Our main base is in North Carolina, but we have projects in Texas and in Arizona as we speak now.
Okay, so I know you're starting in January. What’s the first city you are going to work with?
The first city is inTexas and what we are doing is we are acquiring smaller solar companies to create this one big entourage. We also teamed up with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for Arizona.
Okay, tell me, I was watching an interview that you did, I can't remember the host's name, but it was in Africa, I believe, and it seems that she was questioning – you just mentioned that it's a for-profit company – are there actually people who have an issue with you profiting from this?
I do not think there is an issue with me profiting from it, but it was always being promoted as a non-profit organization, so I just want to make the correction. I think that what made it more a non-profit concept in people's eyes was the fact that the need was so vast.
And ultimately whenever you are talking about Africa, people always think need and aid. And in this situation that wasn't the case. I was trying to allow people to understand that what I'm doing in Africa has nothing to do with aid.
It was a huge need and a huge opportunity, so we want to provide that need for electricity in specific areas because of the fact that the lack of electricity was creating a decline in infrastructure and also development.
So, when you were performing some years back, was this always in the back of your mind? How did you come up with this concept?
The concept actually came to fruition when I was doing a concert in Sierra Leone. We were in the stadium, fully packed out, sold out for the whole weekend, and the first day of the show right at the beginning of the third song of the night, the electricity goes out.
So it created this huge riot and because of that. The electricity never even came back on, so the whole weekend was damaged and the festival and everything was damaged because of that. So that's the trigger, okay something had to be done about it because that wasn't the first time this happened. And then even while we were there where we were staying every hour, every other hour electricity will go out for hours at a time and then turn back on.
So I knew that was already a big problem, but then when I went back sometime later], the same situation but in the rural areas there was no electricity at all. That's when I was like, “okay, we need to do something about this in general.”
So we started donating solar lights and home systems to rural areas in Africa and that led into a for-profit business that ended up becoming a utility company providing energy throughout the continent.
Okay, so now the situation in America you have, you said you're going to be serving like underserved, or I guess underprivileged, areas and you're working with the different cities and states. What about homeowners who can't afford solar energy because it's very expensive?
Well, believe it or not, our mission is to decrease your energy bill and provide energy solutions for those who cannot afford energy in those areas because solar, as you can see, you could drop the price down by almost 75% of what you're paying right now on your energy bills because of that.
Utilities are killing you. When you talk about fans, irons, refrigerators and with what they're charging per kilowatt and what it's costing them to be able to provide you that energy, itis way too high. But solar, as you know, is coming directly from the sun, what is the infrastructure that needs to be set up?
There's no extra cost, it's all human nature that's providing the energy to you so we can afford to drop that price all the way down. So, what you are really paying for is the equipment and installation cost, which we finance so that throughout the time that you – pretty much you can say subsidize what you are actually making and be able to afford it.
And we feel like this going to be the future for it.
Are you getting any pushback from the energy providers?
No, actually we have been trying to get in a lot of support because they are in a position where they actually have to conform to renewable sources of energy themselves, especially with all the climate change and the issues that are happening that they have to – a percentage of their business has to conform to renewable energy. Because we are the only African American company in America doing it on a level, and also have to comply according to the laws of the – you can say diversity and inclusion, it helps them in a big way; it does two things in a positive way. First, it helps to meet the diversity and inclusion laws within the business sector, and also, it also helps them to conform to a more renewable state a lot quicker than normal as well too.
So, we serve a double purpose. That is why I feel this is a perfect and great business for the United States.
This must be eating up an incredible amount of your time, How do you balance this and still do your music at the same time?
Well, that was the beauty – because that was the challenge at first, trying to figure out that balance and how do I do it because lots of companies do require a lot of your time and you have to physically be there. So now that we are in a position as we were launching these projects, including setting it all up, we are also creating teams that can now take it over and be able to manage the company while I am doing music because the music pretty much opened up the doors of opportunity.
So now we are in the position where the teams are now taking it forward. I have a CEO that handles the company domestically and runs it like a well-oiled machine, while I can focus on my music and everything else I want to do.
Do you have a hand in, as far as the people you pick for your team or do you have somebody do that as well?
Yes, so the actual staff I don’t get involved in that because I have to get involved in picking the person that I trust to put that kind of staff together. So he is the only person that I report to and then between him and the accountants – the CEO and the accountant and obviously my attorneys – those are the four people that I pretty much report to and have a conversation relating to basic day-to-day operation on how things are moving.
And then from there he pretty much handles it and gives us a report on unintelligible].
What was your training ground for business? Did you do anything…with music with the major labels? Were you doing things on your own then, or were you just kind of watching? How did you actually kind of learn the concepts? Trial and error?
That is a very interesting question because I was always pretty much basically an independent distributor. A lot of it was done by myself and the team that I put around me. And me being attached to Steve Rifkind, who also was pretty much an independent distributor,…when I was assigned to him I learned a lot on an independent level of how to be independent – or to move on a level, how just…to have certain people around you and staff and people that can take on a lot of that low – kind of how to delegate responsibilities.
So that kind of helped a lot as far as drawing me to who I was, but then once I became a label myself, that taught me a whole nother level of organization and networking and delegating certain responsibilities according to a certain level.
So I always felt like as you start getting some more corporate, you start structuring more corporate, and we start to realize that a lot can be done if you hire professional people. You may have to pay a little bit more, but you'll get a lot more in general when you have got people that know what they're doing…handling it.
What would you say are like two of the greatest lessons that you have learned in business?
The greatest lesson that I have learned is trust. That is probably the top because I used to make decisions according to trust like I would trust someone and be like, “okay, you are going to be the one that will do it.”
What I will do is take notice of the criteria and compare it with their strong points…and what their specialties will be and how they benefit my overall company. Now I will never go into a business thinking partnership without that full 1-to-10 like due diligence on the person, what their background is, where they come from, what are their strengths and weaknesses and like their experiences.
I need to know all of that now leading into it because before it was more so I went with my feeling and my gut, which works up to a certain extent when we are trying to measure character. But when you are measuring a skill set you have to know what that person’s background looks, like what’s that person’s resume and how it matches up to their skill level and, at the end of the day, what their track record is of success. That makes a world of a difference as to how much time you actually have to put into a business that you want to be able to run on its own.
Do you have another lesson? Then I will have another question for you.
The second lesson is patience. Patience is key because sometimes when we start things and we want it to pick up a lot quicker and they are meant to pick up, there are going to be a lot of things that you are going to learn on the way; there are going to be a lot of things that you are going to adjust as you are going and you cannot expect it to be perfect and you can never predict anything.
Just put the team together, create a perfect plan and then just allow things to happen and adjust as you go. If you try to predict things to happen the way you want it to happen, it never really turns out that way. You learn really quick how fast it doesn't turn out that way and how quick you have to adjust right away.
