Chris Anokute: The Making of A Music Mogul


Kissed a Girl. California Gurls. Yeah, Chris did that.

A little over 12 years ago, I met this young man eager to make it in the music industry.

One day, a motley entourage of Black men, pushing some blond dreadlocked artist, walked into my office looking for an entertainment attorney.

At the center of this mass of Black men was an R&B singer named Don Conner.

In addition to Don, there was a ‘manager’ whose name escapes me (but claimed he was behind numerous successful boy groups), and a ‘money guy’ named Isaac Morgan.

A few other non-descript hanger-onners rounded out the posse and filled up my (then) small office.

And the very back of the office, sat Chris.

Mr. Manager started jabbering about how talented Don was, and how he was the next Jaheim.

Money Morgan talked about the distribution agreement they were ‘just about’ to sign, and the need to make sure that they had all their ‘paperwork’ in order.

Don said he simply wanted to sing and to ensure that his people were ‘taken care of.’

Their mouths moved a lot during that meeting, but very little was actually said.

The person who spoke the loudest to me, never opened his mouth.

That was Chris.

The entire meeting, he sat in the back of the room, listening, clearly taking it all in.

When the talking heads stopped, Mr. Manager-whose-name-I-can’t-remember got up and assured me that we were ‘going to do business.’

Mr. Money promised to follow up, once they had ‘things in place.’

The various hangers-onners gave pounds, head nods or blank stares as the entourage filed out of the room.

Chris politely shook my hand, and joined the large moving mass of Black men making their way out of my Montclair office.

Needless to say, nothing ever became of Don Conner.

Turns out he was already being managed, under a production contract with a distribution agreement in place to deliver six records.

A few years later, who should walk into my office, but Chris.

There was no motley entourage or talking heads.

Just Chris, solo.

This time, he came to ask for my advice on the best way to make it in the music industry.

Since that day he visited my office those many years ago, he remembered our initial meeting.

I impressed him as someone who shot straight, even if I said things that you didn’t want to hear.

We spoke at length about all the things he had done to this date, including working in Whitney Houston’s camp, promoting independent artists and hosting parties, along with waiting tables and going to school.

He told me that he had a passion for music and felt that God had given him the gift of an ‘ear.’

He could hear a hit instantly. We’ll talk about this platinum ear in at length in another post.

Although I felt his ‘ear’ was immaterial at the time, he impressed me as an individual with singular purpose and drive.

It was clear that he had experience in production, management, and promotion.

And had a hustler’s get-it-done-at-all-costs mentality, which was impressive for someone so young.

I told him that he was on the right path, because he was seeking out knowledge and advice from people in the industry.

The only thing I felt he was missing from his repertoire, was an understanding of the business side of the industry.

The music industry is a business, first and foremost.

And without the ability to understand the rights, liabilities and obligations of the respective parties to transactions, you were simply spinning your wheels.

So I gave him an internship.

A few years later, we started a management company.

Signed a few acts (Alkatraz and JUS). Hmm…wonder where are they now?

Got our first publishing deal.

Fast forward to 2010, and Chris is one of the youngest and most successful A&R’s in the music industry.

After a three year stint as Senior A&R pop at Virgin/Capitol Records, he is now Sylvia Rhone‘s most recent executive acquisition at Universal/Motown, charged with giving the label a pop presence.

For the guy who A&R’d Joss Stone, found Katy Perry, Stacie Orrico (and many more) he’s up to the task.

Check out Christian TV.

I’ve skipped over some of the juicy bits of Chris’ rise to fame.

But that’s for another time.

About these ads

23 Comments

Filed under branding

23 responses to “Chris Anokute: The Making of A Music Mogul

  1. Chris is an incredible resource. He is full of intelligence and integrity very rarely found in music these days, especially in the A&R realm. I am honored to know him, personally and professionally. Thank you Chris ~ God Bless All.

    • @Marissa, Chris was interning at my law office for almost two years. During that time, he absorbed virtually every contract, copyright filing, trademark application, production agreement, license agreement or other legal document that came across my desk. He really understood the nature of transactions, and the respective interests of parties. He worked very hard to develop a competence with legal instruments (as it related to the entertainment industry), and that diligence has clearly paid off.

  2. Mom 2

    So proud of you! May God continue to direct and bless you.

  3. Pingback: The Budgetnista Travels: Day 8 / From Hollywood to Home | The Budgetnista

  4. Chike V.

    Chris has the Drive, the Passion, and the Motivation… combine that with ‘the ear’ and you have the next Quincy Jones!

  5. @Iyousta, I’d be happy to publish your comment if you actually provided your real name.

