Articles about Betinna Sideman

To Him, Right Gig Is Behind Scenes of Music Industry

October 24, 1999

By SUSAN VAUGHN, Special to The Times

In moments of frustration, Sam Adu-Ampoma sees the music industry as a "tightly closed candy shop." The 34-year-old Los Angeles resident has been trying to land a job in the field for several years.

He says he's done everything right: networked, submitted resumes to industry big shots, completed MBA studies at USC, and even spent nearly $4,000 to produce a CD "to show them that I had a true and demonstrated knowledge of the music industry."

Despite these efforts, Adu-Ampoma continues to hear only the sound of silence from music execs. Why is the industry tuning him out?

Adu-Ampoma consulted career counselor Bettina Seidman about his dilemma. He explained that he was using his computer skills to support himself while struggling to get into the music business. "But it's hard to work at something you don't like," he said.

At Seidman's request, Adu-Ampoma itemized what he disliked about his current work: the tight-laced corporate environment, the monotony, the lack of creativity, the technology culture. He yearns to leave this vocation and work with talented musical performers who need business guidance.

But, pressed by Seidman, Adu-Ampoma admitted that he didn't have a specific music industry job in mind. "I'm not totally sure where I fit," he said.

This is a problem, replied Seidman. Career-hunting is a form of strategic marketing, she said. "Your goals and objectives have to be sharply clarified prior to any job search, and they have to be set by you, not by a counselor or anybody else." The New York-based consultant suggested that Adu-Ampoma use the "critical path method" of goal-setting--target a long-term goal, then identify the steps required to get there.

Adu-Ampoma, who immigrated to the United States in 1987 from Ghana, said he envisioned himself putting deals together for performers and drawing up contracts. Seidman and several music industry professionals offered Adu-Ampoma some suggestions on how to pursue his challenging aspiration.

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Thoroughly learn the industry. Van Morrison once philosophized, "Music is spiritual. The music business is not." As most music insiders will attest, the recording industry is a kingdom unto itself, with very idiosyncratic rules.
Other businesses might swoon over smartly groomed MBAs. Not this one, said Lee Phillips, senior partner at Los Angeles law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, whose clients include Barbra Streisand, Tracy Chapman and the Eagles.
"There's much less emphasis on your education level than on your creative abilities and talents," he said.

Catherine Moore, director of New York University's music business program, agrees, adding that some music employers may view advanced-degree applicants with suspicion, because of bad experiences with non-industry newcomers who tried unsuccessfully to run music operations using orthodox commercial strategies. Seidman and industry experts praised Adu-Ampoma for writing, arranging and producing his own CD, "My American Girl," which sold about 550 copies (Adu-Ampoma said he wasn't able to secure distribution arrangements), but they also expressed concern that his efforts may not have advanced his job hunt.

"That's not really the right route to go if he's looking for business positions," said Ellyn Harris of Buzz Publicity, a 20-year industry veteran. "It positions him more as a performer."

Lawrence Ferrara, chairman of NYU's department of music and performing arts and a renowned copyright specialist, said that few executives at record companies, music publishing houses or performer management firms would even open a CD like Adu-Ampoma's because of concerns about possible copyright infringement. "Seeing an unsolicited CD is literally like a cross in front of a vampire to them," he said.

Adu-Ampoma must act as a music industry anthropologist, learning the tacit ins and outs of this unconventional field, if he wants to get a foot in the door. Joining professional organizations and reading trade journals will help, said Seidman, but, more importantly, Adu-Ampoma must become a networking maven.

* * *
Develop "meet and greet" know-how. "You've really got to market yourself in this business, just short of being a pain in the ass," said Glenn Manko, general manager of ANTRA Music Group in Philadelphia.

What can Adu-Ampoma do to grab recording employers' attention? Hang out at their haunts, said Rhonda Bedikian, chief executive of Heavy Harmony, a music publishing company in Canoga Park, whose nabbed her first industry job at Motown after waiting tables at a restaurant frequented by top recording industry executives.
Consider returning to school, proposed Richard McIlvrey, chairman of USC's music industry department. "Internships are the keys to the kingdom," he said.
McIlvrey mentioned that, although there have been thousands of industrywide layoffs because of recent mergers, demand for interns, temps and entry-level workers has increased incrementally.

"This year, we have twice as many internship positions available as students to fill them," he said.

Enrolling in USC's music industry bachelor's program would not only allow Adu-Ampoma access to music employers, but give him additional training in artist management, record production and distribution. McIlvrey offered to discuss this possibility with Adu-Ampoma.

