Entertainment 101 “How to Win in the Entertainment Business, Despite Yourself” Copyright (naturally) Sheldon P. Starke, 1991

This article is not written for spectators. It is written for those of us who love the crazy business of entertainment so much that we never give up. Everyone wants to know how to get the platinum ring.
Mostly, you get the ring “the old-fashioned way.” But earning it doesn’t mean that the writer writes the best or that the artist creates the best work. It means that if you can stay in the game long enough you can win.

I’m reminded of a joke a lawyer told me: The Pastor is pleading with the Almighty day after day to provide funds for fixing the church. “Please, G-d. Let me win the lottery. We need a roof. We need new pews.” And so on. So the kind Reverend pleads with G-d day after day. After months of genuine supplication the Pastor is exhausted. He goes outside after a great storm, looks up to the Heavens and says: “You know far better than I how badly we need these funds. Please, for the sake of Your Name, grant us the money.” There is a large thunderclap and a voice: “Buy the ticket already!”

You have to play the game. To win you must buy a ticket. For most of us that ticket is time, not greatness. If you don’t believe me, listen to the radio. I’ll talk to you about greatness . . .forty songs later.

Besides hurrying up and waiting there are very elementary rules that you must know: Where can you get 13 eggs? The answer is that you cannot get 13 eggs because they don’t package them that way. Eggs come by the dozen. If they are too much over $1.79 or too much under you had best be careful. If the dozen is too much over then you are paying too much. If the price is too low, check the eggs! (It’s a good idea to check the eggs in any event.) For any business but especially for the music business, you have to know the units of trade and the price per unit. If you did not know that generally recording contracts are based upon 90% of sales, you think you’re being taken advantage of. Of course the artist is getting “jammed!” In the history of human beings, that is the definition of “artist.” (I’m just trying to be funny.) In the old days when they sold 78′s, they were easy to brake. Therefor 10% returns were expected. I’ve seen record contracts where 90% was the beginning; they forgot the reason why they deducted 10% of the top. Some companies pay on 90% and then there is 10% for breakage, then there is the costs of printing, promotion, packaging, free records . . .and on and on . . .and the beat goes on. Lately, artists and their lawyers are quick to cut any of these breakage issues out and the companies (not all) have relaxed this issue; but not to worry about the record companies. Count the paragraphs in a recording contract and you can begin the count the ways!

The nutty thing about this struggle is that while it is true that the possibilities are endless, it is the lifestyle that makes it worth it. Be true to your work. Absolutely never give in. If your craft keeps you breathing then keep continue. Without pushing yourself to your limit you will never know. You will never be around long enough to win.

If you want to win, act like this is a business. The main library in your town will supply you with “how to” books. Industry newspapers and magazines are essential. Learn the “language” of the business. A “producer” in the record business is different as a movie producer. Go to the centers of the entertainment industries in NY or LA. Stay in the game. Seminars and workshops will help you tremendously. Network like crazy! Meet people in the business and follow up, even if it is just a thank you letter and not lunch.
You need mentors. There are people in the business that want to help you. You must find these people. There is a richness in this quest. This is one of the reasons that you should not give up. It is the wonder of how and why she or he did it.

I think that making it is an accident. Others in the business tell me that, “The cream always comes to the top.” Luck is a major element. Luck is also a matter of simple physics. There is what physicists and chemists refer to as Brownian Motion. Simply put, the greater the amount of particles in a given area, the greater the probability of collisions. Translated: Go where the action is. The greater the number of outlets where the entertainment business id done, e.g., N.Y., L.A. etc., the greater the chance to collide with an opportunity. Another truism I have found is to never decide against yourself. Once you decide that you cannot trust yourself, you have given a point to someone else who just earned it by default! You’re default!

The people whom you meet early in the game become your colleagues. These colleagues become presidents of major labels. Keep that in mind the next time you want to tell someone off. Years later you might regret it. There is one more thing: Be nice. People remember.
All this sounds simple. It actually is but life gets in the way. Small things like eating, sleeping and drinking not to mention, bills. Never lose the feeling of holding on tightly until years of experience tell you: “It’s O.K.” After all, you came into the world with your fists clenched. You were just getting ready.

As far as I am concerned, there is nothing in the world more satisfying than a career as an entertainment lawyer. I suppose that there are ways to get richer but I’ll bet there aren’t many other ways to feel richer. It’s your turn. Don’t forget to give.

This article was written in 1991. The original cost of eggs was $.79 in 1991 (as it was written). This article is an updated work . . . what we call a derivative work. That’s a topic for another day . . .Your comments are always appreciated when you are “Under the Blog and Over the Top!”

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