Hitting the Books: Meet the man who helped Microsoft break into the entertainment business #GeekLeap

A few of us are destined to steer profitable lives due to the circumstances of our delivery. A few of us, like lawyer Bruce Jackson, are destined to steer such lives in spite them. Raised in New York’s Amsterdam housing tasks and subjected to the day by day brutalities of rising up a black man in America, Jackson’s story is in the end considered one of tempered success. Positive he went on to check at Georgetown Legislation earlier than representing a number 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 normal counsel. However on the finish of the day, he’s nonetheless a black man dwelling in America, with all the luggage that comes with it.

In his autobiography, By no means Removed from Dwelling (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 buddy at 15 to spending an evening in lockup as an grownup for the crime of driving his personal automotive; the shock of navigating Microsoft’s lillywhite workforce following years spent within the leisure trade, and the top of a loving marriage introduced low by his demanding work. Whereas Jackson’s story is in the end considered one 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 probably by no means must expertise. Within the excerpt under, Jackson remembers his determination to depart a Napster-ravaged music trade to the clammy embrace of Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. 

background is full-fill of a creased picture of a black woman standing in front of a grey wall, each of her arms draped around the shoulders of two boys (elementary school aged). Looks like a family snapshot taken in the late 70s/early 80s.  Title and author name in all caps white lettering atop.

Atria Books

Excerpted from By no means Far From Dwelling My Journey from Brooklyn to Hip Hop, Microsoft, and the Legislation by Bruce Jackson. Printed by Atria Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Copyright © 2023 by Bruce Jackson. All rights reserved.

“We gotta determine a solution 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 methods to cease Napster and different platforms from taking the legs out from underneath the standard recording trade.

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 when you begin suing folks, you’re by no means going again to the outdated mannequin. It’s over.”

In reality, 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 have been terrifying occasions for artists and trade 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 document after which embark on a promotional tour to assist that document. 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. Out of the blue, 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 recognition. (Publicly, Spotify has acknowledged 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 pageant tickets, and a social media promoting platform. It’s a a lot harder and leaner enterprise mannequin. Moreover, it’s a mannequin that modified the notion that document labels and producers wanted just one respectable monitor round which they might construct a complete album. This occurred on a regular basis within the vinyl period: an artist got here up with a success single, an album was shortly assembled, usually with filler that didn’t meet the usual established by the one. Streaming platforms modified all of that. Shoppers immediately 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 (aside from the half about artists not with the ability to create artwork if they will’t feed themselves); for artists and document 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 contemplate what I wished to do with the following section of my profession. In early 2000, I acquired a name from a company recruiter a few place with Microsoft, which was on the lookout for 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, films, tv reveals, books — obtainable to customers by way of Microsoft’s Home windows Media Participant. In a way, I’d nonetheless be within the leisure enterprise; I’d be spending quite a lot of time working with the identical recording trade executives with whom I had constructed prior relationships.

However there have been downsides, as nicely. For one factor, I used to be just lately married, with a one-year-old child and a stepson, dwelling in a pleasant place within the New York Metropolis suburbs. I wasn’t keen to depart 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 nearly too good a suggestion to show down.

Deeply conflicted and at a crossroads in my profession, I solicited recommendation from mates and colleagues, together with, most notably, Clarence Avant. If I needed to identify one one who has been a very powerful mentor in my life, it will be Clarence, “the Black Godfather.” In a rare life that now spans nearly 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 trade 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 questioned, 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 in the long run, he supplied a steely evaluation, in a manner that solely Clarence might.

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

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