  6. What an amazing tribute to a legend in the making. I have learned so much from Chris and I am proud t call him a brother and friend. He is a true leader and is destined to be a legend in the music industry. His dedication to his craft and artist he works with is just a part of what makes him extraordinary. Jus and I have never forgotten the valuable lessons and advice he has given us through out the years. How many people in the “Industry” can you honestly say pick up the phone when you call. Chris has never let the Hollywood scene get to him. He stays true to his character and I can only hope to be as accomplished as him one day. One day we will make you proud bro!! Just know that we are all proud of you!! Rock on my brother!! Stay blessed.

  7. Pingback: Verdict: 2010 was a good year for StephenChukumba.com | Stephen Chukumba

  8. Bella

    What I am MOST PROUD OF is the fact that these two gentlemen ie Chris Anokute and Stephen Chuk(w)umba are “NDI NWA AFO”. Genius representatives of the enterprising spirit of the Igbo people. Ride on, guys. CARRY WAKA!!!

    • Bella,

      Thank you for your kind words. It’s true. We are Igbo, and as such, our accomplishments are the accomplishments of our people. I hope that others are inspired to excel and achieve.

  9. Hello Stephen,

    My name is Susan Majek. I am a songwriter/producer who is looking for opportunities to present my songs of different genres for recording consideration by artists you and Chris Anokute represent or are around. I am also open to write jingles for products or brands. Please let me know if you are open to receiving material from me. My email is below. Thanks.

    • Hello Susan, unfortunately, I am not in the business of placing songs any longer. Chris is also surrounded by stables of quality writers that it would be very hard to place something through him either. My suggestion to you would be to offer your songs to your current network of singers and producers, with the goal of making your content as widely available as possible. If someone among them gains traction with any of your songs, you will have demonstrated your viability as a writer, and created a basis for someone, like Chris, to give you a look.

  10. Any advice for a female singer looking to land a record deal? :)

    • Allison, the most important thing you can do is build audience. Record deal or not, you need to be able to connect with your fans. Developing an on- and off-line footprint is critical to achieving any kind of success in the music industry. For now, I would concentrate on performing. You should seek out as many opportunities to participate in music festivals, open mics, and shows as possible. And to the greatest extent possible, make sure that you’re posting and sharing these videos online. Connecting with your fans, and having them share your content online is vitally important, because that’s where A&R’s like Chris, turn, when they’re looking to discover new talent. If you can’t get people to follow you online, chances are you can’t get people to show up to your performances or buy your records either. Don’t worry about landing a record deal. If you’re good enough, and you make a big enough splash online, they’ll find you. Or at the very least, when you have a big enough following/views on YouTube, followers on Twitter, or Friends/fans on Facebook, they’ll pay attention when you do go seeking a deal.

      • Wow that was a perfect response. Thank you so much for taking the time to respond it really means a lot! I’m 19 years old and about to move to LA. What I’m worried about is finding the right producer(s) etc. to work with to make some songs/ build a sound. Right now I don’t have anything professionally recorded. Any advice on how to find a producer?

        Thank you :)
        Allison

      • Allison, finding the right producer is hit or miss if you don’t have a network of trusted industry professionals already in place. You’re going to find (if you have any talent) a bunch of unscrupulous, lecherous, greedy bastards out there, preying upon new, young talent looking to break into the industry. So here are some tips you should follow:

        1. Ignore any producer who isn’t willing to give you tracks to work on;

        2. Ignore any producer trying to sign you off the bat;

        3. Ignore any producer who isn’t willing to work on spec;

        4. Ignore any producer who isn’t willing to provide references;

        5. Ignore any producer without a studio, studio access (that you don’t have to pay for) or professional recording equipment;

        6. If a producer claims he’s got a deal make them show you the executed contract & get the contact details of the label executive who gave it to them;

        7. If your gut tells you the producer is full of crap, go with your gut ALWAYS!

        8. Never pay for anything up front;

        9. Never sign anything without having it reviewed by an attorney that you select (don’t let them refer you to an attorney);

        If you want to find talented producers, advertise on Craigslist and make the producers who respond bid to work with you. Have them prove themselves.

        You need folks who will work hard, for free, based on their belief in your talent and the belief that working with you will advance them professionally.

        Any producer who produces your songs automatically owns 50% of that song, so if you get picked up, sell a song or get airplay, theyre covered.

        Let me know if this is a good enough starting point for ya.

