EMGWorld soaks up more wisdom in Part 2 with BET's Kelly G
Since 1999, DJ Kelly G has overseen the music and production of Black Entertainment Television’s franchise programs such as the BET Awards, 106 & Park, BET’s Music Matters, BET Live, Rap City, Uncut and BET Access Granted. Prior to joining BET, Kelly G worked for Chicago’s Number One rated hip-hop and R&B station, WGCI. He now takes a moment to educate EMGWorld with advice on becoming successful within the industry.
Background: Sr. Director of Music Programming at BET, Event DJ
EMGWorld: When you started out as a DJ did you ever come to a point in your career where making a living in the music industry seemed unattainable?
Kelly G: No. I never felt that way because I had a passion for music. I loved what I did. Whether you paid me or didn't pay, it didn't matter. When you're doing something you love you're not even worried about that.
EMGWorld: Would you say you made sacrifices out of your love for music?
KG: I left a lucrative job at Kraft Foods and took a $12,000.00 pay cut to work part-time at a radio station as a production assistant and DJ. People thought I was crazy, but it didn't matter. When you end up doing something that you're destined to do and passionate about, things will work themselves out.
EMGWorld: How did things work out for you?
KG: God provides. I didn't have the type of expenses that I had working at a corporation 5 days a week. I ended up getting more paying DJ gigs. Everything kinda worked itself out.
EMGWorld: What advice would you give to artists and performers who want to work in entertainment?
KG: [Just] work in entertainment. Make sure that you're passionate about what you do. Don't worry about the money. Don't worry about the notoriety. All of that stuff will come in time. If you're passionate about something it will work itself out. I truly believe that. Would you do it for free? Do you live and breathe it? Those are the questions you have to ask yourself.
EMGWorld: What suggestion would you give to students out there who are still in pursuit of finding a career that caters to their passion for music and entertainment?
KG: Students looking to pursue careers in the music industry should study their craft. Study the business. Know [who] the players [are].
When you continue to do that your profession or position will make room for itself. As a result of being a DJ, I ended up coming to BET. I first started out as a music director and evolved into a music supervisor. All these positions came just based off that love for music.
EMGWorld: What would you consider as step #1 once someone discovers the career they want to pursue?
KG: [Again] Study your craft. One of the greatest things people learned when Michael Jackson passed is that he studied his craft. When all these great stories came out about him, you learned that he studied classical music. He studied dancers. He studied art. He really indulged and immersed himself into the arts.
EMGWorld: Would you say that attending college is necessary for someone who desires to work in the entertainment business?
KG: My dad use to say what may run your house may ruin mine. You have to figure out what's best for you. It may not necessarily be a college course or college infrastructure. That education can come from someone you respect in the industry. At the end of the day it’s about getting an education.
EMGWorld: So whether someone attends college or not, you still recommend they get educated?
KG: The thing I stress to people is to make sure you get educated. When you’re getting educated you’re learning more about the arts. You’re learning more about what it is you do in the industry. Even if you do go to college [getting educated] doesn’t stop there. I’ve been out of college for many years, but me getting educated doesn’t stop. I still get educated on emerging artists, new trends and what’s hot. The main focus of it all is being educated. Whether its through a college or mentorship.
EMGWorld: How critical is it to maintain relationships within the industry?
KG: I think that's just a fact of life. You never know how the universe is going to use you. You take a story like Puffy [Sean "Diddy" Combs] who worked for Andre Harrell [at Uptown Records]. Years later, Puffy has his own Bad Boy Entertainment empire and he hires Andre Harrell.
You want to constantly keep that golden rule in the back of your head "do unto others as you would want them to do unto you." You want to put out good energy and sow the right seeds so that you can have the proper harvest that's do to you. Don't worry about who jerked you, told you a lie or promised you something. It'll all work out. All things work for the good.
EMGWorld: What do you recommend to those individuals out there who’ve been hustled or played?
KG: Don't get discouraged when things like that happen to you because it's all part of a bigger plan. I DJ'd [many] parties for free. People would say "I got ya man" and "we're going to take care of you." I didn't get paid, but it didn't matter. I had a promise in my heart. I had a passion for music and it worked itself out.
EMGWorld: Who would you consider as mentors within your career?
KG: I had many mentors from Reggie Williams and Stephen Hill, current people I work with. BET’s Chief Operating Officer Scott Mills has been a great mentor. David Porter, who I attended a Harvard management course with, has been a mentor.
EMGWorld: Would you say a mentorship only works when you’re studying someone in your field?
KG: A mentorship doesn’t necessarily have to be in your field. David Porter is the VP of the Walter Cates Foundation, which emphasizes diversity throughout cable. He has nothing to do with music. He’s a great mentor in teaching me how to know business and understanding business infrastructure. Your mentorship can come in various shapes and forms. It doesn’t necessarily have to be with someone strictly doing music.
EMGWorld: What would you say is the best way for someone to network when just a small fish in a big pond?
KG: One of the ways that you can network is to serve. Everyone likes free help. Alot of people are always flattered by people who want to be mentored. Ask if there is a way you can help out in some way for free? People always respect and are taken to people who are passionate and hungry.
EMGWorld: Why is it such a challenge for indie artists to get a new song on the radio?
KG: At radio stations the playlist are so tight and it’s controlled by certain individuals and certain companies. The station has a playlist they have to stick to. There’s not a lot of [freedom] that they have. So it’s difficult to get an independent record no one has ever heard of on the radio.
EMGWorld: What’s the most effective way for an indie artist to promote their music if radio stations won’t play it?
KG: I think the most effective way for an indie artist today to get their music going is by word of mouth and internet. You have to create a demand. Some of the most successful people nowadays leverage social media to their advantage.
EMGWorld: How has the landscape changed for independent artists looking to promote themselves as opposed to ten or fifteen years ago?
KG: Today you have more leverage and more tools to break out as new artists than ever. Ten or fifteen years ago we didn’t have the internet. That was not an option. You either got your stuff on the radio or went to club after club and begged the DJ to play it. Now you have the internet. You can create an audience and a grassroots following all on your own.
There are plenty of artists that we work with on Music Matters that literally have been making a living off of doing music full-time based off their social networking and marketing skills. They’ve developed their own audience. They’re doing sold out shows, selling albums and making a decent living on their own.
EMGWorld: What’s one piece of advice you would give to someone who wants to excel in the entertainment business?
KG: I would say pray hard. Make sure you have a good foundation for who you are and your values as a person. Once you have that foundation you can build off of anything. There's a book out from Bruce Wilkerson titled The Prayer of Jebez. It's a great book that is a foundation for receiving blessings that God has for you through the universe. Have that foundation first and you can build anything off of that.
>>Click here to read Part 1 of our interview with Kelly G