If your dream is a music career with concert tours, screaming fans and maybe a few roadies thrown in - this is for you. I had a great time interviewing mega music manager, Debra Baum, CEO db entertainment . As a music producer and music manager she has managed mega stars like Paula Abdul and Tears for Fears, produced a staggering array of music for the film industry and recently took on the internet sensation, Rebecca Black. Debra gives us insight on the ropes of building a music career, shares her perspective on how the music industry is changing, and tips on how to get famous!
A great piece of advice she gives for aspiring musicians is to read Don Passman’s book - Everything you ever wanted to know about the music business. Check it out.
The following is an excerpt from my Get Famous Friday radio interview with Debra on September 13, 2013. You can hear the entire interview via the link below.
AMANDA: Give us a little bit of insight about what you do for music artists.
DEBRA: The core of my business is management. So, it’s really guiding their careers, directing, at this stage in the music business really all the areas for them, recording, touring, the media, all angles of their career. They’re like little businesses unto themselves, the artists that I have been working with.
AMANDA: How did you get started?
DEBRA: Well, I lied and said I was 18 and got a job at KIIS FM. But, thankfully back then, nobody could Google you and they didn’t ask to see a driver’s license or anything like that so I was 18 to them.
AMANDA: And, what were you doing for them?
DEBRA: I happened to land in the best department in a radio station. It was by pure luck that this happened to me. Before Ryan Seacrest there was a very famous DJ named Rick Dees - he was very instrumental in saying “You know, you should try and apply for a job here at this station and there’s a position in programming and promotions “. Well programming is where the record labels would come in every Monday and sit with the program director and pitch their artists as to why they should be added to the radio station playlist. And that’s how it started.
AMANDA: I ‘m sure the industry has changed a lot since those beginning years. How has it changed?
DEBRA: From those days it was pretty straight forward. You got a record deal if you were a recording artist. You got with a manager and you got an agent. The record company really did the lion’s share of the heavy lifting, although the manager was so important. At that time you could get a record deal and there was a radio promotions department, there was a publicity department, artist development, A+R department that would help you with budgets and songs and finding the producers. Nowadays, it’s really outsourced for everybody and you do it all yourself. So that change is huge because the departments no longer really exist.
Obviously record companies are very important, still to this day, hands down. They certainly finance a lot but they take a lot more. When you used to get a deal they would take record royalties so the record sales would happen, that’s when they would make their money. Now, if you go in to get a record deal, they participate really in every avenue of your career. So, if you sell tee shirts at a show, they make money that way, the concert tickets, publishing – if you write a song, if you decide that you want to start a clothing line like Jessica Simpson or Daisy Fuentes – they participate in all that. You want to become an actor – those are the deals now. It’s called 360 deals so that’s a big change.
AMANDA: Tell us about Rebecca Black because her story is really a statement about – how the industry has changed and the power of the Internet and getting famous via the internet.
DEBRA: I met her just around the beginning of March 2011. It was on the news, people were talking about this young girl from Anaheim, CA. She was having this viral sensation and I was like what’s this viral sensation?
I had a meeting at Ryan Seacrest’s company and the head of the online there said “I’d really like you to meet Rebecca and her parents because she really needs some direction and she did an interview with Ryan and we looked at each other and said you know we’ve got to help her with some representation”. She was 13 years old when I first met her, that’s when all this took place.
In February of 2011 she recorded a song for a company, they were called Ark Music Factory. For a $4,000 package you owned the recording and you owned the video. Rebecca went in and recorded the song. These guys who were up and coming, wrote Friday for her. They recorded it and they did the music video. The company Ark Music Factory put it up on their website. She didn’t realize they were going to do that and all of a sudden somebody made fun of it and it was Daniel Tosh at Tosh.0 and once he made fun of it – it went crazy. At the time, there was 10 views, 100 views, 1000 views and then 1 million, 2 million, 6 million. I think when I met her she was at 18 million and that was literally in a week. So that was an interesting journey for her because literally she’s a girl 13 years old in junior high school. She comes home one day in her gym clothes and there’s a news camera at her front door, they want to interview her.
AMANDA: So how did the two of you connect?
