Magazine article Ebony

Top Black Executives in the Music Industry

Magazine article Ebony

Top Black Executives in the Music Industry

Article excerpt

THREE Black women and 11 Black men are among the top executives in the $12.5 billion music industry. The high-powered job of a music industry executive can be one of the most rewarding careers in all of corporate America. but with the rewards come stress, disappointments and challenges.

To survive m this world of prosperity and promise, where trends set the pace and today's star artist or executive might be tomorrow's has-been, one must have guts, high self-esteem and good instincts while always keeping tabs on the pulse of the corporate hierarchy and the record-buying public, the most loyal of which are teens and young adults.

Loyal music fans apparently keep record company coffers singing "money, money, money, money." According to the Recording Industry Association of America, U.S. consumers in 1996 spent approximately $12.5 billion on prerecorded music and music videos, up from $12.3 billion in 1995 and $5.6 billion in 1987. Last year, R&B music accounted for 12.1 percent of music sales, rap accounted for 8.9 percent of sales, gospel music 4.3 percent, and jazz 3.3 percent. A total of 1.14 billion pieces of prerecorded music and music videos was shipped in 1996, a 2.2 percent increase from 1995.

Music is a huge business, and record company executives have a lot at stake--including their careers, their artists and millions of dollars in company revenue. Only 15 percent of recording artists break even or make money for themselves and their companies. There is constant change, and fads fizzle faster than you can sing "my, my, my, my, my, my, my."

Sylvia Rhone, who as chair and CEO of Elektra Entertainment Group is the highest-ranking Black executive at a major record company, says it is difficult to define the elements of success in the music industry. "But if you start with passion, talent, commitment and luck, I think you are on the right track," she says from her New York office overlooking Rockefeller Plaza. In 1996, she led Elektra to a record $300 million in revenue, the best performance in the Time-Warner music segment.

LeBaron Taylor, senior vice president at Sony Music Entertainment and among the first Blacks appointed vice president at a Fortune 500 record company in the early '70s, says to survive and succeed in the music business takes preparation. "You must be prepared in terms of education and, hopefully, experience," says Taylor. "A lot of it is just plain luck. Anyone who tells you anything to the contrary is wrong. You can strategize, but if you don't get that opportunity, it won't happen."

These and other music industry executives agree that Blacks are not getting a proportionate share of executive slots, despite the fact that African-American consumers and artists generate one quarter of the $12.5 billion dollars spent on records. Black executives are excelling like never before, they agree. However, one of the greatest barriers is that many Black executives often are pigeonholed by race and are locked out of areas in the industry other than Black music.

In addition, music industry insiders point out that most African-American executives, unlike Rhone and Taylor, do not control their finances and budgets and, consequently, "do not control their destinies."

Music industry executives emphasize that it is crucial that Blacks who succeed in this very volatile business reach out and back to help others. "Brothers and Sisters who are making it have an obligation to reach back and make sure other Blacks are brought along," says one executive.

Music industry executives in general express concern that many major record companies are exhibiting what they call a "retrenchment from African-American" executives, and that Black music departments are being eliminated altogether or headed by individuals who are not Black. Last year, Capitol Records shut down its Black music department.

The men and women featured here are survivors who have weathered the storms that characterize the music industry. …

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