So, if you walk into it, be prepared to adjust. Things happen a lot easier because you already have a system. You can plan a predictable situation, but you should already be set up for unpredictable situations because, in business, everything is going to be unpredictable; nothing is ever going to happen the way you expect it to happen.
There's always going to be that one piece that goes off the rails or something that happens that throws the whole plan in a different direction. So, you have to always be prepared for that. So, when you walk in it prepared for it, it just makes life a lot easier because you're already moving and adjusting to the demand.
Is it better to find people who can lead you or people you can lead?
I think it is a mixture of both. And what I mean by that is that you always want to surround people with people that are smarter than you and that is the same with the first question that you asked – people that know things that you don’t know.
But at the same time, you also have to have people around you that you can lead but it is not a matter of leadership. In a case like this], it is a matter of really putting people around you that believe in your vision because, if they believe in your vision, then you can just instruct them on how you see it to be and they can tell you how best to achieve whatever that goal is.
So it's a combination of both without leading people but just being more so guiding because leading and guiding are two different things. You can guide them towards a passion that you all…believe in because, if they believe in your passion, the guidance is a lot easier.
Then it makes it easy. But when you have to lead people, then you have to tell them what to do and when to do it and how to do it and it just becomes exhausting. It's like you want people that kind of already know what they're doing but can also show you a better way of doing it because they have been inexperienced in these kinds of situations and causes before.
So now you have to apply what that vision is that they believe in along with what you believe in and together you guys find the best route to get there.
Absolutely. You want people who aren't afraid to tell you what they think.
One thousand percent. But you have to be the kind of person to respect what they are bringing to the table because sometimes people think, okay you have got a bunch of yes men around you.
Why do you think from your experience working in the music industry that more artists don't see the advantage of using the leverage of a career to graduate into something else like entrepreneurship or branding?
The thing is, for a lot of artists coming from a passionate window, they do not really come into it from a business opportunity window. And when people come into the music business, the only thing they know and feel in their heart is the music. What they fail to realize is they call it music business for a reason.
Because the business is what drives the music, the music is what attracts the business. So, if you are not a businessman or you don’t come in with an entrepreneurial spirit from the gate, your longevity and your sustainability in this music business is going to be really, really short.
And that is only because business is what creates that longevity and create that sustainability because, when you combine the business properly with the music, you can continue to create. As a matter of fact, you put yourself in a more comfortable position to create in a way that you are not worried about all the things that come with it financially.
So music now becomes a hobby to you and you now can do it with free spirit where you do not have to worry about if this record going to work or if this record is going to chart – it really doesn’t matter because you are doing it from the bottom and anything you do from the bottom, the audience always feels it, they relate to it and naturally it goes where it needs to go, which is always to the top.
I think when we put the music first it definitely creates the tempo for where the business needs to be and normally, when you have successful music going and you put successful businessmen around you and you yourself have the business acumen, then success will come out of that.
I was telling someone the other day that I get press releases every day from people being promoted around the industry and beyond and out of a hundred percent, maybe one and a half percent are black men, maybe. So in a lot of ways being entrepreneurs could be our saving grace. What do you think black male entrepreneurs really need to have in mind when we go into business or when trying to climb the ladder at a corporation?
It all depends actually on what he wants out of it. Like if you are coming into the business to be promoted, to be the head of a company, but you cannot help the company that you are going into and as your goal you state, “I am going I want to be the head of the company,” then there are two things that need to happen. One is you have to understand what your strategy is to get into the head person position and being that head person. Two, who represents you makes a huge difference in the music industry, especially from a legal standpoint because one thing I realize with the music business is the guy that is getting promoted from the mailroom to the vice president to eventually the president and then becoming chairman, it stems from who represents them legally.
If you have got the right lawyer that knows what you deliver and how much income you actually provide for that company, they fight for you from a legal standpoint to go in there and say, 'Listen, my guy has been working for the last five years and he's generated this amount of money for this company, what's the next step? Where are we going from here?'
And that relationship between your attorney and the person that's in that building always dictates how far you go because sometimes, as men, as black people, we come into everything with passion. We don't think that far ahead, we're not realizing the business – when they say it's all in who you know, it's the truth.
Everybody that I know personally that became CEO of companies…who started from the mailroom and became A&R and head of A&R urban from urban to all formats, this is all them putting in the work. You have got to put in that work and then you have the right attorney to represent you that understands how the game is being played and then they slowly climb you up that ladder. But that loyalty to that person shows your character and allows them to know that, okay, this is someone we can't forget because he is one of us.
You…know these wars, these financial war deals and this and that and they see that you are not loyal to anybody but the dollars, that changes how they promote you as well too. They have got to want to know that you're in this for the long haul, you are going to help build the company with us and we can trust you to know that you are going to fight for us in our best interest moving forward.
Now if you go in there as a renegade and you just want to say, “I'm going to be the biggest competitor ever and I'm just going in to be the next Universal, I am going in to be the next Sony or the next Motown” or whatever the case may be, okay now that you got to be the most creative businessman in the world that knows finances because, with that, now you have got to be the guy that brings the talent around you, that can create a future market shift yourself that says that you're a big player.
Then, in the mix of that, you have got to have the right financial experience to know how to put the financial guys around you to raise that money and that capital to create the business you are trying to create and then hire all the right people.
That's very interesting. So then, with all that in mind, it seems like you're suggesting that we educate ourselves first before going in. Any ideas on how to do that?
Well, listening. The problem is a lot of people go into the business thinking they already know how it works you cannot tell them nothing. You have to be humble enough to learn. You have to be humble enough to receive the information and most of all when you can’t do it or you don’t know how to do it, you have to be able to ask how to ask questions.
Don’t let your pride get in the way of – because most people don’t know because they don’t want people to think they don’t know or they think that this nigger is stupid. They don't really know what is going on, they feel dumb when they feel they have to ask you.
But that's what it takes – education. You have to understand that when you don’t know, you simply ask. It makes people want to educate you more, makes those guys that have been in the game forever want to put you under their wing and teach you the ropes because they see that your humility plays in the role of a leader.
So you have to ask these questions, you have to want to know more, you have to want to understand it and you have to be in a position where you are willing to play that game and understand what those roles are and allow those guys to lead you. A lot of times we just don’t allow people to lead us because in our minds we are leaders.
So how has your experience working with solar power changed what you do with the music industry now?
I mean, it has changed in a big way because through the solar stuff, I have been engaged in areas of music that as a corporate executives who has been engaged in the music side forever, I just never knew it because I just never was on that plateau in that realm, but now because of the lighting aspect of it, I am learning more about finances and I am learning more about hedge funds and all these corporate investment groups that come from Wall Street and how they split their money and figure out how they get other donors into your company and help you build that from a different portfolio standpoint.
So, I am learning business more than how I learned it from music business because, in the music business, I was more focused on music royalties and streaming and the direct money that comes to the artist, which I was. But now I'm looking at it from a standpoint of enterprise on how that money is received and how that money is managed around me to build out and create portfolios that people want to be a part of from a corporate standpoint.
