Fame, Fortune, and Broke: Marcus Bell of Bellringer Productions
Welcome to Sound Financial Bites. I am so excited about who I’m talking to today. We have Marcus Bell of Bellringer Music. Marcus has had a record label since he was 12 years old. He’s going to talk with us about what it takes for people who are really in the top echelon of income. They give us a unique opportunity to see them build up their fame and build up their income. Many things about these stars are very public and we can’t get away from it. He’s going to share with us some of the main problems that come along with that level of fame and fortune that leads to broke.
To give you a little background on Marcus before I have him introduce himself, he’s worked with the likes of Snoop Dogg, Nicki Minaj, P. Diddy, and has even worked directly with NASA on how entertainment could be used to increase children’s interest and young people’s interest in science, technology, and math. He owns another company called Starbootcamp and Audience Academy. They are designed to train an artist on how to build stardom and grow their platform, learning how to deal with that pending stardom and what comes along with fame, fortune, and influence.
He also has 57,000 followers on Twitter which is not the most interesting thing, the most interesting thing is that he has 20 million impressions a month on Twitter. That means he has one of the most engaging Twitter feeds you’d ever have a chance to look at because the content he has goes far. Marcus and I were sitting together at an event. He showed me some major names you’d know with like 14 million followers with a fraction of the engagement of Marcus’s audience. I am really so pleased to bring Marcus to all of you today and having us be able to take a part of this conversation. Marcus, welcome to Sound Financial Bites.
Paul, thanks so much for having me.
Marcus, I thought a good place for us to start today might be talking a little bit about the artists that you worked with. You own a production company and have been successful with that as well as a record label, but tell us a little bit about what happens when they make it. Can we just start there?
Sure. First, I would say that because I started in the music industry at such an early age, when I was 12, I was learning through the help of mentors in what kinds of decisions to make. As I’ve been in different roles — whether that be as the music producer or song writer or the mentor or the marketing person or popping with promotions — I’ve interacted with many celebrity artists from all around the world. I’ve seen artists go from having nothing and being homeless to having million dollar advances.
I created my company Startbootcamp to really help prepare developing artists for fame, fortune, and influence. The money part is oftentimes the more difficult part. A lot of artists haven’t distinguished that their fame is very different from their fortune. There is an impression that people that are famous are also rich. That is far from how it oftentimes goes. I would see artists that would have songs on the radio and they just did not know the timeline. The income from a song on the radio probably won’t happen until nine months to a year later. There are a lot of different factors that come into play when someone becomes successful out of their creativity and their art.
I’m always listening for what our audience could take away. You said that fame and fortune are not synonymous. Those are two separate things that can occur for a celebrity.
They can still be famous and everybody knows who they are and the Inquirer follows them and they’ve got less money than your average engineer at Amazon.
Absolutely. Absolutely. You’ll be surprised. A hairdresser has a higher net worth than a celebrity artist.
That’s great. Now they’ve won this talent game, most of them at least didn’t get really famous without having some kind of incredible talent. There’s tons of talented people out there so they have to win that game but then they’ve got to win the money game.
Correct. There is the talent lotto or the music industry lotto which actually is not necessarily based on talent because there are so many other factors. There are millions of dollars that are invested in having someone become famous. It may not be the most talented person but for whatever reason — the market conditions, the song that was able to get on the radio — those factors aided in a company or enterprise investing in them to have them become famous. That’s the first downside I guess. Because it is an investment that a company makes in a recording artist that has to be paid back. So the first place where they get in a debt is in their record deals.
Before we get into some of those specific problems, I want to share with our audience how I met you. I was sitting behind Marcus at a conference for an organization called Influence Psychology. They are a great business education organization. We’re just at a conference on social media marketing. He’s probably one of the heaviest hitters there when it comes to social media engagement but nobody asked him, he doesn’t grandstand or stage himself. Then I seen him perform and it’s like a different guy. He has this amazing listening ability. You’re going to notice as we work together here I’m going to be extracting stuff from Marcus because he has this wealth of knowledge inside of him that he doesn’t show but it’s one of the things I really love about him.
Let’s talk about some of the people that we might hear about who have gone totally bust at some point in their career. Maybe they’ve made it, maybe they’re making it back again, or maybe they’re not making it back again.
The thing with recording artists and financial problems is that oftentimes it’s a very public thing. If you look at 50 cent, you know that he had to file for bankruptcy in 2015. When Lady Gaga was touring the Monster Ball tour in 2009, she had to file for bankruptcy.
While on tour?
The fascinating thing is that she decided to take $3 million that she had in the bank and put it into her stage show. So she was touring bankrupt.
Wow. I heard it was great stage show.
I’m sure it was fantastic.
Yeah, for $3 million.
She took a high level of risk with that because it could’ve gone a different way, and now she’s not bankrupt anymore. Then there are people like Toni Braxton who has had to file for bankruptcy several times. Then you have your MC Hammer, and then you go back into the past. This has been an issue for entertainers throughout times of Marvin Gaye back in the ’70s filing for bankruptcy, to Mac Fleetwood in ’84 to tax evasion, to Lauren Hill and James Brown. We can go on and on and on.
I think a lot of it comes down to four distinct set of problems that come in categories along with the immediate rise in income and visibility. We can break it down into four major areas: consumption problems, investment problems, cash flow problems, and mindset problems. I think the one that everybody sees and makes a lot of sense to folks immediately are these consumption problems. Could you just start there?
