Kevin English: Music Management Scientist

Posted by Justin Boland on May 05, 2010 | 0 Comments


I’ve been wanting to interview Kevin English for awhile now.  When it comes to music bloggers, few of us could be accused of attention to detail, admitting mistakes, or being relentlessly practical experts.  Kevin English is guilty of all three, which is a compliment in any language.  His specialty is business models and he’s got a lot to teach, so I’ll get straight to the interview because this is some quality shit…

JB: One question I get constantly but haven’t figured out an answer for: “how much money do I realistically need to become profitable off my music?” Do you have any guesstimates?

Kevin English: This figure is absolutely unique to your situation. For example:

* if your average C.O.G.S. (Cost of Good Sold) is $20 [ for CD’s & Merch bundles]
* you engage in expensive radio promotion and publicity techniques
* pay any one on you’re staff a normal salary [i.e. Virtual Assistant, Street Team, Bookkeeper, Band Members]

You will probably need at least $50K in Working Capital to sustain your business until it becomes profitable. Generally, any business will lose money for the first three years. This time is spent creating awareness with focuses marketing activities and developing monetization strategies. An Opening Balance of $50K is to keep you going until the sales begin rolling in.

Alternatively, you can keep your overhead low by reducing your costs. For example:

* Free Band Camp site with little or no physical product
* Jango radio promotion to grow your email list can cost you under $50 per month
* Travel to live shows with 2 turntables and a microphone
* Grassroots approach to submitting new music and sound bytes to blogs

You can ultimately end up turning a positive cash flow a lot quicker than option 1. As I said before, I would have to look at the individual situation, run a few common business formulas (ie Break Even Analysis, Projected Income and Cash Flow) to ensure we are coming up with the best possible guesstimate.

JB: From a business standpoint, does hip hop have any unique disadvantages?

KE: No. Hip Hop is on par with most other genres in terms of being able to sell a large amount of product. Licensing opportunities for Hip Hop music has also increased with the popularity of the genre. Its true that piracy hit rappers first, but the entire industry is now dealing with the same problems that Bad Boy and Def Jam had in the early nineties. Rappers should be more apt to handle piracy and coral the benefits of the virility of their music and videos because they in essence created the bootleg or mixtape. Monetization of these mediums is an industry wide issue, not a hip hop issue. 

JB: In the past few years, what has been the biggest change or reversal in how you think about the music business?

KE: Recording artists with short pockets have developed a digital skill set and have become more likely to make a profit than a major label. Look at the demise of the traditional role of an A&R. It used to be that a small number of individuals at a label could snap their fingers and a recording contract would be presented and signed.  Instead of using fancy boardrooms to negotiate million dollar bank loans, popular music blogger and aggregators like Hype Machine will market, promote and distribute an artist’s latest release for free.

JB: On that note: Aside from contacting you directly, what can a new artist do to get onto your radar screen?

KE: Great question. I’m a sucker for good music. If you can surprise me with something different, and well made, you’ll get my attention very quickly. Once the music is on my radar, I need to see some promise and creativity on your Myspace and/or blog. I frequent Hype Machine, We Are Hunted, Fairtilizer and and host of smaller blogs. I try to stay away from the old faithful 2dobeboyz, NahRight type of blogs. Nothing against them, but I believe those sites have become over saturated with the status quo of hip hop.

The Template: Writing a Business Plan for Musicians

Back in August 2009, Kevin English provided a pretty valuable service to the growing community of DIY musicians online.  It was called the Template for Writing a Music Business Plan, and it works exactly like it should: you sit down with this document and it guides you through an entire process. At the end, you’ve got something valuable.  For obvious reasons, I think this is pretty awesome and I point artists towards this resource all the time.  If you’re thinking “I don’t really need a business plan,” I’d tell you that you’re right, and you should still download Kevin’s book and do the exercises in there.  Even if you never use what you wrote again, it’s still insanely valuable to get your head straight about what it means to be professional, on point in every element of your business.  Your mind is the weapon, get it sharp.

JB: What kind of life experience led you create such a thorough and badass tutorial on business plans for music?

KE: When I was 16 years old I was approached by an A&R rep at Columbia to write a few records and do background vocals for an artist by the name of Trisha Covington. My songs were ultimately rejected by Columbia, but showed up in bits and pieces on the R&B group Zhane’s album without credit. The same A&R turned out to be their personal manager. From then on, I realized that the music industry was 90% business and paperwork. I immediately starting reading books on how to start your own business. When I began working for the majors myself (Atlantic, Universal, Island Def Jam) I learned how to customize my plans specifically to the music industry. After college, I lived in my local SBA (Small Business Association) and took notes from all of the old CEO’s lurking around the building. I won a few business planning competitions and began to write plans for start ups across all industries. Its been a blessing to help other artists who are in situations similar to mine and watch them progress like a legitimate business.

JB: What are the best tools you’ve found for a musician trying to keep track of their finances?

KE: There are a ton of software applications and wireless apps out there to help keep track of money going in and out. I personally recommend keeping an old fashion paper ledger with a pencil tied to it. Every month you can go back and put these figures into an Excel spreadsheet, Quicken or QuickBooks. There is also company called that is an excellent free alternative to my old school paper and pencil method. What ever you do, make it a habit to record this data on a daily basis. Seeing how much you spend on weed and women every month will open your eyes, guaranteed.

JB: What are the most common mistakes you see artists making in their rush to monetize their fanbase?

KE: That’s just it. They rush. Your music is your business. It’s your very own start up company. That is a very exciting thing and should be cherished like raising a child. Since Audible Hype is mainly targeted towards hip hop musicians I’ll speak specifically to them. Let’s start with product development, or in your case writing, producing and performing a song. No one cares that you don’t write your rhymes down on paper or that you can lay vocals in 20 minuets. Its actually more of a slap in the face to potential fans that you don’t spend more time creating something clever and unique. It takes years of planning once the product is developed to accurately market, promote and distribute. Your business is no different then say Coca Cola. Their chemists wouldn’t come up with a secret soft drink formula and release it to the market in the same day, month, year or decade for that matter. Take your time and create something that will last forever. Then put on your marketing caps and figure out who besides your homies like your product enough to buy it. 

JB: Most conversations about the music business center around what the New Model will be-but more and more futurists are suggesting that change is the new constant, and formats, models and distribution systems will only get more diverse.  Do you think we’ll see the industry stabilize in the next decade?

KE: That’s a great question. In my lifetime I’ve seen everything from the 8 track tape to the Mixtape go out of style so trying to predict what happens next with a digital file format is like placing a book end on binary code. The futurists may have it right, but we have enough going on at the moment to think about the industry in ten years. Let’s focus on releasing new music and making money from it today. We’ll still have time to change the future.

JB: What’s the biggest change you’d like to see happen in 2010?

KE: I’d like for all of the smart people to stop talking about what the new industry will look like and get out there and try some shit out. We’ve discussed things in theory for long enough. I want to see more artists plan out their businesses, implement strategies, learn from it and move on. That’s the only way we’ll have real change in 2010.


Amen. You can catch more of Kevin’s work on his (excellent) blog, Eleet Music, and on Twitter. Big thanks to him for taking the time to do this.

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Music by Justin Boland