So, the lighting side has shown me that side of it. So, I apply that to the music aspect of how it all plays.
So have you ever thought to yourself that the situation in Sierra Leone was actually something negative that turned out to be positive?
I think the negative aspect of it was that it took me away from music. You know in the music business you have got to be very relevant and you cannot go too long without them feeling your energy and I think that part of it at a time I thought was negative. But I am starting to realize that, because of the day and age, with digital platforms and new streaming platforms it really helps to get to really get back in the fan's faces much quicker than before because you now have access to billions of people with the push of one button.
I am now coming in a lot more educated than I had been from a business standpoint which will also help me on a big scale in the future.
The initiative that you're working on right now with Akon Lighting America. I was reading someplace that…you're looking at 2030 as a deadline for having everything completed?
No, that is like an estimated timeframe to have things moving and running. I don’t think the completion – we don’t really have a deadline because we will always be building on it. We are actually moving and running and we are actually in progress, it is moving by 2030. The year 2030 is around a good time where we project and know that, okay, at least we got the ball rolling.
What other things do you have planned now that you have got this going?
Outside of that, we have got "Akoin" which is my cryptocurrency that we are building for Africa which I am super excited about because that also helps my overall legacy play for re-building Africa and the infrastructure that creates the opportunity for the young entrepreneurs in Africa.
So, I always thought that Africa needed that one thing that brought all Africans together and what better way to bring all Africa together than through money, through currency.
I am glad you made the time to talk to Radio Facts readers.
My pleasure Kevin, my pleasure.
Radio Facts: This interview was done in December of 2019
Some view him as one of the hardest working men in showbiz but he would tell you he is trying to be the smartest working man in showbiz. Nick Cannon’s emerging empire is undeniably a testament to his unmatched work ethic, immense talent, awe-inspiring personality, and amazing business acumen. The actor, comedian, rapper, director, writer, producer, and television host is now a number one rated radio host as well. As the morning show host of LA’s Power 106, the entertainment mogul has now partnered with Skyview Networks and Meruelo Media to develop Nick Cannon Radio for afternoon syndication starting January 27, 2020 and Nick Cannon Weekends debuting February 2020. With goals of chasing media maven, Oprah – Nick is one step closer to his global takeover. The San Diego born icon talked to Radio Facts about his many accomplishments, future goals, standing up for what he believes in, and being proud of the fact he does it all while being 100% his authentic self.
RADIO FACTS: Hey, Nick how you doing today man?
NICK: Hey, how are you?
I'm wonderful, thank you for asking sir. So I know you're a very busy man, so I won't keep you too long. I do appreciate you for this time though.
No problem I appreciate your world.
All right well let's get started, first and foremost man, I'd just like to say happy belated or happy birthday to your grandmother, I believe she just turned 100 years old?
Yes, she turned- -what do they call it? That legacy age and it’s beautiful.
How does it feel to be living alongside your grandmother and to be around somebody who's been on the planet for a century? How has that type of foundation helped you to become the person you are?
Knowing that my grandmother is still around and living is great. It's not like she is a struggling hundred, she still drives selling Avon, and doing everything. Just to know that we come from that type of stock, you got to keep that legacy going.
Okay and absolutely and you're originally a West Coast guy, you grew up in San Diego and now you're making the return back to LA and radio. How has the transition been for you?
I mean I love it man, I mean radio is the most intimate form of entertainment to me where you really connect with the community in a sincere way and you feel like you're a part of the community, that is my whole purpose of even jumping back into radio so I could touch as many communities as possible in an authentic way.
That's awesome and then so you used to do radio in New York and now you are on the West Coast, do you feel like there's a difference in the markets and how you have to connect with the people or is it all the same?
I think I just have to maintain myself, there is not any difference in that sense of really just being real, it's not about like where you are from? or how you approach each market. Oh, I am on the West Coast or I am on the East coast I feel like I want people that I connect to. I've lived on the West Coast to East Coast down south.
I've lived in every city that I've been on the radio in and it just feels like long as you stay true to yourself the people will definitely connect with you in that way.
That’s awesome. Nick speaking of staying true to who you are, I really feel like you are a person who really does really stay true to who you are and I think in every facet of everything you do you are truly yourself. I'm looking at your Instagram or stuff that you just say in the media or stuff that you say on the radio and I feel like you're like literally a hundred percent authentic. Has that ever been an issue for you in the industry being a hundred percent authentic?
Like for instance in the case of when you were on America's Got Talent and the way that ended, was that an issue for you?
No, I think that's the thing about being you, true and you live your truth, you're not really concerned with what other people think or how they move or how they react to it because you're living your truth .
Whether it's being able to walk away from millions of dollars or standing firm on my beliefs, everything from wearing a turban and saying whatever I want to say like this is who I am, I'm not living my life for anybody else or anybody else and that’s a blessing. I get to just be myself.
So I think I've never tried to be something that I'm not. I've never pretended to live a lifestyle that I didn't live. I've never tried to be something that I'm not or never professed to having something that I didn't have, never been one of those dudes that have a history full of like fakeness and secrets. I don't have none of that stuff. I am just me.
I think that's kind of why I can stand and move and operate the way that I do.
Okay and then again going back to being yourself, you're a guy that I've literally witnessed you stand up for Colin Kaepernick, I saw you stand up for Kevin Hart when he was going through the issue with the Oscars and everything like that.
Do you feel like it's your duty or obligation or actually do you think more black entertainers need to be more vocal about sticking up for each other in the industry and beyond the industry?
Yes man, I do. Like I mean I learned from individuals like Dick Gregory, Harry Belafonte, I feel like we come from like a time where there was community, they spoke out for each other, for the greater good of our people and that's ultimately where if you do see me speak out I kind of just try to step up and say like it is not about who is right, it is about what's right.
So let's just focus on trying to be right as humans and operate in a way where we are slow to judge and quicker to love and all this stuff, that is what ultimately life is.
Got you and then to just going back for a quick second to the America's Got Talent, Gabrielle Union recently just spoke up to about at least how she felt she was treated on the show and then I noticed that like right around that same time, I think you posted on Instagram saying, “while are we talking about it,” you posted from your standup comedy, “Niggas be careful” in reference to NBC. Was that like your way of addressing that without just coming out directly and saying it?
I always post my stand-up like and always like stuff that I feel like is relevant to the moment and clearly that's kind of what that was. Gabby is a dear friend of mine, we talk all the time and even during her time on AGT we would talk.
I'm not the , “I-told-you-so” type of guy to anybody and so that was kind of my way to be like this is the type of cultural insensitivity from these higher powers and networks and corporations, it's been going on for years, there's really nothing new, the least we could do is just acknowledge it.
I mean in a situation like what was going with Gabby we ought to stand behind her and support her a 100% even way more than people have been. I think is so important.
You touched on your stand up man and I think that's actually powerful that stuff you touched on a while back is actually still relevant and still going on. It’s a testament to you that you can go back to that moment and say, “Oh let me post this because this is going on, oh let me post this because that is going on.”
