Former Fox Music President Robert Kraft Makes His Own Lane
Addressing the packed Berk Recital Hall on campus last month, music industry giant Robert Kraft seemed astonished to find himself looking back on his career with the rest of us. In conversation with Don Gorder, chair of the Music Business/Management Department, Kraft discussed his beginnings as a songwriter and bookseller living in New York City, and how a series of unexpected early career opportunities (record deals) and misfortunes (label failures) led him, eventually, to first writing music for television, then scoring films, then producing and supervising music, and eventually to his long career as president of Fox Music, where he worked until 2012. He went on to found the production, management, and media consulting company Kraftbox Entertainment in 2013.
Kraft explained how he would try to to “get in the way of opportunity” through personal tenacity and an openness to saying yes first and then figuring out how to get the job done once the pressure was on. He discussed what makes a great soundtrack (it’s simple: “a hit,” like Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic, which Kraft oversaw during his time at Fox Music). And he stressed the important but often overlooked role self-care plays in a creative profession. “I eat right, I try to sleep, I exercise—I do all of those things for one simple reason: this is an athletic endeavor, being an artist and a musician; you’ve got to be together, because if you want a long career you’ve really got to lay in for it."
Kraft also answered student questions about how he dealt with competition in the music industry—“comparison is the thief of joy,” he said, quoting Theodore Roosevelt—and how to be an effective, assertive leader even if it means “nobody’s going to like you all the time.”
Below is an edited selection of takeaways from Kraft’s remarks.
On Deciding at a Young Age to Become a Songwriter:
“Just making a very specific choice of a destination, in retrospect, was very helpful, because not unlike I’m sure a lot of people here, I like a lot of things—I like movies, and I like writing songs, and I like canoeing…but I decided to focus on one thing, and it really helped me to just say, ‘That’s who I am and what I do,’ because it actually turned out to be the wedge into every other field.”
On Career Endings and Beginnings:
“My career continues to keep ending...Careers, when you’re an artist...are always just about to end…Because we’ve all decided in this room to take a risk with our careers. I had roommates that went to business school and law school, and they have a kind of lane ahead of them. I don’t have a lane ahead of me; I make the lane.”
On Learning to Manage a Film Budget:
“It didn’t occur to me that movies had budgets before I started at Fox. I thought you just do what you do, you express yourself—and they pay for it.”
On the Commonality between All the Roles He’s Held:
“In the center of this wheel with all these spokes—all of which are surprising to me as well—is music…There’s nothing I love more than a funky beat.”