  11. Syne

    Stephen,
    Thanks for a great blog with great posts.
    As a producer who does things that you described in your response to Allison above (and I completely agree with you), I wanted to ask your advice. How does a producer like myself protect myself from artists that simply look for free studio time, jumping from one producer to the next, showing no loyalty, since of course, there is no paperwork? And then if they get a deal, pretty much treated all the producers that helped along the way as sparring partners? Sometimes the “politics” when the artist gets to the label is such that a “named” producers get the project and those hard working people along the way get nothing but a hard drive full of music and a hand shake? So my question is…what is the end game for a producer that sincerely develops an artist and there is great chemistry, to the point that label interest starts? What’s the business savvy thing to do? Do you just trust the artist or trust that the relationship you built with the artist will outlive office politics at labels, where they want to bring in others to produce? Or do you just put your best work on the artist hoping that yours will be so undeniable that the label would not dream of separating you and the artists (which is a long shot with no paperwork)? Most artists would not turn down a deal on account of their producer, no matter how great the songs are. Some say that the producer should try to sign the artist to a production deal. But many artists are leery of that. Others say, create a production company and become business partners, and then if a deal comes, both the producer and the artist are compensated?
    Open to any thoughts or suggestions you may have, since this music biz is a place where it is increasingly difficult to make money and stay in business, especially for those who are truly passionate about the music like myself.
    Help! LOL
    Syne

    • Syne,

      First, thank for reading and commenting. I’m pleased to know that this information was helpful. In terms of what you should do, you should treat your producing skills as a business. If this is what you want to do as a career, you shouldn’t just give it away. No matter how promising any artist that finds their way to you is, you’ve got to get them to commit to something before you agree to work with them.

      The ones that agree to some form of working relationship, whether they pay you outright for your services, pay you for the track they like, pay you for the recording session, sign a spec deal with you (which outlines that if they get a deal based on a demo or tracks you provide, they must give you at least x number of tracks on the album), sign to you as an artist produced by your production company (with a buy-out option they can exercise if they get signed and want to dump you), or start up a joint venture, you’ve got to have some formal commitment from them before you do any work.

      Any artist who isn’t willing to either (i) pay you for your services, (ii) pay you for your tracks, or (iii) sign some agreement with you, isn’t someone you should be working with.

      If you’re running a charity, then you can work with people on the strength, hoping that if they get on, they’ll remember you. But if you’re running a business, you realize that every minute you spend, every kilowatt of energy you utilize, every track you produce costs you money, so there is nothing to be gained from just giving it away.

      Anyone who walks into your studio wanting you to produce/record, make sure you get them to sign a release, allowing you to put out the music, including their vocal, in the event that they don’t do anything formal with the music you create. That way, if they work with you, get a deal and then don’t put you on, you can sit on the work until they’re hot and then release it yourself.

      Good luck!

      SC

      • Syne

        SC,
        Thanks for the great advice. So let me ask one more question. I do this for a living…I have seen of late that publishing company and record company A&R’s have artists that they have just signed (record company) or artists that are about to get a deal, but have a pub deal (pub company). So these artists are new and need music. So these A&R’s are telling me about these new artists. So I am in a position where, since it is the label sending the artist, and I should be (and am) very happy to work on artists at a higher level, they expect me to just work with the artists for free. Even though the referral is coming from a label, the bottom line is that they expect me to work with the artist on spec (fine by me), but most of these artists that are either about to be signed, or are signed, are now getting visibility from established producers. So there will be no way for me to get anyone to sign anything to guarantee that I will get compensated in some way for my work. How do you suggest that I position myself with these labels and pub companies so that I gain access to these new artists, but still get taken seriously when i bring them great music?
        Syn

  12. Syn(e), unless and until you have a track record, you’re always going to be in the unenviable position of having to prove yourself. But if you’re getting referrals from the labels, you’re already in pocket. And your goal should be to strengthen those relationships to the point that someone gives you a shot.

    The real issue for you is more a function of getting a commitment from the label(s) that is/are referring artist to give you a slot on one of the records they release for the artists you’re producing.

    They’ve got to test a record, and not simply have you in the pool of producers submitting tracks/records for consideration. Even if your records/tracks are the hottest, they often go with the producers with the name because the name will ensure that stations put it on rotation, DJs give it a first-look/listen, and the cache that accompanies the producer’s affiliation with the new artist.

    The best thing for you is to leak a hot record to a record pool (like Digiwaxx, Cornerstone, eMixShow, etc.) and get a buzz. If the DJs like it and play it, then you are in the same position as established producers (inasmuch as your record is getting spins on radio and love by DJs).

    If you’re working with lots of up-and-coming artists, you might even be able to get the label to sign off on having their artists included in a mixtape that you produce, promote and distribute. Or you could do an ‘unauthorized’ mixtape, mashing up your tracks, the artists’ vocals and vocals/features from other established artists.

    • Syne

      SC,
      Again, thank you for your valuable time and very useful feedback. I hope to report back with positive news as I venture into big things in 2013, as I believe the same for you in all your endeavors.
      Thanks,
      Syne

      • Syne

        SC,
        How can I contact you direct? Looking to discuss consultation terms with you. I am working on something that I would like to discuss more in depth. Or you can email me direct also?
        Thanks,
        Syne

      • Syne, please shoot me an email with your contact details and I’ll contact you tomorrow.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s