And earlier in the conversation you said how you felt radio was like the most intimate form of connecting with the people but do you feel like your comedy is also a way like that because you are face to face with the people when you are in that moment?
Yeah, comedy is different, comedy is the most intimate type of like you say something and you get the laugh or you don't get the laugh because they're right there but it's still a planned show. Radio it’s your call and there are no bells and whistles. I mean you're just yourself if you're not having a good day you got to know you're not having a good day.
If you have got to use the bathroom, you have to use the bathroom. When you are on stage doing standup, you're performing a show. Radio, you’re being yourself every day. You're vulnerable, you're open, you are outspoken so that's the only reason why I say radio is more intimate than standup. With standup there is that instant gratification or not depending on how well of a comedian you are.
Right and speaking on this whole thing of being yourself when I look at the show Wild 'N Out, I also feel- - I mean I know that's a show and you're there to entertain but I do feel like it's one of the most free shows I've seen on television in a sense.
For instance I like it when you guys are doing what you do, like the “Plead the Fifth,” challenge you all do - like that's you all really coming at each other about real stuff. Do you feel the same way about Wild 'N Out because that's your show, that's your baby so do you feel like you had to represent like a 100% of yourself when putting that show out?
Yeah, yeah that show I built that show, I created that show specifically a show that entertainers or anybody you don't have to take yourself that seriously, you can have fun even if you're going through something in life.
If we just say look, like we all have got to step back and just laugh, you know what I mean – there are cultural differences and everything. So I would say Wild 'N Out is probably the most progressive show on television and it doesn't get the credit for it because there's no other place that you could see someone who's from the transgender community go up against someone who's completely homophobic and they're going at each other and saying stereotypical homophobic type of jargon and stuff toward each other and at the end of the day they hug it out because it's all said in fun.
I mean there's no hate involved or you could get someone from two different communities, somebody from a Middle Eastern community going up against someone from a Jewish community and they're like going at each other and at the end of the day you realize that they're friends like it's like where else can you see that anywhere in history?
I mean and we do that on every single episode so I think we have been kind of been flying under the radar for a long time but I feel like the story that will be told later, it that we broke barriers. We are able to just put people just from different walks of life who normally would never get along become friends and actually deal with issues through comedy and it's like it never gets that credit.
That’s what I love about the show. It really is groundbreaking. I was recently watching Netflix and I think they did like a Def Jam comedy 25 year anniversary type of thing and I remember when I was looking at it and I was thinking back to Def Jam, about how groundbreaking that show was. I love Def Jam and I felt like it put a lot of black comedians on and I think Wild ‘N Out does the same thing but I think Wild ‘N Out is even more progressive in the sense of what you actually just said.
So 20 years from now or 25 years from now when people are talking about Wild 'N Out do you feel like it will get its props then? As you stated your show has put on many artists of color, different races, different lifestyles, etcetera, do you feel like it will get that recognition at that point?
I mean I hope so and I pray that my people, my family on the show continues to strive and become as successful as possible so we can have that type of legacy. I mean there will be no Def Jam if there was no the Martins, the Chris Tucker's, the Hardens, the Bill Bellamy's all the Dave Chappelle's all other people who graced that stage.
So the more people that could come up through the Wild ‘N Out ranks and become stars and be successful and do for themselves, man I encourage it and I want it. I'm looking for new talent each and every season that could become that next big star because I want to create that same type of legacy that Def Jam did.
Absolutely and speaking of Wild ‘N Out, the whole premise of it is the art of freestyle right and I remember on one of the episodes, I believe Method Man- - or no I think RZA was on the episode but in your freestyle you say, “How come Method Man is doing the same thing for that white man?”
So my question is, talking about how we grew up, how we freestyled on the corner, we did it in the school, we did it in the hallway and now you created a platform where we're making money off of it but there are others creating that same platform basically doing what we do and they are making money off of it. Do you have any feelings about that whatsoever?
Now I know in the Freestyle you're just doing a freestyle but do you really have any opinions about others are doing with freestyle culture?
Yeah I said there is two sides to jest, you don't be like that's the best kind of humor when you're like, “Oh yeah he's not lying thought, right.” I talk to Meth about that. We had a conversation about it so I would have said it to his face if he would have been there. It’s all comedy and we're joking around but at the same time you got to love the fact that our culture is growing so big that people are comfortable to take something that we've been doing for years and put it on their platforms.
I love what James Corden is doing all that stuff but at least you got to acknowledge where you got it and that's all I’m saying. Everybody just has to pay homage, give respect that's all I encourage.
I can't act like I created it either. Like you said, look at Def Jam, Uptown comedy club, and all those things that we grew up watching. The wild style movie - the first hip-hop movie ever created - I pull from all of those things from the culture, when I created Wild 'N Out.
Let’s get back into radio because I want to be respectful of your time. How does it feel to be going into syndication and launching a new show?
I'm excited man, I mean my goal is just to connect with every community I possibly can going into 2020 where we've been so successful and number one in in LA already and now you take it across the nation, hopefully globally.
I mean everything from our podcasting to my new syndicated daily talk show as well like I'm really trying to have my global footprint just be as massive as possible. I always tell people I've been chasing Oprah for a while so we making moves in 2020. You know, I'm on her heels, from radio, TV, digital, movies, music, comedy- I'm trying to do something nobody has ever done before.
And that's obvious and this will be my last question because I definitely do not want to keep you from your meeting which may be about all that stuff you listed. You got a new movie, “She Ball” coming, you’re a dad, and all of these things you are doing, how do you find the balance of being this amazing entrepreneur, being a dad and staying healthy with the past issues that you've had with your lupus and everything?
It's time management really but it's really protecting your energy at the end of the day. it sounds like work but these are the things that actually drive me and motivate me.
These are the things that are waking me up in the morning and give me a will to live. I want to affect our culture and do for our people the best thing I possibly can. So that's what drives me, that's what keeps me going and you have a team around you that actually manages everything which allows us to accomplish all the goals and all things that I set out to do.
That is what we are doing. It’ not about being the hardest-working man in showbiz but I'm trying to be the smartest working man in showbiz.
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No Excuses ... Because A Black Man CAN!!!I would never say that racism does not exist nor would I dare to say that a black man is not at a disadvantage from birth in this country. I KNOW this to be true. Racism, conditioning, no fathers in the home and poverty exists ... but so does opportunity. In the early 80s, a very young Byron Allen was a comedian on a show called Real People. He was the only Black comedian... doing the same job as his white counterparts but they were making a lot more money. He let it slide for a couple of seasons then finally went and asked for a pay increase from the powers that be and instead of giving him the money that he deserved ... they fired him. The experience could have crushed him and he could have relegated himself to the sidelines of life consistently rehearsing the experience for decades after giving up. Instead, he states, it was at that moment that he wanted to be in control of his OWN destiny.