DEBRA: She had done Jay Leno earlier in the week, it was the first week she started dealing with the media. She had done Good Morning America and she was doing a number of foreign television interviews and MTV was down there at a recording studio in Brea. We sat in this recording studio with her parents and she was exhausted because she was doing back to back interviews. Because I came highly recommended from Tony Novia and Ryan Seacrest her parents said “Would you consider working with her?” I said that I’m not sure, the recording doesn’t really sound like she can sing that well. So I am wondering you know, is this something that she really wants to do? She came into the room at that point and said “Oh my God, I want to do this so bad. But right now it just seems like everybody hates me ”. I said well I wouldn’t pay attention to that. Let’s just decide, what do you want to do? You have a lot of attention, let’s see if we can turn that around.
AMANDA: It’s her real big shot. It’s like ramping her up for prime time.
DEBRA: Yes, but doing it quickly because you have that audience’s attention or the public’s attention.
AMANDA: It’s the opportunity to change their minds in one shot.
DEBRA: Hopefully. Everything was crossed after I gave them the plan. It was about going to song writers that I had known for many years and saying I need some songs written. Not only that, but identifying who the right musicians would be, the right producer was so important. The video was going to be a very important component obviously since the video Friday had gone so crazy.
The video was very successful, the single sold really well and we got a company called RB Friday Inc, which is Rebecca’s company. She owns all the videos, all the masters. I made sure that every single thing that we did, she 100% owned. Which harks back to what you said, how have things changed in this climate today in the music business in particular. It’s that you can own your master recordings whereas before you signed to a record company and they owned them forever.
AMANDA: In this age of the independent artist or the internet artist, can someone make it on their own or do they still need a team of professionals around them?
DEBRA: It’s such good question Amanda. They do still need professionals, in particular a manager. I always try to say to people that don’t understand the music business , it’s not too different from running a company. It’s like being the CEO of a company and you have a legal department maybe and you have a media department, and you have a radio department and everybody kind of funnels through the manager.
AMANDA: How does someone get on your radar? Is somebody able to post a video on YouTube and then all of a sudden they get discovered?
DEBRA: I find people through referrals. Lawyers in particular, are great referrals because a lot of people go to lawyers first when they are trying to figure out how to register their songs. Maybe they need a producer agreement with somebody and then they’ll say “You know I’m going to look for a manager next”, and so music lawyers are good referrals for that. Business managers, accountants sometimes get artists early on especially if they have private funding. They look for an accountant to help them put together budgets and such. So basically it’s referral. I don’t take any unsolicited material.
AMANDA: Who is up and coming that has your heart that we can look forward to?
DEBRA: Well that’s a question! Because I am so excited about an artist her name is Chloe . She goes by Chloe Kat and she is 19 years old. I honestly can say hand on heart, I have been fortunate enough to know a lot of artists before they had record deals while they were still in the recording or demo stages and I say this with every breath in me that I haven’t been this excited about any artist since I had the demos of Coldplay in my hand. She’s really amazing. She’s a singer songwriter that, I haven’t met a female artist like this really. She’s authentic and real and caring and she wants her music to heal people. She has a song called Linger On that the very first line says “I don’t want love if all I get is lust”. You know, that’s a big deal for adults, or even young people. You get caught up in all of that. She’s pretty special.
AMANDA: This quote captures so much, “The business aspect is one of the most important things about having a music career because every choice you make in a management meeting affects your life 1 year and a half from now”, Taylor Swift said that. In talking about Chloe and any young artist, what advice would you give to them about what the first important steps are for them in getting their career on track?
DEBRA: Well I think first educate themselves. There’s enough you know, really great books out there. Someone in particular that I know, Don Passman has written a book called Everything you ever wanted to know about the music business and it’s been a best selling book for a really long time. Educating yourself on the business aspect of it is going to be key for any new artist. Also, that they choose really wisely their representation. That somebody teaches them along the way.
AMANDA: Right and the more savvy you can be about your career, the more control you ultimately have and you have the ability to ultimately grow yourself as a business as well as an artist.
DEBRA: Absolutely. If you’re a songwriter really continue and nurture that because that’s everything. That’s your intellectual property. Owning your master recordings and your publishing is everything. It’s like real estate.
AMANDA: Do you think artists educate themselves enough on the commercial value of what they’re creating or do they sort of walk in and they’re a deer staring into the headlights and they get taken advantage of?
