A few weeks ago, we wrote an editorial around the subject of Versatility in the Industry. With strong feelings that this topic was important to us, we looked for expansion. So we sat down with a few people from the industry with diverse educational backgrounds, work histories, and future goals to discuss their thoughts on this topic and how versatility affects their success day to day. Here are some quick backgrounds of the individuals we spoke with:

(AH) Andrew Henke tells us, the idea of versatility is something his entire team at Honey Jam Records lives and breathes on a daily basis. Being a small team with endeavors spanning multiple interest areas, every member of their six-man team carries multiple roles inside the business. The scope of this varies from person to person, some members filling multiple roles inside one particular field while his and Rashad’s roles span from creative to management. On top of Honey Jam itself, they all have their own respective side hustles, some industry-specific, some not.

(RH) Rashad Hussein graduated from Columbia College Chicago’s Audio Design and Production program in spring of 2017. Shortly after, he alongside his partner Griffin, decided to transform their creative space into a professional recording and production studio. They had no idea what they were getting into as far as running a business, but their vision seems to keep expanding as they make new connections and learn more about the industry. He plays multiple roles within Honey Jam and admits, “the modern artist has to be able to wear multiple hats, at least for a period of time so they can build a following and eventually find people or companies to help fill those roles”.

(HD) Hannah Douglas also graduated from CCC with a Bachelors in Live and Performing Arts Management. She has participated in many internships and school clubs such as AEMMP Record Label, Student Programming Board and an Internship with Live Nation. She worked at House of Blues in 2015 working in multiple positions such as Retail, Cocktailer and VIP Host. She’s worked for Live Nation as a Marketing Assistant and volunteered with bigger fests like SXSW and Bonnaroo. She just finished up an internship at Empty Bottle and is currently an Intern at Bloodshot Records and pays her bills by nannying and crafting.  

(ES) Emily Steinhauer: Beyond The Music

(CS)Connor Skelly : Beyond The Music

How do see your past experiences and education contributing to your work day to day?

AH: I’ve always been a jack of all trades so I grew up deep in theatre performance and I was going to go to school for that but then I wanted to learn something new. I decided to go to Columbia for film which was really amazing because I knew nothing about film other than some really simplistic editing work as a kid so it was a whole new umbrella of knowledge and I got really into it. Columbia’s film program is a really dope program but it’s really educating you about how to get a job in the big budget, Hollywood film industry. So that was sort of, ‘okay what can I do with visual media skills that isn’t inside big budget Hollywood?’. I had no idea and it was a few months after we graduated, Shad hit me up with what was going to be Honey Jam. We could document, do music videos and stuff and then it’s funny because we found two other guys to help us with visual media and now I’m more in on the business and managerial side. I oversee what they do but they really shoot and edit everything so I moved on to stuff I didn’t even think I would do. it’s the business end, dealing with the people outside of the business which is really fun for me and really natural for me to do all the communication and stuff like that. It’s funny; one thing gets you in and you end up doing something else. My tasks are barely visual media at this point.

CS: When you saw yourself making that transition to the business side, was that something that you were just teaching yourself? Were you learning it from other team members?

AH: Yeah I mean we don’t know anything. That’s what’s funny about our team in general, we’re all just a bunch of artists. These guys are crazy enough to want to start a business in the first place. And then they looped me in like I’m crazy enough to do this too. But yeah it’s very much just using the internet. I don’t know where the confidence comes from. I think we all have enough confidence. If not individually, then ourselves as a unit.

CS: Rashad, did you always want to do something like this?

RH: Man I have no idea.

CS: That seems like the answer I was expecting.

RH: We had this space for a while and we kind of had this thing going where we had home studio equipment in there and we would just record our friends basically. So we kept using this space for our own creative and I couldn’t tell you why I was so inspired to be like ‘yo let’s open this studio.’ Part of it was, both me and Griffin were fortunate enough to not have student debt. We’re sitting there thinking about the average student debt, and we’re taking this equipment out, let’s do it, might as well. So many of our peers are way worse off than us. So that was the rationalization. But as far as running a business, I had no idea what I was doing. I still don’t.

CS: What is your creative background?

RH: I went to Columbia for engineering basically, being a studio dude. I’ve just been working on producing and I’m a self taught musician.

ES: So in using all the resources you can to figure out the business stuff, what kind of resources do you use?

RH: Honestly just Google. I think I have a business hunger, and so I am pretty intuitive when it comes to, how we can grow and then it’s a matter of finding those answers. Being the owner of a business, it’s as good as you are. So if I’m on top of it and I’m on the positive end of the energy spectrum and I’m communicating well then it’s going to be good.

CS: Amongst your team, not only is there different creative interest but I’m sure out of the four or five people, I bet some people don’t want to touch the business stuff.  

How do you leverage the strengths of everyone while also not putting people down for not being able to do certain things?

AH: That was 2018. We have a six person team and at first we [thought] everybody needed to be all in on everything and then people kept falling short and there was all this disappointment and expectation and then finally we started asking everybody what they wanted to be here for.

Our cinematographer is a great example of this; one day he was like, ‘I don’t care, I just want to shoot’. So that was like ‘holy shit. We spent the back half of the year trying to figure out where everybody goes and put each of us in a box.’ Trying to specialize the labor feels a lot better, everybody’s a lot more positive. We’re not getting pissed at each other about shortcomings because we’re not putting people in positions they don’t want to be in. I can’t decide if that sounds like it’s a simple thing like it’s obvious but it definitely took a lot of work.