There is Greater Value in Promoting Your Achievements over DesiresHave you ever noticed that most of Byron's press comes AFTER he has made an acquisition? That's pretty savvy considering 99.999% of entrepreneurs promote future events. It makes sense, we need to garner capital and pay expenses and bills BUT, as legitimate Black entrepreneurs, we also limit ourselves because we often only aim for just enough to get by instead of honoring our value and focusing on building generational legacy and wealth. Many of us with valuable brands are always struggling because we are chasing money instead of making it. Perhaps we feel as though we don't deserve wealth. As Byron stated in an interview with Black Enterprise "I' don't want to play in the Negro League I want to play in the Global League. I'm chasing Trillions ... Not Millions." What a powerful affirmation. How many of us say that to ourselves repeatedly ... every day or have it hanging on our mirror? When your press is about what you have already DONE, you separate yourself from the masses because it makes you more intriguing, eloquent and powerful. You are not asking for anything, you've already acquired what you want, you're simply letting people in on the news. Instead of going to the press this is when the press comes to YOU. And that's a very powerful position to be in. People want to know 'How did he do it?' 'What makes him different?' and 'Who is he?' Byron has become an expert at this. You rarely see him on social media saying "look at me, look what I've done, love me, please accept me, please believe in me, tell me how good I look." I'm not even sure if Byron has a personal Instagram or Twitter account. There are a few fake ones that others have set up in his name. He's a quiet riot who is constantly making great deals and letting his business acumen and achievement speak FOR him but he is not just doing it for himself.
Acquisition Trumps PartnershipsThis is one of Byron's strongest points, why partner with someone who has added control over your business decisions who is there to look over your shoulder when you can do it yourself by owning it and hiring people to do the needed work instead? Why incorporate someone else in on your idea? Everyone that I know of who has done partnerships describes it as a disaster. That's not always the case but the best way to do it is to be the sole owner. Once you establish enough capital, of course, acquisitions can more easily be done. Business is very similar to real estate but can be even more profitable more quickly. You would be amazed at how acquisitions can be done on any level with or without a lot of capital and the benefit, of course, is the blood, sweat, and tears are already invested. Who has time to continue to establish businesses when you can buy, hold or sell what someone else has started but doesn't want to finish? What black man do you know of that would have thought about buying the Weather Channel? Probably none. Byron is a businessman. He saw the opportunity. The huge platform was not owned by a major media corporation and he was aware that there is actually a large audience that wants to watch the weather all day and if you have had a chance to see it recently, it's very interesting to watch with all the added digital effects.
Serve the Greater AudienceWhen I say "greater" it's not as in "better" but as in LARGER. The black community holds the key to trends, culture, music and so many other avenues, yet as a community, unfortunately, we still don't respect black-owned businesses as much as we should. Entrepreneurs are not able to change the mindset of their teams, but they can change their teams and they simply have to put the best people in place if they are to grow. I know a restauranteur who makes great soul food and while most black entrepreneurs would think they could make the most money positioning that restaurant in a black neighborhood, he is in a very affluent white part of town where there are luxury cars parked on every street and expensive homes. He makes a killing because he's the only game in that area. Byron thinks about the widest possible audience he can attract instead of limiting himself and his business.
Make Your Presence Known!!!Byron's position on this is evident by his lawsuits, hanging all the dirty laundry of major corporations who make a killing off of black people but fail to spend or return any of that profit in advertising or support. I have heard black radio owners complain about this for decades, usually behind closed doors but I have never seen anyone go public and sue the FCC. Byron even exposed the beloved Al Sharpton and Comcast for sham diversity deals. These are often "hush money" deals designed to line the advocate's pockets instead of fixing the racist policies.
Don't Acquiesce, Stand Up For YourselfAs stated, most people would not even think of suing an organization like the FCC but Byron did. I implore you to research what that suit was about and you will see how it actually benefited the entire black community. There is not enough room to talk about it here.
Ask for, Acquire or Get What YOU Want, Not What Others Think You DeserveYour ability to achieve is none of anybody's business except your own. Byron is still relatively young and he has achieved more than most people could ever dream of. I'm sure that he has been discouraged in some of his deals but that doesn't stop him from aiming for his trillions.
Navigate in SilenceThis goes back to Byron not revealing his plans until they are done. When you tell the wrong people your plans they WILL discourage you. If it's not with their words it might be with their energy. This also lends itself to surrounding yourself with the right people. If you are in a room with the same people you were in the room with five years ago, you're not growing.
Entrepreneurship is KeyThe BEST way to do it is on your own. This is not to say that everybody can do it but true wealth is available to the man or woman who builds their own structures where the sky is the limit. A corporation can instantly lambaste your influence and power with a pink slip but an entrepreneur is not likely to look in the mirror and say to himself ... "You know, we've decided to make some changes and we're gonna have to let you go." That is unless he has lost it. Even if you are not an entrepreneur these same rules apply to brand building. Congratulations to Byron Allen for being an amazing businessman. More to come.
Greetings young radio brethren and sistren. I'm sure many of you have heard of Radio Facts during your career. For that, I'd like to give you some advice I hope you never forget.I am a very wise and brilliant elder MF who embraces technology and I LOVE it. I also admire Millenial and Gen Z concepts because you KNOW your value and you don't take the sh that we had to take. I surround myself with many of you people and I learn a lot and I teach those who I mentor what I'm about to tell you. I get that you don't like to be managed but understand, while that works for more opportunities there is a price to pay for it too when it comes to "relationships." I'm going to leave it up to you to figure out how to make that work but make sure you don't burn too many bridges that you might have to cross down the road. Allow me to thank you for opening the door to 40-year-old plus people to still get work because corporations are confused by you and they want people who are committed to achieving THEIR goals and there is nothing wrong with that either but for those who want to be on a faster track to success ... read on. Recently, I asked a millennial to do an assignment and he told me, "You know Kevin, I'm really not interested in doing that!" I cracked up because he reminded me of ME. I was a "millennial" in the 80s and 90s which is how I ended up being an entrepreneur. I felt that every boss I ever had was no smarter than me and I could do their job as good or BETTER than they did so I might as well own the company too. I truly hope that many of you are on a path to entrepreneurship because at the end of the day, its the hardest you will ever commit yourself but you will love every minute of it because it belongs to YOU. Notice I said, "commit." Know there is a HUGE difference between "commitment" and "work." Click "NEXT" to see the next suggestion and pass this on to every other Radio DJ you know. Share, share, share.
Whatever you want, GIVE it away firstThe first rule is selfishness is an interest-bearing account that YOU pay the interest for. And there WILL come a time for the universe to collect the debt. Someone ALWAYS needs your help. Know that what you give not only comes back but it comes back in multiples. I know from experience. There are some industry people who are selfish in their approach to success. NEVER be that person. They will always develop a reputation for being greedy and playing games and end up with the short end of the stick. Give and when I say "give" make it from your HEART, not for Social Media points. For example, if you give a homeless man or woman $20.00, that's not an opportunity to humiliate them and pat yourself on the back by filming it and putting it on social media to make yourself look good. Your intention will be blatant and self-serving and there is no reward for that kind of sh. Nobody has to know your good deeds besides the person or situation that you help and the universe. Click "NEXT" to see the next suggestion and pass this on to every other Radio DJ you know. Share, share, share.
