Alumni Profile: Kim Gerlach '03
When it comes to finding a career in music, sometimes half the battle is knowing what you're good at. The other half, of course, is working hard. Music business/management major Kim Gerlach '03 did both. She graduated high school a year early, finished Berklee in three years, and went on to Suffolk Law. At only 27, she's the director of licensing at New York-based RightsFlow, a start-up in the fast-moving field of mechanical licensing and royalty administration.
The company helps digital distributors, labels, music services, and similar groups manage the often complex mechanical licensing process for digital downloads, ringtones, and streaming, as well as physical CDs. Individual musicians who want to cover a song? There's an app for that too, called Limelight, on the RightsFlow website.
The following is a condensed and edited version of our conversation about how Gerlach found and forged her path.
It's complicated, but can you explain the situation RightsFlow addresses?
Helping songwriters get paid these days can be pretty difficult. People are using their tracks without their knowledge—streaming cover songs on MySpace, making ringtones, and selling their versions through iTunes. I find those songwriters, and if our clients owe them money I pay them. It's great to be in the position of saying, "I have money for you"—especially in this economy.
What appealed to you about the job?
It had the music business aspect, it had the legal aspect, and it involves working with creative people. It also has a cool moral aspect. Plus it's a lot of fun. It's different. It's not necessarily what everyone else does. And a lot of us are musicians. For me, it was a great fit with my experience at Berklee.
You came to Berklee as a voice principal, and you also played clarinet and piano. How did you get into music business?
I realized very quickly when I came to Berklee that I was better on the business front. It was just a better fit, and it was very natural to me to be a mediator. And the program's very supportive, very up-to-date, and realistic, so you know what you're getting into. I worked at Heavy Rotation Records, and I was fortunate to spend two semesters interning at Universal.
How else did the music business/management coursework prepare you for what you're doing now?
I walked out of Berklee with a good foundation. I have interns now who come from different programs or from no programs, and I find that I have to explain things that were a normal part of the Berklee curriculum.
Digital rights management isn't the most public side of the music industry, compared to, say, booking a venue. What drew you to it?
It takes a very different type of personality. Some are suited to be a manager and hold hands for bands, but I'm not that person. My job isn't glamorous, as such, but it is very rewarding. I deal with Lenny Kravitz's attorney, for example, or with the attorney of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. But I'm really not in the music industry for the glamour.
Do you still play music yourself?
Currently, no. Law school beat it out of me, because you have three years of nonstop studying. Do I still sing in the shower, go to shows, immerse myself in music? Yes.
Everyone wants to know what's coming next in the digital media world. Any forecasts?
To be in a startup company in a bad economy. . . I'm so immersed in it. Who knows what's to come? My job has changed in nine months already so dramatically—I went from a licensing coordinator position to heading up a department four months later. This job pretty much fast-tracked me.
Though you don't work in a law firm, you are a lawyer, a "suit" . . . do you have to wear a suit?
No! I do dress up, though, for my publishers.