CS: It’s not easy, because when you think you’re creating this together, you’re all in it.

RH: Yeah ‘everyone should split it up equally’, that was what I was stuck on for so long I thought it would be so nice.

CS: If you think about equity, it fluctuates constantly, daily, hourly and it’s wrong for people not to think about this. It’s hard because you have to talk to each other; god forbid. People are so focused on the work they don’t realize there are these little communication nuances that actually go into things.

AH: That’s why there’s an old adage like ‘don’t do business with your friends’ but I’m on the other side just because of how much the communication element is key to figuring it all out, I’m over here like I don’t know how you would do it if you weren’t friends. If we couldn’t communicate on the level that we can because we’re going into it with a five year friendship , then I have no idea.

ES: For me that comes with a mental health question too. It’s much easier to work with people that don’t give you anxiety. For us [Beyond The Music], we can go into a meeting and I can say I’m having a really bad day and that’s okay. Whereas sometimes it’s hard to work with people you don’t know because they don’t understand what you’re going through. Whether it’s mental health or your side projects or your actual passions, working with your friends is better for that other human element that you already need to bring into a process like that is important to acknowledge. You can’t be expected to trust everyone just because they pay you or you have shared interests.

HD: To weigh in on that, I worked with [a large company] for a while. I was working with a new group of people and there wasn’t any open communication. So everyday going into work was constant anxiety because I didn’t know if I was doing it right, I didn’t feel like there was an open hand to reach out to and help me. So working with your friends makes it a lot better.

You’ve worked in a lot of different jobs, at venues and record labels; how do you use all these differents things— marketing, serving, booking— to move forward?

HD: Like you said in the original article, it’s hard to have one job and not understand the other side of it. So i’m on the hospitality side of things, I want to work on behalf of the artist. Interning at Bloodshot is really amazing to see in contrast with working at the Empty Bottle because you see the artist come through Empty Bottle but on the back end you see everything it takes to get them there. So it’s really great to be able to understand needs on both ends and be able to understand what’s expected of you. I’ve found through a lot of trial and error, but the artist side is where I want to be.

CS: So you said you do a bunch of different things, for you does that want to amount to one single thing?

HD: It’s definitely something I really like but it’s hard to find a job in our industry in Chicago. It’s so small so it’s hard to break into a company because there’s a ton of different offices but there’s five people that work everywhere. Ideally I would be working for a record label or a booking agency or something like that as opposed to booking for a venue. When I came to Columbia I wanted to be booking for festivals and be behind the names but I went into it and I didn’t get the fulfillment because I have such a hospitality side to me that I need to fulfill.

CS: So talent buying and maintaining the relationship as opposed to ‘hey you’re already here, how can I help you?’

HD: What fulfills me is to help someone grow and visualize that. I was working as an office manager and I made great money. I was so drained and unfulfilled because I wasn’t in music and that’s where I love to be so I straight up quit my job. I nanny to pay my bills and intern wherever I can.

CS: It is hard to get into those spots. It’s sometimes not ideal for someone our age to work for a label or venue because there is that core staff that isn’t going away. I think a lot of the people who want to get into the industry don’t realize that. They think they’re gonna just get hired at the Aragon but they’re probably not.

ES: That’s why freelance is becoming so big; because we all are realizing that. Every company is so small because they don’t have that much money; artists, labels, nonprofits. So it’s hard to get into. You have to intern, volunteer, and eventually get a job. Or start from the ground like Beyond The Music, or Honey Jam. It’s the best option right now in figuring out how to work with that. It’s a total change in the market because we’re all trying to do better things and not work for just anyone.

CS: In the nonprofit world it’s unreasonable and irresponsible to have a ton of full time employees. At the end of the day it’s still a business you have to do what you can so it can grow.

AH: That whole thing about, ‘can you get a seat at the table’ spans all these industries we’re talking about. Film’s included with that, like post-production your body doesn’t die in this jobs. You can literally do them until you’re super old. So trying to be a film editor, commercial or corporate editor for visual media here in Chicago in the big post-production facilities…you’re waiting at least a decade to get those spots. Waiting until they’re 60 plus, ready to dip because you’re sitting in a chair all day, you can do that until you’re 70 years old. And for us, building something from the ground feels like a moment in time when this is extremely possible.

It’s catching a lot of flack on one hand but I think for artists, the gig economy is one of the best things. That’s how Shad runs our business. Just being able to work from an app on your phone for artists is totally the move. Because on your downtime, you can hustle it out and make money.

It allows you to have the flexibility to quit your job. If we were at this table saying this in 1990 we would all be fucking idiots. It would be a stupid move.

CS: And 20 years earlier in the 60s and 70s it would’ve been just as easy because there was a greater sense of trust. You can go in, work for three days, get cash doing dishes, and leave and have money for the next week.

AH: But this moment with what’s happening with the internet hasn’t happened since radio and TV were invented. It’s the era of all new shit because it’s a new platform and that gives us the opportunity to do crazy shit like this or to try at least. And if you fall on your face you can go back to your job.

Honey Jam Records

Twitter:  @honeyjamfam Instagram: @honeyjamrecords

Hannah Douglas

@milkweed_white

Photo by Alex Holyoake on Unsplash