Radio is a Springboard NOT a Recliner.I could literally write this paragraph and make it the entire story. I cannot tell you HOW many times, EVEN STILL TODAY that I have seen industry people stuck in their career roles. They lose one job after working there for 5 years then get the same job for 5 more years somewhere else and the cycle repeats itself for 20 years. If you are comfortable, YOU ARE NOT GROWING AND YOU ARE GETTING OLDER. At some point, opportunities start to fade, you want to make sure you are prepared for them when they knock at your door. If you are working for a corporation that won't let you grow and is stagnating you, start the journey and look for something else. But use your job to do other related things that will make you more valuable at your next gig. If they ask you to work your ass off doing 10 jobs ... that's a blessing. Learn how to do as much as you can and get paid for it instead of looking at it like abuse. Look at it like college and a stipend instead. Those skills will come in handy down the road. The more you know translates to the more you can work. It's how I started this site and magazine. When I worked at Urban Network Magazine in the early 90s, they made me the Rap Editor, I HATED that job and it wasn't me but I learned how to do sales and I developed relationships with many people who are still in the industry today. We grew up in the industry together. Of course, the white people moved up the ladder much faster and to more powerful positions but we were all still kids in the industry (lol). There was a LOT of infighting and power fights at Urban and I knew my time was limited there but while the "adults" were fighting each other for power I was learning how to do a damn magazine ... the REAL power of owning my own. Thanks, Urban Network. Preciate chew. Finally, befriend one or two of the salespeople at the station and take them to lunch, this kind of relationship is invaluable down the road. Click "NEXT" to see the next suggestion and pass this on to every other Radio DJ you know. Share, share, share. [caption id="attachment_239252" align="alignnone" width="1000"] Set the clock and get up and move when you need to. Time waits for no one, so don't wait for time.[/caption]
Time Waits for No One, So Don't Wait for Time!Another mistake a LOT of people in my generation made was not having a goal or time limit set. They were hoping they could keep working forever and I will tell you, even the BIGGEST stars in the industry start to fade over time and the top reason is they didn't diversify on their way up or when they were successful. EVERYTHING was linked to their job, except for a backup plan and when that job is gone so are their opportunities. Wendy Williams told me HERSELF that she didn't expect to have the TV show, she was ready to retire after working on the air for many years and close it out at her last station WBLS. But because she wrote those best-selling books during her tenure and did that interview with Whitney Houston, she opened more doors for herself and when the offer came to do the TV show a whole new life began outside of radio. Having a backup plan extends far beyond another job or career, it means investing in real estate or stocks early in your career or taking advantage of opportunities that come with working in radio. It means going back to school online and getting another degree. It's about growth NOT stagnation. Click "NEXT" to see the next suggestion and pass this on to every other Radio DJ you know. Share, share, share.
Have a Plan B in Progress NOWThings will not always be as they are right now. In your career. You will have ups and downs. ALWAYS and I mean ALWAYS have something to fall back on. Ask yourself what else you could be doing in your market to build your experience and your brand and do it WHILE YOU ARE WORKING. Some stations will want you to tell them first and I get it ... but then again I don't. ALWAYS PUT YOUR CAREER FIRST then look out for everybody else however you can after that. If you find yourself running into a wall with the station that you work at now start looking for a new gig. As a matter of fact, ALWAYS BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR THE NEXT OPPORTUNITY. Click "NEXT" to see the next suggestion and pass this on to every other Radio DJ you know. Share, share, share.
If an Opportunity Doesn't Present itself ... CREATE ONE"Seek and ye shall find ... wait and ye shall perish." OK, that's my made-up statement but it's the truth. From the years that I have done this site, it's the bold and brazen Radio DJs who make waves not the ones who don't take control of their own destinies. Life is short. Get to where you want to go faster by being who you really are and demanding the world know you are here to create a legacy. It's your vehicle, drive it. Click "NEXT" to see the next suggestion and pass this on to every other Radio DJ you know. Share, share, share.
Get a Mentor, Then Again, Maybe NOTI've been in the industry for 30 plus years. This is the first time in my entire career that I have ever had a mentor and he is white. I hate to say it but black men in this industry don't look out for each other enough. I've developed some great relationships with Black men that I grew up with in the industry so not ALL Black men are like that but I have to ask other elder BM to step up to the plate and mentor young black men. Out of ALL the press releases we get about people being promoted to power positions in the industry 1% maybe 2% out of 100% are black men. That's pretty fkn sad so I get it. We are not afforded many opportunities and it's unbalanced considering the charts and how many back men are the ones who bring a ton of money to the table but then again, sports is no different. Also, it is the reason you should explore creating your OWN vehicle. If you don't pay it forward there will be a heavy price to pay where you will need people you may have ignored in your career. I was once told that this industry is like a record (I know you may not know what a 45 looks like but ask your mother if she still has some) it goes round and round and that's true. Anyone who came close to being a mentor to me was white. Had I had a mentor, I may not have been as successful as I am because I would have been taught go-along-to-get-along concepts from their own fears. I get it because people from my generation watched our parents and grandparents have to do it because of racism. But I needed people in my corner who were fearless. If all that is available to you are people of other races don't turn the opportunity down. Go by your gut and how you feel about the situation if you feel like you could learn something or benefit from the situation go for it. Click "NEXT" to see the next suggestion and pass this on to every other Radio DJ you know. Share, share, share.
Never Love Radio More than it Loves YouI've seen people make this mistake and literally die as a result. If you need to separate yourself or divorce radio DO IT, you can ALWAYS come back but don't let other opportunities pass you by in the process. People who had so many other talents have been trapped by the radio game by not exploring other opportunities. Don't believe that radio is all that you can do. It's an addictive trap that can end up killing you. You can do MUCH more until the next opportunity comes along. In addition, the universe likes what's moving. You are either in the race or on the sidelines cheering on those in the race and giving them water. Which one will you be?
Aim HIGH(er)If you have been a Radio DJ for three years, tell your boss or the PD that you want to get into management (if you actually want to). You will not get what you don't ask for in a reasonable amount of time. Give yourself 10 years to climb the radio ladder don't be in your 40s or 50s still working a shift if you have higher aspirations. If you WANT to be on the air for life than so be it. This story is not for you. But ASK FOR WHAT YOU WANT and if you don't get it from your current situation, start planning your move. Don't be dedicated to a situation that will divorce you in a split second if you don't deliver.
