Since 2020, we have been faced with one of our biggest challenges yet: a worldwide pandemic. Coronavirus (COVID-19) came in full swing and we were not ready for it. It has altered multiple industries but there is one in particular that I want to focus on: the music industry.
I decided to interview Ron Burman about his current struggles in the music industry and about his career in general. Hope you enjoy our interview!
Here is my interview with music executive, Ron Burman.
Once we familiarized ourselves with each other, I began the interview by asking him what his job briefly entails and a bit of history behind his career.
Creative Maniac: Okay, so, my first question is what is your job? Briefly describe what it entails.
Ron: I am president of Mascot Label Group (North America) so that is for USA and Canada. I run the whole operation. It’s a small European record label based out of Holland. I opened the office in New York. It started with just me and now we have 8 employees.
I deal with everything from hiring people, managing people, dealing with our distributor which is Warner Music Group A.D.A, creating online marketing initiatives and advertising campaigns. I sign the bands and I help oversee what the woman in charge of radio promotion does. It’s kind of a little bit of everything.
Creative Maniac: How long have you worked in the music industry?
Ron: Man, a long time, long time. I had to shave because I would have a big, gray beard. Like the old man. I am going on 34 years in the music business. I moved to New York in 1987 so, I don’t know, do the math. I think it’s like 33 or 34 years. Long time. When I was in college, I was in the music business then. I’m 56 and I started when I was a teenager, really.
Creative Maniac: What drew you to the music industry?
Ron: Um, you know, most of friends in high school were musicians and played different instruments like the guitar and stuff. I love music. I was always into music. I was always into seeing bands.
I tried to play some instruments but I’m not musically inclined and didn’t have the self discipline to do it. But I wanted to be around it. It just made me really happy. And I just knew. I just thought it was so cool. If I can’t be in a band and play music then I could get involved in the business of music. This was my dream when I was a teenager.
I did everything I could from the time I was around 16 to get to where I am. When I was in community college, I called up the student entertainment organization. I called the guy who ran it from Jacksonville. I was like, “I’m coming to FSU in the fall and I wanna book all the bands there.” He was like, “Yeah, right.”
Next, we discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected his career and the music industry.
Creative Maniac: Alright, so, how has the coronavirus pandemic affected your job? Are you working from home or still going into the office?
Ron: Wow, you know, it’s affected a lot. Prior to this, we had normal work hours. Well, music business work hours. Fridays, we’d be in the office from 10:00am-6:00pm. We have a small company so we’re in like, one open room.
In October of last year, one person got sick and eventually six people ended up getting sick. We couldn’t figure out what it was. We believe it was COVID and this is before it was even identified in the United States. Everyone was on medication and no one could get rid of it. It last for, like, a couple months.
Long story short is we basically all had to work from because New York was hit hard and no one had ever done that before in my company. It’s so weird. We’re a European company and we have offices in 7 countries: Holland, Germany, England, France, Italy, Sweden, and then America. Everyone was working from home in each one of our offices around the world. It was just so bizarre for everyone.
You know, even just to figure that out is hard. I didn’t even have an office at home. My kids were learning from home. We tried to figure out who could have separate rooms and stuff. It was hard.
The positive though is I feel like we may be more in contact with our international colleagues. Everyone’s dealing with the same thing so we do Zoom calls with Germany or with Holland and we never did that before. You know what I mean? It maybe would’ve been a phone call or an email. When you do Zoom, you see the person and read their body language. I think we’re more productive in a weird way. But, you miss the socialization and the camaraderie. Maybe, you’re having lunch with your colleagues and stuff like that.
It’s strange. I definitely think after this there might be different approach. Like, we may not all go back in the office all the time like usual. Maybe we might do a flexible work situation where you come in a few days and get your work done but we have to figure that out. We haven’t gotten there yet. I honestly don’t anticipate everyone being back to work until September which is crazy.
Creative Maniac: Yeah. How has the pandemic affected the music industry?
Ron: Well, the live business has gotten decimated because no one can tour and all of our bands, most of our artists that we work with make their primary income from touring and selling merchandise on the road. We’re a label so we make money from recorded music, streaming, and that sort of thing. They do too.
But when they’re touring, they’re getting paid. That’s how they can pay their bills. I feel so bad because none of these bands have been able to tour for a year. I mean some of them are just starting to be able to do some shows like in your neck of the woods. But in most of the country, you’re not allowed to. But because of this, most record stores have closed because of the pandemic and people are isolating.
The only positive is that I think it’s propelled people to stream more and be more forced to more digital stuff. So, our streaming numbers have all gone up which is good. That’s the only positive.
Creative Maniac: Especially when everyone was in quarantine. I mean that’s all we did. That’s all I did basically was stream.
Ron: Yeah. But the amount of money we make from streaming is a fraction from what sell, physical wise. I mean when was the last you bought recorded music?
Creative Maniac: I don’t even remember. I’ve been using Spotify for years. I don’t even remember the last time that I bought a song from iTunes.
Ron: Right, right. So, you know it’s changed so much but the difference is that you might stream what you love a ton of times and you wouldn’t have done that before, right?
Creative Maniac: Okay, how has the pandemic affected your mental health?
Ron: It’s been tough. I’ll be honest with you. I mean I feel like I’ve been luckier than most people. But, it’s been tough. My kids are isolated. Lulu (his daughter) has no friends where we are. Most of her friends are in the city. When I see my kids not doing anything socially with anyone, it’s tough. But you know what I’m optimistic, we can get past this point.
Finally, we talked about his job and the advice he would give to those who want to enter this industry.
Creative Maniac: Yeah. What do you love the most about your job?
Ron: Wow. Well, I actually am doing a job that I dreamt of doing. When I started in the music business, I was a manager and I was an agent. I did all these different things.
I was at Road Runner (record label) for 15 years. I loved that job. I lost it because we got bought by another company. I was like, “What am I gonna do?” I’m not young anymore. I’m getting old. I was like, “Oh, I’d love to run a small record label.” I had no idea how to do it. I just went for it.
I’m really lucky because I have a boss that trusts me and empowers me and lets me do my job. I’m getting to all these different things that I’ve always wanted to do. I have a lot of freedom. I work with discovering bands. I always loved doing that so it’s not on a major scale. It’s kinda like my dream job. I feel pretty fortunate, you know?
Creative Maniac: Okay, last question. What is your advice for someone who wants to work in the music business?
Ron: It’s tough, it’s really tough. I think the opportunities are a lot slimmer than they would’ve been before all of this. When I first got into it, I think there were more opportunities but at the same time, you know, I also think you gotta follow your dreams. You know, we have interns every summer (prior to COVID). I started as an intern before I did anything.
Take initiative. This is key. It’s not just about checking the box, it’s going beyond that. Do you wanna make more happen? You can do it. Everyone has to start at the bottom. This doesn’t just apply to the music business. This applies to the entire entertainment industry. You have to start at the bottom.
If you’re focused and you’re tenacious and you know you have to pay your dues, if you climb the ladder, you’ll get somewhere, you know. You’re not gonna be rockstar overnight. It’s not a standard career path.
I would say to anyone who wants to get in the music business: take whatever opportunity you can get. Learn as much as you can.