Why your music career is a startup and how to cultivate it as such
Photos of Prince Charles Alexander, provided by Prince Charles Alexander
Prince Charles Alexander is one of the most acclaimed recording and mixing engineers of today. His clients include Mary J. Blige, the Notorious B.I.G., Destiny's Child, Faith Evans, P. Diddy, Usher, Puff Daddy, Boyz II Men, Babyface, Sting, Aretha Franklin, Usher, Brian McKnight, among others, receiving more than 40 Platinum and Gold certifications from the RIAA, 3 Grammy Awards and 7 Grammy nominations, and a Victoire de la Musique (French equivalent of a Grammy).

Alexander was an adjunct instructor at NYU Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, teaches advanced production and mixing at Berklee College of Music, and holds a Professor of the Practice position at Northeastern University. He also developed Berklee's Commercial Record Production curriculum and its Online Vocal Production undergraduate and graduate courses.

Prince Charles Alexander is a current member of the Producers and Engineers Wing of the Grammy Committee Board of Governors, the Audio Engineering Society (AES), and the Musician's Union Local 802 in NYC.

While studying in school, Charles wanted to try himself in arts, sports, and literature. He started playing the clarinet and shares how during his first lesson, the teacher showed him the B-note, wrote it down on paper, and he thought: wow, this is easy! Between the ages of 11 and 13, the record producer began looking at where successful African Americans go, and realized that most of them were in the entertainment industry. "I made up my mind that entertainment was where everyone was, and music was something that I was good at, so I started to pursue that," he says.
"I started looking at where African Americans are at because I wanted to to reach out and connect with people that looked like me"
Getting a good offer from Brandeis University, Prince Charles decided to take the opportunity, and balanced that with being a performing musician during his undergraduate studies. "When I was a senior, it dawned on me that I need[ed] to reach a demographic, so I started designing an album," he recalls. "I found a producer, a person who was going to promote my music — so I had my team — put some music together, released it two weeks after I graduated, and that began a seven year career of being a touring artist."

It was in the 1980s when, in the producer's words, monumental changes came: with the advent of the drum machine, exploitation of synthesizers, and the introduction of the sampler, Charles started to feel like the music he was creating was "under assault" and he needed to come up with a strategy of how to survive as a musician with all of the new technology happening. Looking back at it now, he says that going back to school and doing an eight-month engineering program was one of the best decisions he made, as it opened up his production skill set, giving him the ability to work within the next generation of music.

For Alexander, creativity was only one aspect of his career. "Having a career in music is also about understanding entrepreneurship: you are a business [and] an independent contractor," he continues. Completing his Master's degree in Music Entrepreneurship at Northeastern and now returning to his Alma Mater to teach, he explains that a school that allows for interdisciplinary studies has allowed musicians to be more prepared for the future, since it makes it possible to ground oneself and experience things other than just the rigor of music study.
"You realize that graduating is tantamount to creating a startup as a musician."
Also having a teaching position at Berklee College of Music, which Charles describes as a "pure music school", he draws the comparison between both institutions, saying that many students that come out of Berklee might struggle with how much of an entrepreneur you have to be to succeed, whereas Northeastern underscores that a lot more.

"The way that the business class talk[s] about your entrepreneurship [and] the way that [the] engineering class talk[s] about instrument design starts to open up another type of a thought process that you might not get at a pure music school," the professor elaborates. "These are the types of things that because our degree is in music, but it came from a research institution, the assumption is that we're nimble enough to play in worlds other than music, and some of those worlds can maybe even benefit our musicianship."

With Berklee, the main challenge is that because there are so many great musicians, you go into an isolated bubble where "note choices are king or queen". The top 3% of greatest musicians on the planet that go through this college will get amazing offers, and everybody else at the school has to figure out where their musicianship and entrepreneurship fits.
"I think a Northeastern student might not be present to that level of music, but they're going to be present to more of the parameters of what a real career looks like," Charles believes.
Although it may seem otherwise, the music industry itself doesn't look that different from what it did 40 years ago — it's just that the apparatus changed. As a creator, you are trying to access a listening demographic, and that has remained the same throughout the years; how complex that gets and how you connect with your listeners is what changes. "Warner, Universal, [and] Sony are the middlemen. They will always be … and it will never change," Charles says. "I look at them as a means to an end. If you could figure out how to access the demographic through the internet, which I believe is more difficult than people realize, you wouldn't need a record company."