URGENT...Take pictures for press and OWN the use of themThis is SO important and a small investment that can pay off big. Most quality sites won't run your press without quality images. Take PROFESSIONAL pictures every couple of years not every 10 years after you have gained 50 pounds and you look different or you are bald on the top of your head or your hairstyle is dated. I know people who are using images that are 20 years old right now in the industry. Get PROFESSIONAL pics and all the coverage that you can get from the industry trades will be available to you. Out of everybody I know in the industry DeDe McGuire is CONSTANTLY updating her pics and I see her all over social media. This is a great investment for your career. I know that there are barely any urban trades besides us and we are willing to promote you here if it's newsworthy. But make sure your pics are updated and professional and MAKE SURE YOU HAVE PERMISSION TO USE THEM. After a recent situation, we will be taking our own pictures but you don't want an opportunity to promote yourself held up by some BS like a photographer who you paid that refuses to let you use the pics. This is where "the hook up" can get complicated. Dig in your pocket and pay for the pics and GET PERMISSION TO USE IN WRITING. If the station doesn't get your pics taken or promote your efforts PROMOTE YOURSELF. Send us a note about your promotion and we will post it. If the corporation has a problem with us posting it tell them to contact me.
Never Aspire to be Like Someone ElseCharlamagne, DeDe McGuire, Rick Party, Envy, Frank Ski and Greg Street, to name a few, are one of a kind and they all got to where they are by being themselves. Back in the day when Frankie Crocker was hot EVERY black male Radio DJ in the industry (and some female Radio DJs) copied his style. They sounded ridiculous. Be who YOU are and create your OWN legacy. Until then, we can't wait for your star to shine. Remember it's up to YOU to make it happen. Share this story (remember, pay if forward) and ask any questions in comments or via email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. My best Kev
Orlando Davis - WLLD-Tampa "WiLD 94-1 Tampa, FL. Beasley MediaOrlando Davis is one of our favorite PDs. It is rare that we see programmers utilize social media as well as he does and who find an equal balance between being a programmer, morning show host and a radio personality simultaneously. He's funny, timely and interesting and he's consistently on social media promoting his station and his morning show and keeps us up to date with what's going on with the station with a great newsletter that we get a couple of times a week. You always know to click his videos because he's going to say something interesting. In addition, he's cognizant of social issues and charitable causes and he covers quite a bit of industry ground and makes it appear effortless, but we all know the amount of work this must entail. We got a chance to talk to him recently about his station and opinions about radio and the industry. RADIO FACTS: Do you think commercial radio is going to have a hard time in the future when it comes to competing with Streaming? ORLANDO DAVIS: I believe commercial radio still has the ear of the people. We have throngs of listeners who stream, but run up with their take on the morning show's argument, from that day. Content wins and while radio has beaten into our heads that "music is the star", it may have to move over because great content has a space on the Walk of Fame, as well. What are your thoughts on Podcasting? I think podcasting is the in-depth conversation, of old. I've been in the business long enough to remember listening to the great Tom Joyner and Doug Banks interviews, where you learned more about the guest instead of gaining "oh wow click bait". Howard Stern was another that could pull things, from the subject, that made you get lost in the conversation and still does. That's what good podcasts accomplish. Less PPM mechanisms and real exchange, without being under the gun. Some PDs think the talent pool for new Radio DJs is drying up, do you? No Have you looked at Podcasters as potential Radio DJs on your station? No...luckily we've grown a lot of our own talent and drafted some great Radio DJs, to continue the WiLD tradition. However, I'm not above looking at anyone who gets how to connect with the Tampa Bay audience. Who would you consider to be your biggest competitors in the market? We've been blessed to be in that upper space, of the ratings, for numerous years now so our competition is everyone. I can't just look at the Top 40's or Urban AC, as our world. We've handily beaten them, in the last year, and are now watching them perform format tweaks and perceptual studies, trying to gain ground. We pay attention to the AC above us, the country station below us etc. We focus on our own product and relationship with the audience but welcome smoke, from all sides. Some of the other programmers say "All" when you ask about the biggest competitors. Why are stations with different formats also important? Growth...progress...more opportunity. From McDonald's to the dope boys depicted in Hollywood film, do they stop with dominating their current space? #1 at hamburgers, let's take on the coffee market. Maximizing profit, on this block, let's expand and take over "the Carter". If it's savvy enough of a business tactic for Steve Easterbrook or Nino Brown, it makes sense for us, as well. What do you think of the growing festival market? I don't believe many are making the real money, that the branded festivals (Coachella, Bonnaroo, Essence and EDC) are doing. Kids give up their hard earned money, so they expect an incredible experience. Many have been led astray by the short money outings, who do nothing but blow comps for other live performance rates. A company tried, a few clicks south of us, with the Okeechobee Festival and it's now defunct. It's harder than people think, to create the magic that audiences and artists trust. With the festival market exploding without radio, how do you think big summer station events will fare in the near future? I disagree that it's "without radio". While radio doesn't have a financial share in the festivals, those artists are cultivated and nurtured, at radio. As far as the people trying to duplicate the New York, summer radio model, that's gonna be heavy lifting. Mainly because mediocre acts are asking, AND GETTING, astronomical dollars, for sets hardly better than most high school talent shows. I've seen $150k quotes from artists topping the charts, and an artist who's never made it above 30 on the charts. Huh? If promoters are handing out big paper, to hear artists sing over their records, how is there any chance at ROI? How do you make your events different from the competing stations? We produce it. I trust my team over any of the people we compete with. Do you find it hard to find morning show producers? Morning show producers are the same as the air talent pool, you have to know where to find them and be willing to mold them to fit your needs. Are there other positions that are hard to fill? There is only one thing that is a battle in procuring talent...their expectations. We all got into radio and took roles that weren't sexy, we did grunt work and got unfettered access to a world most of us have fought to remain in. The lawsuit wielding interns, above grabbing lunch, or putting up off decorations have made their expectations the enemy. The "I've been in promotions 5 months, when do I get my shot" mentality is cancer. It's not deadly, but it is uncomfortable. What is your greatest challenge as a programmer? Time to be creative. The best ideas have come from spending time with the staff or listening to the radio station. However emailed tasks, initiatives and assignments, make it difficult. We have to be all things, which makes us have value but there is a cost of too many things that pull out of the kitchen. What do you think makes a GREAT programmer today?
- Ability to notice greatness in others.
- Awareness of who the audience is and what they enjoy.
- Time management.
- And a bomb squad of people, moving in the same direction.
- Jimmy Steal
- Kid Curry
- Thea Mitchem
NICOLE GEORGE-MIDDLETON SENIOR VP, MEMBERSHIP AT ASCAP
Nicole George-Middleton is the Senior Vice President, Membership at ASCAP. She’s been with the company for nine years...by Kevin Ross
An entertainment attorney by trade, Middleton developed an interest in music from her mother who wrote/writes songs as a hobby. She manages a team in New York, Atlanta, and Los Angeles and makes sure her team is up to date on every aspect of growing technology to ensure ASCAP songwriters are compensated fairly. Here she offers some often overlooked insight on what it takes to be successful in the entertainment industry along with great advice for Women of Color in Media.
