Behind the Music: Jeff Robinson on the 360 Deal

Alicia Keys's longtime manager tells what every artist needs to know before signing on the dotted line

Keys performs a tribute for Oprah's final taping (Getty)

Would established artists like Alicia Keys or Beyonce be subjected to such a deal?

If you’re an Alicia Keys, Beyonce or a Jay-Z, you already have the leverage as an established artist to refuse such a deal. As an artist increases his or her worth and value, they can enter negotiations that will prove more beneficial to them.

Considering the economy, is this the prime time for an indie artist to thrive?

Yes and no. I like to use the example of a big army moving through swamps with a huge tank versus a smaller guerrilla-style militia with no big machinery. They are able to move quicker and their approach is less cumbersome. The truth is, to reach a worldwide platform you need that label machine that has arms everywhere. The great thing about an indie artist is that he or she can do albums without being wasteful. That artist can get distribution on iTunes and sell 150,000 records and recoup 100% profit. You don’t have to sell a gold or platinum album to make money.

So will there be a changing of the guard in this music industry?

You’re gonna see the rise of the independents. Right now, there are three big labels selling off pieces of Warner Bros, Universal and SonyBMG. Everything is condensing because people are starting to figure out there are other ways to scout talent that already have a built in following. An artist with a million hits on YouTube will be noticed by labels.

How does an artist stay relevant in this fickle industry?

The key for an artist to stay relevant is staying in touch with the people! Not living in a bubble in a grand mansion on a hill and forgetting how you got there. For example, it’s hard for rappers to rap about the hood when he’s lived in rich neighborhoods for the past five years.  It’s also equally important to stay abreast of all the [daily] technology changes. [Nearly] 60% of the Web can be accessed through smart phones now including music. In fact, you may be holding the new record company in your hands right now. (Laughs). Also every artist needs a great marketing person and someone who has connection with radio, which is the chief asset of any artist nowadays.

How has the biz evolved since the era when labels had Black Music departments?

One thing is that we don’t have a lot of great R&B music today. Who is our Teddy Pendegrass? Curtis Mayfield? We’d be hard pressed to find that next timeless artist. I’m a staunch believer in artist development. It took seven years before Alicia Keys was introduced; she was no overnight success, we worked hard and her success is a testament to that artist development. I want to do classic albums because your fans will grow old with you. We need to stop looking for the flashy and find and nurture those artists who make true music and will be able to tour into their 60s like an Elton John.

Indeed. What’s in store for MBK’s future?

I started a gospel label with my brother Conrad Robinson called Glory 2 Glory (G2G) and our first release is this incredible group from the Bronx called Livre.  I believe in giving back to God and spreading the message of Jesus Christ. I just sold a film I co-produced to Focus Feature Films called Pariah. I’m planning on shooting more films,  maybe even one this summer. I have a great passion to conquer the “Hollyweird” world as I have done in music.

When all is said and done, what do you hope folks will say about Jeff Robinson?

I want to be remembered as the man who helped to create giant brands for all of those who worked with him and sit back and smile as they blossom from scared kids to giants in this business. So yeah, I’m going to buy that house on a island, sit in my chair by the ocean and grin like that cat in Alice in Wonderland when I think about it all. Then I can say, “Yeah, it’s been a pretty great life after all. It wasn’t an opening act or a guest star, but simply the whole f—– show!”

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