There are so many people putting out so much product that the ability for you to promote and market yourself is still a huge component of creating success. "Many of the successful people that say you don't need a record deal, especially artists, have had major record deals already, and that major label deal exposed them to a larger demographic," the producer states. "There will be periods where you will make small, big, [and] intermediate deals, and all of these deals, as you look back over your 30-40 year career, will be your career."

Through teaching at Northeastern and Berklee, Prince Charles Alexander hopes to prepare students to not look at what the music industry is or what it can be, but to look at the functionality of the craft and the different ways musicians had to promote their product. As this requires a lot of meticulous work and not a lot of artists want to explore the business side of music, it makes sense to learn how to build a team around oneself and know enough to scrutinize their actions to know that those actions can work for you.
"I'm still engaged in the industry. The things that I do, work on, produce, [and] mix, I have to then negotiate how they move through the industry, and the people that I negotiate with are constantly telling me what the most modern parameter is that we all need to be aware of. With that feedback, I bring it back to my classes."
A crucial factor in making it in the industry is being able to adapt. "You might google someone successful and they'll say follow your heart. But you're hearing that from [a person] who has already got a major record deal [and] sold millions of records! It worked for them because they were at the right place at the right time meeting the right people!" the producer exclaims. Music is a service occupation, so if you're not having that same luck doing what you love and your demographic doesn't like your craft, what are you going to do: change or continue following your heart?

In his lessons, Charles helps to translate the "follow your heart" model and marry it to the reality of today. You have to ask yourself: what can you do with what's in front of you and what are the things you can control? That's where productivity plays a vital role as it is directly related to connectivity with your demographic audience. "Some of the best music that we know, we know them because [musicians] were prolific recording artists," the professor adds. "Being productive in the recording space is just as important as being productive in the composing space."
"There are too many aspects of music and the music industry that you can't control — whether people love you or not is not in your hands; whether people like your music is not in your hands; but there are some things in your hands, [such as] tempo, instrumentation, melody, [and] chord structure."
Some of the artists make it look easy, but there are hours of practice behind their success. Charles advises defining the regimen of how frequently to practice and figuring out the things that you need to pull into your brand that would help you move forward.

One of the biggest mistakes young aspiring musicians make is thinking that their perception is the correct perception. To be more exact, it's believing that music that is successful is successful because it's good… Good has nothing to do with it, it is simply a subjective concept. "If you use your own apparatus of what you think is good as a measure of success, you're probably talking about a quarter of the successful music that's out there," Charles says. "What I try to do is help the students understand and prepare to be able to get information from 100% of [it]." For example, if a folk singer can "sell out a hall", you need to analyze what it is about their relationship with their music and their relationship with their demographic that enabled that to happen, because that's also a significant part of the music.
"Very often a successful career doesn't look like: 'Hey, I made it!' Very often a successful career [is] grinding, grinding, grinding, grinding. Suddenly, you turn around, you're forty years old, and you're like: 'Oh wow, I think I made it'," he laughs.
To figure that out in terms of your own brand, you need to do the SWOT analysis and see what your team's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats are. "Make the things that are weak on your team stronger, make the threats less of a threat, continue to grow those strengths, and the opportunities [that] seem like they don't exist, create them," the producer elucidates.

Alexander himself has relied on that to start his career: he would go to halls or clubs and meet musicians. "Next thing you know I'm backstage. Next thing you know, I'm in the dressing room of the star. Next thing, you know, I'm talking to the star and learning from these people. There was no way that I should've even had access to that; I created that access. When you really really want this connection with the music industry, there is a way that you think, … understand where the opportunities are, and you begin to create them," Charles tells me.
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