Former A&R Manager at EMI Gospel and current President of Sideman Music Consulting, Brandon Egerton, has logged a decade in the business. With a resume full of hit recording artists, Brandon knows what it takes to make an artist successful in today’s music industry.
Please tell us where you’re from and what got you interested in the entertainment business?
I grew up in a small town just outside of Raleigh, North Carolina. Throughout high school & college I was an avid fan of groups like Boys II Men, Jodeci, and Mint Condition, so I always found myself putting together singing groups like those, which in essence was where I started developing my A&R skills. But back then, I had no clue what an A&R was.
So what was your first professional job in the music business and how did you get the job?
Well, I attended college at Elizabeth City State University, which was one of the few schools in North Carolina that offered courses on the music industry. During my final year at ECSU, I needed an internship, so I applied to LaFace Records, EMI, and a few others. I ended up receiving a call from EMI and did the internship for about 4 months. After that, they offered me a job in their Gospel division doing radio promotions. The most gratifying part of that job was being able to build relationships with people from different areas of the business.
But I also had a great passion to be involved with the creative side and my boss at the time, Ken Pennell (President of EMI Gospel), was aware of that. Ken is great because he looks at each individual person and wants to help develop their career, whether it’s for EMI or not. He moved me over to the A&R department and mentored me.
What does an A&R Manager do?
There are typically two sides of the job. I’ll start with the less glamorous side, which is where you have to facilitate the inner workings of the business. You need to know about copyrights, publishing, contracts, and all of the administrative components that really keep you in business. Those things are integral parts of any artist’s career, and vital to the success of any label.
Then there’s the more glamorous side of the business; the side that most people are more interested in. It includes the artist signings, scouting talent, developing artists, and sitting down with the label’s President to discuss who we’re going to pursue signing. Then once we decide to sign an artist, we’d sit down with the artist to see what their vision was for themselves. Often times labels like to fit artists within a system, but one of things that I loved about working for EMI Gospel was the fact that Ken’s leadership and style was very different. Since Ken was a former A&R himself; he understood that we signed an artist to be “artistic” and unique – not to bring them into the fold and make them into cookie cutter acts who are easier to sell and fit the marketplace. The fun part of the process is getting into the studio and deciding which songs are going to make the album.
Can you please share what Sideman Music Consulting is and what type of services you offer through that brand?
I left EMI Gospel in 2008. It was great working with artists like Smokie Norful, Kierra Sheard, Myron Butler, Donald Lawrence, and so many of those great Gospel artists who have been able to make the leap into that realm where they’re national recording artists. But at that point in my career, I felt called to help develop the up and coming talent. A label can only sign and invest in so many artists and I felt that I should make myself available to those artists who can use my 12 years of experience in the business. I knew that I could help provide some direction for the careers of the independent and emerging artists out here today.
One of the ways that I decided to do that is through Sideman Music Consulting, where I offer my time to sit down with the artist and map out a path to help them move things to the next level. Another way I help is getting you connected to the right channels. An artist may come to me with a project that they are working on and are in need of assistance with choosing the right producer, mixing, mastering, or marketing. That’s when I put my A&R hat on and utilize the network that I’ve built up over the years. Whatever the artist’s needs are, I am able to provide them with the tools to help them move to the next level.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in the music industry, but they don’t know where to start?
I liken it to whatever career path you want to take; whether it’s a doctor, lawyer, teacher, pastor or whatever that is. You have to put in the time, get the training, and have the work ethic to be successful. You don’t necessarily have to go to school in order to have a career in music, but you have to make up for that gap somehow. To take that next step in your career, you have to be willing to invest your – time, money, and resources into all areas of your career development. There’s no way around it.
Additionally, artists must see themselves as their own label. With the existence of the iTunes and other digital music providers, artists no longer need a major label deal to make their music available to the masses. So the mindset has to shift. It can’t simply be about getting your CD in Wal-Mart or Target, when getting it on iTunes is just as good, if not, better when you look at it carefully from a business perspective. In either case, it’s all about marketing once it’s available. If you get it in Wal-Mart and it doesn’t fly off the shelves, you’ll never get another record in Wal-Mart again. But on the other hand, if you get a few thousand people to get on iTunes and download just 3 songs each, you get to keep considerably more of the money you generate. It’s not flashy, but it’s business savvy. The more you get to keep, the more you can re-invest in yourself or the next project. I always ask, If given the choice, would you rather be famous or wealthy? Our mindset can’t just be, “I want to sell a million copies and perform in front of 30,000 people,” because that’s not being realistic. Define success properly and don’t despise being successful on a small scale first.
What’s the most common misconception that people have of the music industry of today?
It goes back to what I was just saying, the thought that you have to have a major label deal in order to make a living doing music. The reality is that major labels are not looking for artists who aren’t proven. If you want to get on with a major label, the best thing you can do is make a name for yourself and create a demand independently. Then approach a label and show them what you’ve been able to do on your own. Go to them with a partnership opportunity so that you actually get a better deal out of your situation than what you would’ve gotten 5-10 years ago because you actually have assets. I think that’s the biggest misconception with today’s music artists, that in order to be successful you need a label.
Most people think they need to sign with a label for three reasons – funding, distribution and/or marketing. But if you can somehow cover two or three of these on your own then you essentially replaced the need to sign. Sure it’s hard work, but if you build a team of professionals around you to help you in the areas of management, marketing and booking, you can build a solid foundation. Artists can literally be shooting themselves in the foot if they are a great talent but they’re holding out for a record deal. They’re going to miss a great opportunity at becoming successful.