Million Dollar Ideas: 5 Essential Business Tips from Chris Dubois and Marc Driskill

By Lily Lyons

Students sidled into the Red Room on a sunny Friday afternoon, as country ballads played softly in the background. I could almost imagine I was in Nashville, which was fitting, as our guest speakers were country-hit writer Chris Dubois and music business mogul Marc Driskill. They were at Berklee to talk about the rise of Sea Gayle Music, the meteorically successful independent publishing company that Chris co-founded and Marc recently joined as executive VP and General Manager. Over the course of their two-hour Q&A, Chris and Marc gracefully shared their industry experiences, and gave some hardcore advice to aspiring songwriters and CEOs. Here’s what they had to say:

  1. Create a need for yourself. “Creating a need for yourself is as important as getting a job,” Marc told us. He stressed that we should figure out what makes each of us indispensible and unique, rather than trying to be what we think the industry will want. Brainstorming about making a job rather than worrying about finding a job felt like a much-needed shift in perspective for me.
  1. Find your team. Chris and Marc both felt it was essential to have “those go-to people you work with, and work with well.” Nobody is great at every aspect of the business—artists need songwriters, songwriters need publishers and so forth. Having a team also means having advocates: “it’s hard to tell other people how great your songs are,” Chris said and everyone laughed knowingly.
  1. PROs are about networking for you. When a current student asked whether joining a PRO was worth it, Chris and Marc were much more optimistic than I expected. They talked about how ASCAP and BMI are great resources for career building and finding industry mentors. Chris pointed out that his chart-breaking co-writing partnership with Brad Paisley began while they were both working for ASCAP.
  1. Streaming will ultimately mean more creativity. Marc had scathing criticism for the recent DOJ decision on the consent decrees. But though he was cynical about the current state of the music business, he had hope for the future. “All of our challenges are also opportunities,” he mused on streaming, “the result of more people having access to more music can only be more opportunities.” He predicted that companies like Spotify will eventually have to go public and be under more pressure and scrutiny.
  1. Great songs come first. When asked what he looks for during a pitch, Chris responded: “I listen for greatness.” He qualified this statement by saying that the two biggest things he wants to see in young writers are “potential and nuggets of gold” and a track record of excellent work. He advised us to be patient—“the best thing you can do for yourself is to be writing”—and not pitch until we had multiple songs we really loved.

I left the talk feeling motivated. As I walked out onto Boylston, little melodies and lyric ideas were rushing through my head. Chris had admonished us to “stop looking at the songs you’ve written and start looking at the songs you’re gonna write.” As soon as I was done with work, I headed to the practice room.