Basics to break into music biz

Florida A&M University is full of students interested in the entertainment industry. As a result, music leaders such as Charles Whitfield, A&R and co-founder of Hidden Beach Recordings, have visited FAMU to offer advice on how to break into the music business. Hidden Beach Recordings is home to artists such as Jill Scott, Darius Rucker and others.

Whitfield shared his experiences and advice with an audience of artists, producers and students wishing to be in the music business during his visit to the School of Journalism and Graphic Communication in March.

The Lessons Learned

“You have to be punctual,” advised Whitfield. He said it’s good to take initiative to achieve goals instead of just dreaming about them. Whitfield was working at what he describes as a “regular nine-to-five” job when he thought of creating a record label.

“My mom said until it’s up and running and you have money in your bank account, that’s when you need to take the leap of faith. I had one leg out and one in. Fortunately, I got promoted, and I worked in a small town called Sherman outside of Dallas.”

This gave him the opportunity to travel to California to meet with Steve McKeever, who ultimately helped him found Hidden Beach Records.

Research was the next important lesson. Whitfield explained he wanted to work with Steve McKeever, who worked in Motown in the ’80s.

“If I could meet that guy it would be great,” Whitfield said. “So I did my homework.” Homework consisted of going online and searching for information that lead him to the office number of McKeever’s wife.

Persistence played a role, too. “I was calling his wife leaving messages probably every day for a month straight.” Although Whitfield was discouraged because he hadn’t received a call back, this didn’t stop him.

Whitfield said McKeever finally called him back and said, “You were the only person on my wife’s messages.” Whitfield apparently had left so many messages that it left McKeever no choice but to call him back.

Getting a call back is just half the battle, Whitfield said. “If you hustle hard enough you can get someone to answer or return the phone call, but you (have to) be on point when they answer that phone call.”

Whitfield also spoke about the importance of networking and knowing the music business.

He referred to Jay Mills, a 28-year-old drummer form Miami, as “a real music head.”

Mills is known for his extensive knowledge about music. Although he has been located in Tallahassee for several years, he is connected to a variety of people in the entertainment and nightlife industries. “It’s all about six degrees of separation,” Whitfield said.

Question & Answer

E. Mackey, a 23-year-old budding artist from Carol City, wanted to know what role faith played in Whitfield’s life.

“Did you have to get a stronger (sense of) faith before you entered the industry?” Mackey asked.

“My dad was active in church,” so it had an effect on how he grew up. “My faith in God is very strong,” Whitfield said.

At the same time, Whitfield said, “I had a lot of faith in myself. I’m a firm believer that if you do the right thing, things will happen for you.”

After Whitfield’s speech there were a barrage of questions. Tallahassee Marketing Manager Adah Pittman-Delancey asked, “What’s the difference between corporate and independent (music companies)?”

“It’s the (job) security,” Whitfield answered. “Working at an independent label the security is better, but it’s harder to get in. It’s just hard to get in period unless you have a good relationship.”

Get an Internship

Whitfield encouraged students to e-mail him or visit if they are serious about internship opportunities. “I’m on a tour trying to get people who want to be stars. I’m not looking for normal people,” he emphasized.

There was also a lesson on e-mail etiquette. “When you send me an e-mail, I want you to send me something special that makes you stand out,” Whitfield said.

He recommends students always do this when e-mailing professionals.

“Make sure you check it, make sure there are no errors in it, make sure there’s no improper grammar, and check your resume. You can do stuff that changes people’s perception of you, but your first impression is really what counts.”

Keeping Up with the Times

Maria More, midday radio personality from Blazing 102.3, also provided information about the industry. She and Mills gave additional advice pertaining to technology and how times have changed. “There are ways to be profitable without doing things the conventional way,” More said. You have to think outside of the box.”

She said if you’re an aspiring producer you need to be thinking, “I want to make beats for movies and TV” instead of just making them for CD’s.

Mills followed More’s statements with, “Just three years ago there was no MySpace.” He warned students, “If you aren’t keeping up with the trends then you will be lost.”