On October 3rd, 2019, the Music Business Department at Berklee hosted the 13th annual Business of Hip-Hop / Urban Music Symposium at the Berklee Performance Center (BPC). After a fantastic opening performance by student Chris Pinellas, Don Gorder, Chair of the Music Business Department, gave an opening statement while Assistant Chair, Tonya Butler, introduced the night’s special guest Kevin Liles.
“From intern to CEO of DefJam,” Kevin Liles is the current CEO and co-founder of 300 Entertainment, one of the biggest independent record labels with a roster featuring Young Thug, Fetty Wap and Famous Dex, just to name a few.
Liles talked about his journey. He started out as an artist, but after his original music was stolen, he decided to dedicate his life to “learning the business of music”. Starting out, he transitioned from studying electrical engineering, with a scholarship from NASA, to pursue an interest that had sparked when he was 16 years old - DJing. However, his life’s path was altered when his song ‘Girl You Know It’s True’ was stolen in 1988 by German R&B duo, Milli Vanilli. That event determined his journey to making sure the stealing of one’s song within the music industry would never again occur.
When asked specifically what made him seemingly abandon the creative end for the business side, he explained that only “ because I went into the business side, did I become the biggest artist”.
Following the interview with Liles, the stage was set for arguably the most intense moment of the night: the mock negotiation. It featured artist, dancer and songwriter Moxie Raia, who one of the opening acts on Justin Bieber’s Massive Purpose Tour, posing as the artist in negotiation. She was supported by Che Pope, Massachusetts based producer and former CEO of G.O.O.D. Music, in addition to representatives from two record companies, Entertainment One and the aforementioned 300 Entertainment. After proper introductions the negotiation played an example ‘battle’ between the two labels, fighting tooth and nail for the chance to get Moxie on board. Both labels highlighted how important it is for an artist to “be comfortable with the people at the label,” since “they are the ones that are going to be working the records”. The interaction portrayed how vital “face to face engagement is, in order to get to know who we are”.
The negotiation became tied between 300 Entertainment’s 'Label Deal' and Entertainment One’s ‘One-in-One Deal'. However, the battle was decided when Entertainment One was unable to match Moxie (and Pope’s) $800k request (divided in $300k for recording costs and $500k as pocket money for the artist). 300 Entertainment offered a $600k rebuttal, which ended up winning the artist over.
The closing remarks from the panel resembled a call to action to the audience. “Know the business” was the message. “Not enough people in music know the business […] the most successful artists know every ounce of their contract”.
Poignant words in this day and age.
Written by Ryu Ishizawa.