Hitting the Books: Meet the person who helped Microsoft break into the leisure enterprise

A few of us are destined to guide profitable lives because of the circumstances of our start. A few of us, like legal professional Bruce Jackson, are destined to guide such lives in spite them. Raised in New York’s Amsterdam housing initiatives and subjected to the day by day brutalities of rising up a black man in America, Jackson’s story is finally one in every of tempered success. Positive he went on to check at Georgetown Legislation earlier than representing a few of the largest names in hip hop — LL Cool J, Heavy D, the Misplaced Boyz and Mr. Cheeks, SWV, Busta Rhymes — and dealing 15 years as Microsoft’s affiliate common counsel. However on the finish of the day, he’s nonetheless a black man residing in America, with all the luggage that comes with it.

In his autobiography, Never Far from Home (out now from Atria), Jackson recounts the challenges he has confronted in life, of which there are not any scarcity: from being falsely accused of theft at age 10 to witnessing the homicide of his pal at 15 to spending an evening in lockup as an grownup for the crime of driving his personal automobile; the shock of navigating Microsoft’s lillywhite workforce following years spent within the leisure business, and the top of a loving marriage introduced low by his demanding work. Whereas Jackson’s story is finally one in every of triumph, By no means Removed from Dwelling reveals a hollowness, a betrayal, of the American Dream that individuals of Invoice Gates’ (and this author’s) complexion will possible by no means must expertise. Within the excerpt under, Jackson recollects his choice to go away a Napster-ravaged music business to the clammy embrace of Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. 

Atria Books

Excerpted from Never Far From Home My Journey from Brooklyn to Hip Hop, Microsoft, and the Law by Bruce Jackson. Revealed by Atria Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Copyright © 2023 by Bruce Jackson. All rights reserved.

“We gotta work out a strategy to cease this.”

Within the late Nineteen Nineties, the digital revolution pushed the music enterprise right into a state of flux. And right here was Tony Dofat, sitting in my workplace, apoplectic, speaking about the best way to cease Napster and different platforms from taking the legs out from below the standard recording business.

I shook my head. “In the event that they’re already doing it, then it’s too late. Cat’s out of the bag. I don’t care in the event you begin suing individuals, you’re by no means going again to the previous mannequin. It’s over.”

In actual fact, lawsuits, spearheaded by Metallica and others, the chosen mode of protection in these early days of the digital music onslaught, solely served to embolden customers and publicize their trigger. Free music for everybody! gained the day.

These had been terrifying occasions for artists and business executives alike. A decades-old enterprise mannequin had been constructed on the premise that recorded music was a salable commodity.

Artists would put out a report after which embark on a promotional tour to assist that report. A good portion of a musician’s revenue (and the revenue of the label that supported the artist) was derived from the sale of a bodily product: recorded albums (or singles), both in vinyl, cassette, or compact disc. All of the sudden, that mannequin was flipped on its head… and nonetheless is. Artists earn a comparative pittance from downloads or streams, and most of their income is derived from touring, or from monetizing social media accounts whose numbers are bolstered by a music’s reputation. (Publicly, Spotify has said that it pays artists between $.003 and $.005 per stream. Translation: 250 streams will end in income of roughly one greenback for the recording artist.)

Thus, the music itself has been turned primarily right into a advertising device used to entice listeners to the product: live performance and competition tickets, and a social media promoting platform. It’s a a lot more durable and leaner enterprise mannequin. Moreover, it’s a mannequin that modified the notion that report labels and producers wanted just one respectable observe round which they may construct a complete album. This occurred on a regular basis within the vinyl period: an artist got here up with successful single, an album was shortly assembled, typically with filler that didn’t meet the usual established by the one. Streaming platforms modified all of that. Shoppers at the moment search out solely the person songs they like, and do it for a fraction of what they used to spend on albums. Ten bucks a month will get you entry to hundreds of songs on Spotify or Pandora or Apple Music roughly the identical quantity a single album price within the pre-streaming period. For customers, it has been a landmark victory (apart from the half about artists not with the ability to create artwork if they’ll’t feed themselves); for artists and report labels, it has been a catastrophic blow.

For everybody linked to the music enterprise, it was a shock to the system. For me, it was provocation to think about what I wished to do with the following section of my profession. In early 2000, I obtained a name from a company recruiter a few place with Microsoft, which was in search of an in-house counsel with a background in leisure legislation — particularly, to work within the firm’s burgeoning digital media division. The job would entail working with content material suppliers and negotiating offers by which they might conform to make their content material — music, motion pictures, tv reveals, books — obtainable to customers by way of Microsoft’s Home windows Media Participant. In a way, I might nonetheless be within the leisure enterprise; I might be spending lots of time working with the identical recording business executives with whom I had constructed prior relationships.

However there have been downsides, as effectively. For one factor, I used to be not too long ago married, with a one-year-old child and a stepson, residing in a pleasant place within the New York Metropolis suburbs. I wasn’t keen to go away them—or my different daughters—three thousand miles behind whereas I moved to Microsoft’s headquarters within the Pacific Northwest. From an expertise standpoint, although, it was virtually too good a suggestion to show down.

Deeply conflicted and at a crossroads in my profession, I solicited recommendation from pals and colleagues, together with, most notably, Clarence Avant. If I needed to title one one who has been an important mentor in my life, it might be Clarence, “the Black Godfather.” In a unprecedented life that now spans virtually ninety years, Clarence has been among the many most influential males in Black tradition, music, politics, and civil rights. It’s no shock that Netflix’s documentary on Clarence featured interviews with not only a who’s who of music and leisure business superstars, but in addition former US presidents Barack Obama and Invoice Clinton.

Within the early Nineteen Nineties, Clarence grew to become chairman of the board of Motown Information. As lofty a title as that is perhaps, it denotes solely a fraction of the knowledge and energy he wielded. When the supply got here down from Microsoft, I consulted with Clarence. Would I be making a mistake, I puzzled, by leaving the music enterprise and strolling away from a agency I had began? Clarence talked me by means of the professionals and cons, however ultimately, he provided a steely evaluation, in a method that solely Clarence may.

“Son, take your ass to Microsoft, and get a few of that inventory.”

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