Sure. Imagine that you come from an upbringing where it was very difficult for your family financially. Then you worked on your craft and your talents and people say you’re an excellent rapper or singer and all of a sudden you get a break. You meet the right person, you record the right music that has the right timing with the right connections. Then all of a sudden you get a large advance — you get $100,000 or $500,000 or $1 million out of nowhere. You’ve had nothing up to that point.
I’m thinking that along with people saying “Hey! You’re good rapper. You’re going to do great one day,” you probably have a whole host of people saying, “You’re an idiot, go get a job.”
Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. There are those that say you’ll never make it. The chances of you making it…forget about it. You’ll do better at McDonald’s. Stay in school. All of these different narratives that come at creators because it is a difficult industry and those that hit it big, it is like hitting the lotto. And just like hitting the lotto, most people aren’t able to sustain what they achieved. When you get that large advance as a recording artist or entertainer then all of a sudden you think, “Okay. What do I always want? What do I see?. Well rappers have all this jewelry or they drive this kind of car so I want to get a Ferrari, I want to get a Lamborghini. Because I came from whatever means, I want to buy my mom a house. I want to take care of my dad’s needs as well”. Or “I’m going to give my sister some money so she can pursue her dream of having a hair salon”, or whatever.
There are things that the person wants for themselves which will be whatever material things. And then there’s what they want to do for the people around them. Then there are the people that say “Wow! He’s made it”, and have this great idea for a beauty salon, or a car dealership, or a restaurant. Then there’s, “Would you just help me? My husband is not treating me well. If I just have a little money…” There will be like sad stories. And as you say it, I almost think of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. At a very high level they suddenly say, “I want the $15,000 necklace so I want stuff for me, I’m going to buy my mom a house, and then people are going to come at me asking me for money.”
Those people that are coming to an artist or celebrity, they do have a real need. Some of them are in poverty. Some of them have had situations where things have gone south with their finances and if they know the celebrity person that appears to have the resources then you know they are going to ask for that. That then puts the celebrity in a position of thinking, “What do I do about that?”. Every day, every other day, every week, there’s some financial breakdown that happens around them from either their past or their family.
Those are all the consumption problems. Money is going out the door, never coming back, it’s going to buy stuff for themselves or for others. I want to move over to the investment problems they have and the three stages of the investment problems that occur for them.
There are the great ideas. Just because you were successful at doing an album or creating a song, piece of art or something like that, does not necessarily mean it’s your fit to all of a sudden jump into the restaurant business, or become a car dealership owner, or create an app. Now, all of a sudden you are a technologist.
So, the first place they drop money is their own great ideas?
Yeah, their own great ideas. There is a recording artist that I’m working with right now. Her name is Shelita Burke and there are very few artist like Shelita. We just had a song a few weeks ago chart in the billboard magazine. Over the past year, there’s been 2.7 million Spotify plays and over 60 million people have been exposed to her music. I can go on and on with the accolades that she has, but she is actually one of my partners in one of the companies that you mentioned before — Audience Academy. Behind all of that success is someone that has come from a technology background, who also is a data scientist, a behavioral scientist, and a software developer. I’m talking about an artist like her that has all of these things in these other areas, but most artists don’t have those capacities. Their great ideas often fail because they are not able to surround themselves with the people that fit around that great idea.
Yes, and I met Shelita at the conference that we were at together, I watched the amount of people who are experts across the country in data analytics gather around her. I remember you guys had to pull together two tables at these little lunch and learn areas just to facilitate all the people. Some of them weren’t even asking questions, they just wanted to hear her answers to other questions. But you’re right, for most people they can’t move in a multidisciplinary way, so their own great ideas become their first investment problem.
But there’s more investment problems. The next is the great idea somebody else has — “Hey, I’ve got something. You should check this out.”
Or :“My uncle has a great automotive shop, if he just had new lifts, it would be so much better for him and he’d make me a 10% partner.”
Absolutely. A lot of those situations happen a certain way. I have a friend of mine who is running a clothing company for an athlete. He came with a bag of money, around $50,000, and he said, “Hey, let’s start a clothing line.”
I’m actually picturing one of those little running backpacks that just have almost no strap on them and they just zip tight the top with the straps that go over your shoulders.
Yeah, exactly. So someone says: “You’ve always wanted to have a clothing line, here you go. Let’s get started.” Fortunately for her, she’s smart and she’s starting to get fitness around how you make a clothing line work. But oftentimes that bag of money ends up in hands that don’t move in that kind of way.
That’s great. Let’s move on to the cash flow problems. You mentioned this idea of payment cycles. Can you talk a little bit about what a payment cycle means?. This part was fascinating to me when we were sitting in San Diego together.
Sure. If I had a song completed right now and it gets on the radio, from the moment that you hear that song it is going to be at least nine months before you see a penny from that song playing. You’ve been consuming that song, you’ve been listening to it, all of a sudden it gets on television, it’s everywhere. Let’s say I’m an artist that did that song or I’m the song writer or I’m the producer, I won’t see the income from that starting to come into my bank account until about a year later. What happens is there are these different ways that artists get paid from advances, fees, royalties. Through all of those different payment points there are cycle of payment. You may have heard of the artist Keisha. Keisha was living in her car when her hit was on the radio.
But wait…there’s more?!
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