In general, Seidman advises, Adu-Ampoma should amplify his networking efforts. He should ask associates for referrals to knowledgeable music industry insiders. And he should set aside "at least as many hours during the day to research, call and write as you do for work."

Brenda Freeman, who teaches a UCLA Extension workshop on how to break into the music industry, recommends that Adu-Ampoma regularly check Billboard Magazine for industry promotion news. "Send congratulatory notes to the people who've landed those new positions," she said. "They may need assistants. And remember that, wherever they've just departed from, there's probably at least one job opening there, maybe more."

Most of all, Adu-Ampoma should try to find a powerful ally, said Owen Sloane, a partner at law firm Berger Kahn, who represents Steve Winwood, Elton John and Suzanne Vega.

"If someone calls on his behalf and recommends him, it would make a big difference," he said. "You've got to have somebody championing you."
Adu-Ampoma agrees. "I just haven't found my advocate yet," he said.

* * *
Seek work in allied fields. Also consider temp work. More than a few recording industry executives began their ladder-climbing in related businesses. Richard Barnet, professor of recording industry management at Middle Tennessee State University near Nashville, recommends that Adu-Ampoma apply at booking firms such as William Morris Agency.

"Those places love MBAs," he said, "but be aware that everyone starts in the mail room."

Barnet also suggests that Adu-Ampoma contact distribution companies such as EMI Music Distribution, and so-called PROs (performance rights organizations) such as BMI and ASCAP, about employment opportunities.

He should regularly check each record company's Web site for job postings, and call their human resources departments to find out which temp agencies they utilize. A short-term stint at a firm might blossom into full-time work.

BET network spokesman Robert Santwer recommends that Adu-Ampoma consider select television industry positions, such as assistant producer or booker, that would give him access to performers, managers and record company personnel.

Santwer invited Adu-Ampoma to visit BET's Burbank studios where "Live From L.A." is produced to check out these lines of work.

* * *
Overhaul the resume. After reviewing Adu-Ampoma's resume, Seidman clamored for a rewrite.

"It's counterintuitive in its present form," she said. "It's only good for the part-time work you want to do now." She reminded Adu-Ampoma that a resume is not a job chronology, but a marketing tool. Because he uses highly technical jargon to describe his past computer jobs, he risks pigeonholing himself.

Timothy Haft, former director of career development at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, and author of "Trash-Proof Resumes: Your Guide to Cracking the Job Market," (Random House Inc., 1998), agrees and adds, "He needs to focus on where he's going instead of where he's been."

Like Seidman, Haft told Adu-Ampoma to detail his skills and accomplishments that can translate into the recording business.

For example, instead of introducing himself as a systems analyst, Adu-Ampoma could lead with a description of his entrepreneurial CD venture, which shows how he handled production, marketing, sales and performing arts. He could describe his entertainment industry MBA internship.

Record company marketing departments are clamoring for multimedia experts, said Barnet, so Adu-Ampoma also should emphasize any computer skills that potential employers would find valuable.

And finally, Adu-Ampoma should design an inspired, clever resume, suggests Freeman. "I tell people to be a little more creative in their resume presentations than they would for other industries," she said. "Tell the truth, include all the basics, but get their attention."

During her 16 years at A&M Records, Freeman said she received, among other things, resumes printed on beach balls, cereal boxes and lottery tickets, as well as others recorded on CDs and videotapes.

Aim high, but start low if necessary. Rags-to-riches jobs are the recording industry's classic career trajectory. Because competition is fierce even for the lowliest grunt work, aspiring moguls must reconcile themselves to ground-floor service positions, and prove themselves every step of the way.

"This is one of the few industries where you have to beg for a job with low pay," Sloane said.

Adu-Ampoma, who has earned $40,000 to $45,000 a year at his computer jobs, said he'd brave the cuts in pay and responsibility, provided he could meet expenses.

"We stress making copies and coffee," McIlvrey said. "We tell interns that if you think that's beneath you, you're out of a career. You have to treat every job as if it's a great opportunity, because it can be. There are lots of success stories which prove that."

* * *

Ready for a Change
Name: Sam Adu-Ampoma
Current occupation: Computer systems analyst
Desired occupation: Record industry executive
Quote: "Right now I'm having terrible, terrible luck. I'm only going on interviews for pure computing jobs."
Counselor's recommendation: Completely overhaul marketing strategy to break into the industry.

Meet the Coach
Bettina Seldman is a New York-based career management and outplacement consultant. She is a founding member of the Career Counselors Consortium.

Copyright 1999 Los Angeles Times