Published on June 27th, 2016 | by Hot Mike


From The Inside: A Chat With Don Perry

Don Perry (R) with Chris “Ludacris” Bridges. Photo courtesy of Lynne-Anne Huck, PR

Don Perry is the definition of industry insider. In the interest of full disclosure, my first contact with Don was during the summer of 1993 in Atlanta, Georgia. I was fresh from California, having experienced multi-platinum success, composing and producing for MC Hammer. I was, also, gracing the cover of the international music periodical, Keyboard Magazine. With this as my backdrop, I, literally, bum rushed the Atlanta indie label, Kaper Records (distributed by RCA/BMG), where Mr. Perry was CEO, to showcase two potential rappers for signing. My bold approach got them the standard deal, however, things don’t always turn out the way we hope. The deal fell through when one of the two rappers got ice cold feet. That’s life. I got up, dusted myself off and kept it moving. By early 1994, I was back in California working at Bellmark Records (Tag Team, Prince, Rance Allen Group, Duice, Johnny “Guitar” Watson). You see, my folks instilled in me a ‘never say die’ attitude that exists down to this day. That same ‘go for it’ mode reconnected me with Don, 23 years later, in 2016.

Don Perry, one of the entertainment industry’s most powerful (and enthusiastic) consultants, out of Greenberg Traurig, held back nothing, confirming some of my own firsthand music biz revelations. His reach within the business of music is vast. Celebrity endorsements, product distribution, major label consultation, corporate entertainment,… you name it. Don’s Rolodex is a who’s who of both the music industry and Hollywood. His sole focus is to know what’s happening inside the entertainment business. In our conversation, here’s what I asked.

There were seven basic questions. 1. What should be the realistic outlook of up and coming  musicians desiring to sign to a major label? 2. How realistic is the perception of signing for big money? 3. Are there any labels out there interested in developing or nurturing raw unproven talent? 4. What should those who scout for talent look for? 5. What habits should young music performers adopt to make them premier entertainment material? 6. What is the most important preparation for up and coming music performers? 7. Where is the business of music headed in this 21st century digital and social media landscape? To answer these, Don simply suggested that we just ‘have a conversation’ allowing him to touch on all aspects of these thoughts. I’ll share his most important quotes of insight, then, elaborate based on my own 25 years of music industry dealings.

“It’s not called music music. It’s called music business.” Don’s sentiment here was forceful and status quo, but, I get it. This tackles questions 1 and 6. Look, I’m still growing with this business, too. One must adjust tactics to change with the times. The media landscape is wholly different, however, learn the basics. Knowing the initial things one must do to protect their art is of paramount importance. Remember: Your art is your legacy. There are ‘occupational tools’ all entertainer entrepreneurs should know about. Learn what they are for your particular artistic expression. This is a no-brainer. Let’s understand this clearly, though. Don isn’t saying to start some stale ‘by the numbers’ business. Understand that being a musician is an occupation, not just a hobby. Entire industries from ad agencies to governments rely on the skill sets of composers or entertainers. You are your business. To quote Jay-Z, “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man.” Your skill has value. Embrace that with confidence. The global music industry is worth $15 billion dollars U.S., according to the IFPI. Take what you do seriously.

“Income verticals” are the standard. This hits on questions 1 through 3. What’s an income vertical, you ask? This financial structure is better known as the dreaded ‘360 deal’. Don was blunt about this, too. There’s no getting around it, if your goal is to land a deal with some major entertainment corporation. He explains that entertainment companies are in partnership with the entertainer. All aspects of entertaining, from music to acting, to corporate endorsements and merchandising, create revenue the entertainment company will want to share in. If you’re opposed to this, remain independent. There are pros and cons to any circumstance in this business. You’ll have to decide what you’re willing to allow.

“If you don’t get yourself out there, you’ll stay in your mama’s basement. [You’ve] got to help yourself. You can’t be Cam [Newton] without any tackles.” This part of our conversation covered questions 5 and 6. It’s self explanatory. No one will hear your music or see that performance you’ve worked so hard to perfect, if you don’t get out and do it. Yes, you’ll fail some, maybe even a lot. As Don so eloquently points out, we’re all pretty sure Cam Newton was sacked a few times, early career, before his game advanced to what we see, today. So, get back up. Brush yourself off. Perfect that performance. Stay focused and folks will pay attention. Trust me on this.

“The theme is team!” This moment covers questions 3 through 7. According to Don, it’s the most important part of your plan. Who’s your team? I know this to be true, even in my case, as a composer, songwriter and producer. It pays to have a proper team, whether they be a reliable family member (rare), or, someone who’s developed the unique skill set that allows them to act as your official representative. Power players, in the industry, like Don, want to hear ‘your plan’. If you’re just ‘winging it’, your failures will be exponential, causing you deep discouragement. Not having a team, plan or both is a sign of unpreparedness. You won’t even get a sit down with the Don Perry’s of this industry without a dedicated team or solid vision. Even doing the independent thing, if you’re going it alone, good luck.

It’s glaringly apparent this business is not for the faint of heart. To do business with Don Perry, he will expect you to know this. I can’t thank him enough for his candor. Don gushed about, what he called, both my academically acquired and street smarts. He susses out people fairly quickly and that takes special skill. The best way to attract people like Mr. Perry is to be authentic. Being someone you’re not can be sniffed out. Get caught being fake by someone like Don and you can start looking for job openings at McD’s. Thanks, Don Perry. Respect.

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