Faculty Profile: John Kellogg

Building a Better Music Business
Music Business/Management Department Assistant Chair John Kellogg
Music Business/Management Department Assistant Chair John Kellogg
Mychal Lilly

The digital revolution and the attendant misconception of “free” music have been the recording industry’s wrecking ball. But a motivated crew has ventured into the rubble to construct a new industry. Among this group is John Kellogg, the assistant chair of Berklee’s Music Business/Management Department. For Kellogg, preparing a younger generation to take the lead in building that new music business is a tremendous opportunity and a cultural imperative.

During his years in the business, Kellogg has seen many changes. Before coming to Berklee in 2006, he spent nearly three decades as an entertainment lawyer, helping musicians such as the O’Jays and r&b vocalist Gerald Levert decipher complex recording contracts and secure adequate compensation. Kellogg was also formerly a vocalist in the funk/r&b band Cameo, so he has also seen the industry from the artist’s perspective. He believes that a musician’s art should be recognized as one of our nation’s most lucrative and far-reaching exports.

But the MP3 generation has transformed the nature of the product. Physical record sales are down and the traditional cash cow, the hit album, appears to have yielded to the single. “When the industry was based on record sales, albums were the driving force, and on an album with 12 or more cuts, more rights holders, songwriters, and publishers were getting paid for their songs,” Kellogg says. “But with the advent of digital music, most people are only buying singles. That eliminates earnings for all those other songs.” What concerns Kellogg is that artists who have been successful can no longer attain the same level of financial freedom or rely on income from the sale of their recordings or from the value of their publishing interests. Record company advances were traditionally based on that anticipated income. But today, as copyright income has shrunk, so have advances. Publishing deals are a fraction of what they used to be, and that jeopardizes revenue that once offered successful artists creative freedom.

“This isn’t the first time the industry has been a singles business,” Kellogg says. “We’re really just going back to where we were in the fifties and sixties.” He notes, though, that the industry as a whole appears to be strong. “More music is being consumed—though not necessarily bought—and listened to than ever before. The industry isn’t over, it’s just transitioning,” he says.

In the midst of that transition, Kellogg suggests, prospects will be bright if new systems are put in place to monetize the various uses of music in the digital world. That’s the prickly part that keeps music lawyers, lobbyists, and economists up at night.

Kellogg looks to history as he ponders whether the current financial troubles might somehow benefit the music industry. “When people get the blues, they’re going to look for music. I look back at what happened in the Depression era. People couldn’t afford music, and that’s when radio became big. In the same way, today they turn to free Internet channels to preview and listen to music. Musicians need to target those outlets and their potential to continue the music and help build their careers during this market downturn.”

For today’s musicians, the challenge is to find ways to exploit the current musical boom into financial opportunity. These issues are center stage in Berklee’s music business classrooms. The department is undergoing a curriculum review with an eye toward strengthening tracks in e-commerce, manufacturing, and entrepreneurship.

The economy may be traveling through its own valley of the shadow of debt, but to Kellogg, the forecast need not be all gloom and doom. In these dark times, Kellogg says that Berklee can be a beacon. “We really are a shining light on the hill as far as the music industry goes and are in a position to guide it into the new realm where we can really find ways to make this new music economy work—no matter what form it may take.”

Susan Gedutis Lindsay is a freelance writer and woodwind player. She and her husband, Stephen, recently released their debut CD, The Lindsays: Live at the Church of the Pilgrimage.