This Business of Urban Music Book Review

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mzi.cmiyllum.225x225-75This Business of Urban Music: A Practical Guide to Achieving Success in the Industry, from Gospel to Funk to R&B to Hip-Hop, e-book edition, by James Walker (Random House)
(non-fiction)

Much has been said about today’s Hip-Hop and R&B music. Opinions range about it, much as it has for decades, from being too vulgar and sexual or too commercial to being underrepresented and underappreciated in pop culture. However, so much has not been said about the industry, like, “Where does the money really go?” In my youth, I too was guilty of believing the packaged myth that every music artist who had a video on TV and a song on the radio was a multi-millionaire, which made me want to be a music recording artist all the more. As all the broke former Urban music icons of the ‘70s and ‘80s would attest, that wasn’t true then, and it definitely isn’t true now (has anyone watched the cable program, Unsung, lately?)

James Walker, an entertainment lawyer, has penned this book for people like my teenage self in mind. It is very much a reality check for all those young men vying to become the next T-Pain and women trying to be the next Beyoncé. Walker is careful not to discourage those with musical aspirations of success, but rather informs. In this book, Walker gives helpful advice, practical and detailed instructions, and even key contact information, giving rising artists, managers, and recording label owners an edge in negotiating the rigors and pitfalls of the harsh world of music enterprising. For instance, how many people you know have actually seen or read a recording contract? Walker goes so far as to include a real contract in his book for his readers and goes the extra mile in explaining this contract section by section using language anyone can understand.

When you read this book, be warned! Walker goes out of his way to sell you on his credibility as an entertainment lawyer, from his background at Howard Law school to a few of his more memorable cases that he was intimately involved in, though he doesn’t name names. He also does quite a bit of name-dropping regarding high profile people he knows as well as the true movers and shakers of the industry. While I was reading, there were a few times that I felt he was trying to impress his audience with his self-serving personal anecdotes. But believe me, his career track record is quite impressive! Though there are also many pages of fluff and some unnecessary legal rhetoric, I find that the importance and usefulness of the main content of his work remains undiminished.

There are many aspiring music artists out there. I attribute this to television and song lyrics glamorizing the fabulous lifestyles of those who make us dance and throw our hands up in the clubs. Offhand, I’d estimate that roughly 7 out every 10 black men I know is trying to be a big-time rapper. Whether rapping, singing, producing, managing, promoting, or starting a label, this book is (though I hate clichés) a must read!

[Kenneth Powe is a former English professor of 20 years who now works as a Business Account Executive at Alabama State University.]

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