Onward & Upward

B.E.'s 2000 Small Business Award winners are flying high. Here's why.

His reputation soared. One day, a few recording industry executives came to his Atlanta-based high school, flashed an alluring contract, and told the young DJ that he could continue his education or make real money real fast. He chose the latter. It turned out to be a bad move.

Out of every dollar he made, he was getting a quarter. “What they [executives] neglected to tell me,” Kirkland says, “was that that quarter had to be divided about four or five more times. I kept owing somebody else. Needless to say, by the time they got through, I had 5 cents left.”

“The experience of being taken for a ride because of a bad contract and taking people to court was the best music lesson that I’ve ever gotten,” remembers Kirkland. “It taught me that this was a business, and if you forget that, you’ll go broke.”

It was also an eye-opener for “how much money there was on the other side of the business,” Kirkland says.

Revenues for Kirkland’s 2-year-old company are expected to exceed $500,000 in 2000.

Born and raised in Atlanta, Kirkland had seemingly been in the music business all of his life. In junior high school, he did an internship at a country music studio learning “all the technical stuff,” Kirkland recalls. During high school, he furthered his education in the music business by interning at Atlanta radio stations WVEE and WLAR. his days as an aspiring rapper, however, ended after the dust had settled on the bad contract.

Kirkland-determined to make money and treat artists fairly-opened his first recording studio in Atlanta in 1996. But at that time “everybody and their mom started moving to Georgia to do hip-hop, so it got crowded. We were like a dime a dozen.”

He explored the feasibility of setting up shop in markets outside the South. Eventually, it came down to Philadelphia and Boston. The scales tipped in favor of Boston because he found that the city’s hip-hop community was woefully underserved, and his young daughter was there.

In 1998, Mass Sound Recording, a provider of recording services for the local hip-hop community in the Roxbury section of Boston, was born. Armed with one permanent employee and a three-year, $25,000 Small Business Administration-secured loan, Kirkland was ready to do business. He now has five full-time employees and a rotating staff of independent contractors.

Last August, Mass Sound Recording initiated due diligence in pursuit of a $10 million commercial loan. The additional capital will take the company from the “snatching people out of bad-record-contracts mode,” and into lucrative ones for both the artist and Kirkland’s studio. The money will also be used to get his record label and Internet businesses off the ground.

To what does he attribute his early success? “The stuff I know how to do, [like] handling the creative side of the business, I do, and the stuff I don’t know how to do, [like] handling money, I get somebody else to do it,” Kirkland says.

Kirkland says that one day he wants to be as

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