As you are an attorney by trade, did you always have an interest in music?
Yes, I was exposed to music and songwriting at an early age because my mom wrote songs as a hobby (she still does when she has time). So music has always piqued my interest. When I decided to go to law school and was trying to figure out what to specialize in, entertainment—specifically music—made the most sense, because it would provide me an opportunity to work in a field that had always inspired me.
Has your skill as an attorney benefited you in your current position?
I think so. I believe my training as an entertainment attorney gives me deeper insight into the issues songwriters face with respect to music publishing and copyright law as a whole. As a result, I can be a stronger advocate for them.
Are there times that you miss being an attorney?
I’ll always be an attorney. I worked hard for that “Esq.” behind my name, but I really love what I’m doing now.
Tell us about your team.
I have an awesome staff in New York, Atlanta, and Los Angeles. They’re extremely talented and creative. They each have amazing relationships and a good ear for music. This allows them to be an invaluable resource for our songwriters. They’re also really supportive of each other, which is key. We really are a team.[caption id="attachment_183070" align="alignnone" width="600"] Usher, Jermaine Dupri, Nicole, Ne-Yo and Bow Wow. Photo credit ASCAP[/caption]
What is a typical day like for you?
Whenever I’m not traveling, my mornings are dedicated to my kids because often times I don’t return home from work until they’re fast asleep. So I make it a point to spend quality time with them in the morning. Once they’re off to school/camp, then my day revs up quickly and is filled with phone calls and a combination of meetings with my team, senior management, songwriters and/or their representatives, and it continues well into the evening with after-work meetings, dinners, and industry events.
How many hours a day do you work on average?
It’s hard to calculate, work really never stops. I just have to force myself to put my phone down some time.
“Never stop trying. Take the meeting, even if it seems invaluable. Listen. Learn. Meet everyone. Remember people. Take care of the people who take care of you”
I see that you are often relegated as “Powerful” and “Boss” in many stories written about you. Do you think people are remotely aware of how much hard work it takes to do what you do?
Hopefully, they gain more insight into what it really takes through articles like this, but I try to emphasize whenever I can that it’s not all glamorous; it’s enjoyable, but it does consist of a lot of hard work and long hours.
Do you feel they should understand the hard work aspect more often?
Individuals that want to pursue a similar career should definitely do their research to fully understand how much work and sacrifice goes into a career like this.[caption id="attachment_183072" align="alignnone" width="620"] Mary Mary and Nicole. Photo Credit ASCAP[/caption]
What is the most challenging aspect of technology for you?
Keeping up with it. It changes so rapidly.
What makes ASCAP stand out from competitors?
ASCAP is the only member-owned and run PRO—our board is made up entirely of songwriters and publishers. We operate on a non-profit basis, and 88 cents of every dollar we collect goes back to our members as royalties. Everything ASCAP does is aimed at protecting the rights of music creators and defending the fair market value of their music in the marketplace. Our mission is to fight for music creators, who are the heart and soul of the music industry.[caption id="attachment_183073" align="alignnone" width="600"] Tribe Called Quest and Nicole. Photo Credit ASCAP[/caption]
Your organization holds several events and awards during the year. Tell us about some of those events.
We just hosted our 30th annual Rhythm & Soul Music Awards in June. It’s our biggest event of the year and one of my favorites because we get to celebrate the individuals behind the songs we all know and love.
This year, we posthumously honored Biggie with the ASCAP Founder’s Award and Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis with the ASCAP Voice of Music Award. It was such a fun night. In addition to award shows, we also host events that help our songwriters hone in on the business and craft of songwriting, like the ASCAP EXPO, which is the only national conference dedicated to songwriting and composing, and The Collective, a three-day songwriting workshop where budding songwriters are paired up with veteran industry mentors and taught the ins and outs of how to write a hit song.
What do you estimate is your greatest career achievement at this point?
I think one of my greatest career achievements at this point is being able to balance my demanding work schedule with my personal schedule as a wife and mom. It’s challenging, but I’ve found a system that works and I’m proud of that.[caption id="attachment_183074" align="alignnone" width="596"] Nicole with Jimmy Jam. Photo Credit ASCAP[/caption]
What do you deem are the vital tools for success and longevity in the industry as a songwriter?
I think the best thing a songwriter can do to ensure his/her longevity in this business is educating himself/herself on the business surrounding songwriting so that he/she is not just relying on what people tell them. You have to invest in yourself in order to really be successful, and part of that investment should be to educate yourself on the ins and outs of your craft.
Do you find that songwriters want to also perform or are most dedicated to songwriting only?
It varies. Some songwriters are also performers and some choose to stay behind the scenes and just write. That’s the beauty of songwriters; they come in all different forms and fashions.
With so many mediums, movies, TV, commercials, radio, streaming, podcasts, internet radio, restaurants, etc. how do you keep track of your artists being paid fairly?
Our main role is to make sure our members are fairly compensated when their music is performed in public. We do this by negotiating with and collecting license fees from the users of music who perform the 10.5 million works in our repertory and send the money to our members as royalties.
We use cutting-edge technology to track, match, process, and pay on a trillion performances each year. As music usage has changed and technology has become more sophisticated and economical, ASCAP has continuously innovated to put more money in the pockets of ASCAP members. For example, the digital data we get from radio and streaming services get processed by ASCAP’s award-winning Audio Performance Management (APM) platform, which matches performance data to the works registered in ASCAP’s databases.
The music landscape constantly changes; is there an average lifespan for a songwriter or do you have some who are still successful after decades? Who are some of them?
In my opinion, there is no lifespan for a songwriter. Look at ASCAP’s Chairman and President of the Board, Paul Williams, he’s been writing classic songs since the 70s and won a Grammy for a song he co-wrote with Daft Punk in 2014.[caption id="attachment_183075" align="alignnone" width="433"] Ne-Yo and Nicole. Photo Credit ASCAP[/caption]
What do you do when you find yourself feeling overwhelmed?
I stop what I’m doing to just breathe. Sometimes we get so caught up in whatever we’re doing we forget to just breathe. I also take walks. Walking is therapeutic for me.
What are some of your hobbies outside of the industry?
Honestly, spending time with my family is what I do most when I’m not working. It’s become my favorite pastime. My kids are also involved in lots of activities, so my husband and I spend most our free time supporting them in their activities. I do love to read, and when I can find a spare minute that’s what I’ll do.SEE THE OTHER WOMEN OF COLOR IN MEDIA 2017 INTERVIEWS
If you had just 60 seconds to tell a room full of young women of color how to succeed in the media industry, what would you tell them?
I would tell them to network as much as they can. Relationships are key in this industry. I would tell them to always maintain their integrity and be women of their word. Lastly, I would tell them not to be afraid to use their voice to advocate for themselves. Closed mouths don’t get fed.Get your copy of this monumental issue while they last for just $20,00. Click below