Black to The Future - Part 2

By Errol Michael Henry - founder of the i2 Music Group

Back in the dark ages, one ignorant, lazy, egotistical person (who was quite possibly racist, sexist, ageist and moronic too) could pretty much decide the fate of someone else’s’ career – thank the heavens those days are long gone. Much of the rapid growth in internet speed and efficiency was driven by the porn industry, yet despite its dubious heritage, internet speed has made the movement, creation, manipulation, marketing, sales and general monetisation of music more possible than at any time in history. While many people bemoan the death of the old establishment, I celebrate the endless possibilities that new technology affords us all. If black music acts of yester year were born in this age, all talk of hindrances, unfair practices and so forth would essentially be rendered moot. Artists now have the power to connect directly to their fans in ways that were simply impossible in former times. Don’t get me wrong: the internet has also been a disaster for the music industry in some ways and has made piracy profitable, popular, efficient and almost impossible to prevent.

These days it is entirely possible for artists to make the music they want to make (without obstruction from anyone else) then sell their music directly to consumers who want to buy it. I have always been an independent person. I built my career as a writer and producer at the same time I built my primary record label (Intimate Records). I paid my own studio bills, the musicians, the promotions people, manufacturing costs and everything else out of my own pocket. I am eternally grateful for the many hardships I encountered: especially during my formative years – a process that was even more difficult since I was branded a maker of ‘black music’ and possessor of my own ‘sound.’ The difficulties I faced forced me to learn aspects of the business that most creative people need never trouble themselves with. I just wanted to write songs and play my instruments, but to do that I needed to turn the music I had already made into money, so that I could re-invest the proceeds.

Taking ‘no’ for an answer simply wasn’t an option and I’ve lost count of the number of all knowing A&R sages who told me I’d never make it in this business – but later paid me handsomely (I am a dedicated capitalist so bearing grudges is rather impractical) to ‘do my thing’ with artists they were passionate about. Writing and producing for artists signed to my fledgling label soon morphed into me doing production deals with major labels (Island Records/Atlantic Records/EMI Parlophone Records and A&M Records), and also into publishing ventures with BMG Music Publishing and Warner Chappell Music Publishing. My ‘ground up’ experiences also proved attractive to some majors who retained my services as a creative and business consultant. Being able to not only gain invaluable experience handling every aspect of the music industry for my own ventures, but also getting a close look at what much bigger companies did very well (and very badly too) stirred a light bulb moment for me.

I took the decision to take myself off the market as a producer for hire. I also stopped all of my dealings with major music conglomerates and set about putting my core concept into practice. It was obvious to me that the rapid growth of both computing power and download speeds would revolutionise the music industry – and that the business was (for the most part) quite unprepared for such seismic changes. The ability to deliver vast sales globally had long given large record companies a significant advantage over smaller ones and it was extremely common for small labels to sign over their most lucrative artists to bigger companies (I did it a few times myself) to give those acts a better shot at the big time. Huge music corporations still exert considerable influence, but their ability to almost totally control the fate of a record or artists isn’t what it was – and won’t ever be again.

The public have become more particular about what they support and the dreadfully short-sighted view that “the public will buy any old rubbish if we tell them to” has proven to be an expensive, foolhardy and unsustainable disaster and has done far more damage to the heart of the music business than piracy, file sharing – or anything else for that matter. So what did I see during the busiest and financially most prosperous period of my career that prompted me to change direction completely? The simple answer is the power of ‘inter-dependence.’ The old music business model was not a meeting of equals, but more of a ‘master’ and ‘slave’ dynamic. In an age where people have more choices, are more proactive in asserting those choices and have greater freedoms to express themselves: a different and far more collaborative approach was needed. I knew that I needed to build a platform that not only encouraged established labels to partner with me, but also to encourage a new wave of savvy entrepreneurial musicians and producers to use the platform to sell and promote their songs too.

Subscribe to the i2 Music Group Newsletter

Signup today for free and be the first to get notified on new updates.