DEBRA: I do think that still exists. Especially now because there are people out there that will say you don’t really need a record company, come sign with me. They’re production entities and that production entity will then sign to a Warner, a Sony, a Universal and that person is really who the contractual record deal is with and then they pay the artist. A lot of them are legitimate and fine and good, but there are a lot of them that take 50% of something and it seems those are a lot of people who are inexperienced and are really just trying to catch a wave.
AMANDA: How can an artist know whether they’re dealing with someone who is taking advantage of them or somebody who is legitimate?
DEBRA: It’s so great that we have Google now! Honestly, everything you want to know. But really, I think that somebody that has a well-rounded background that understands all areas of the entertainment business. I think that’s important for any manager worth their salt these days that they have to have all of those areas covered. So Google and see if they’ve had long term relationships, if they’ve done something from scratch it means something big.
AMANDA: When you take on a new client like Chloe, one of these young up and comers, what’s the timeline?
DEBRA: Well, it’s interesting the quote you said about Taylor Swift because she said you know that everything in your management meeting is a year and a half later. I think young artists probably don’t realize that by the time they start to make the royalties, literally if you sign with a label, it’s like 18 months later maybe. That’s if you’ve sold the records and done something successful. So, I would say that management contracts are 3 to 5 years and like any new thing, when you start a new business, they say it takes like 3 years really. But you start to see something in about a year.
AMANDA: I’m sure getting into the studio and recording and trying different songs and trying to get their sound really nailed down is important.
DEBRA: With Rebecca, we had to find those songs. Now, with Chloe, she writes the songs so it’s not really having to identify those songs because she’s come really together. She’s got a sound so that’s exciting. With Chloe, I think we’ll start seeing her in the next month or so. She’s on the runway.
AMANDA: Alright so we’re gonna start hearing her songs on the radio and she’s going to start becoming a household name.
DEBRA: Yes. Absolutely, that is what I feel.
AMANDA: When someone is starting out. What are the steps they need to take to even get to a place where they can consider getting a manager? What do they need to do?
DEBRA: I would say work very hard on your songs. Nowadays you don’t have to go into a professional studio to do demos, you can do it off your laptop, find a way to record something. Even on your iphone, you can do an acoustic guitar and put your iphone down. If someone’s got talent and they’ve got a really good hook and melody, and they’ve got great lyrics that accompany that, even if they’ve got no lyrics, even if it’s just a hook and a melody and you know that you can put them together with a lyricists. I’d say get as much material as you can together to show by putting your best foot forward with your songs. Have a visual component so somebody can see what you look like holding your instrument. If you have band members have a little bit of a look. When artists that are up and coming look at the artists they admire, what do those guys look like? How do they dress? Not to copy them, but just come up with your own kind of style and have some photographs.
AMANDA: Then how do they get it in front of you or whomever they’re sending it to?
DEBRA: Well, the good thing is if they go to lawyers because lawyers can be really helpful. Lawyers will be a little bit more open to new stuff. The reason that managers and agents don’t take unsolicited material from anybody is because heaven forbid down the road one of their clients does a song that sounds like something that was submitted to them a long time ago, it could be. Legally you just don’t want to do that. You want to make sure work comes through a reliable source.
AMANDA: Is a music industry lawyer, with a specialty in that area where they would start?
DEBRA: Yes. Also, with StudioVox, when you have people that are a part of that, you can go and listen to things. You might then say to a manager , let’s go to a certain section and let’s listen to new stuff. Maybe get a group of people together because there should be an outlet for new artists in case they can’t get the attention of a lawyer. That’s an interesting thing to do.
AMANDA: Do you suggest self branding themselves as much as they possibly can across whatever social media channels so that they’re easy to find, easy to see, easy to hear.
DEBRA: Absolutely. I would say to an artist, make sure you get a YouTube channel. Get your social media stud together. Get a Facebook fan page, get your social media stuff together. If you’ve got enough people following you, I don’t care if it’s 5 or 500 or whatever it is, get a Twitter account. Those components are incredibly important today.
AMANDA: What is your best number one tip for success?
DEBRA: To educate yourself on the business and if you’re really a true artist, write your material.
You can follow Debra on Twitter @Debra_Baum
This interview in it’s entirely can be heard here.