Oklahoma has long been a breeding ground for some of the country's best songwriters, singers and musicians. A handful of homegrown artists like Leon Russell have even seen worldwide success. For every Leon Russell, however, there are countless other talented performers who will never know international fame or fortune.
So what is it that propels an artist to stardom? If it were talent alone, Oklahoma would have dozens -- maybe even hundreds -- of chart-topping, arena-packing acts. The fact is, while real talent is crucial in any recipe for success, it's far from the only ingredient.
A pair of events this weekend is designed to help musicians find out what else they need. "Oklahoma Music Business 101" is a series of panels featuring professionals with years of experience in the industry.
Organizer Jay Shanker is a Yale/NYU Law grad who spent the last 30 years practicing entertainment law in Los Angeles. He's been in Oklahoma since 2005 working for the state's largest law firm.
"Music is really Oklahoma's signature cultural export," Shanker said. "The real intention (of the event) is to up the dialogue and the resources here so people feel they can stay here, work, record and do business and not have to go to Nashville, L.A. or New York to make that happen."
Shankar said the record labels headquartered in those larger cities are no longer the gatekeepers they once were. The rise of file sharing, social networking and musicians' access to computers and inexpensive recording equipment have put a lot of the power back in the hands of the artists.
"The labels need instant successes," he said. "They can't wait three or four albums for a hit. So consequently, if you've got the wherewithal -- the managers, the social media and you know how to build -- a lot of musicians can actually make a living a lot more easily now without all the middlemen taking their cut."
Shankar is quick to point out that doing it yourself isn't necessarily the best way to get rich.
"Fewer people who are talented are going to fail in that model, though, than fail by signing with a label and waiting two to three years to find out the album they pinned their dreams on is never going to get released," he said.
Like Shankar, panelist Jeff Scheel also knows the business side of the music industry, but as a musician himself, he's able to offer the perspective of an artist.
Scheel is the lead singer for the Saint Louis-based band Gravity Kills. The group reached the apex of its popularity in the '90s, with music in films and videos on MTV. Scheel is now an agent with Box Talent, among the largest booking agencies in the region.
Other panelists include music producer Chris Freels; entertainment attorney Tomy McDonald; and musician, professor and businessman Matt Stansberry.
The experts will discuss a number of topics. Among those listed on the event's website: The Music Industry Landscape, Models for Getting Your Music Recorded and Out There - From Label deals to DIY; Publishing & Licensing Income; and Touring, Merchandising & Management.
There are two separate "Oklahoma Music Business 101" events this weekend: one in Oklahoma City and one in Tulsa. The Tulsa event is Sunday from 1-5pm at The Ivey, 3340 S. Peoria Ave.
Tickets are $25 at the door; $20 in advance; $15 for musicians who bring a CD and $10 for students.
For tickets and more information, visit okmusicbiz101.com.
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