Music Industry Vet Debbie Egel Talks Indie Artists, DJs, and the Coronavirus Effect
With a passion for music management, law, and also nursing, there’s really not much Debbie Egel hasn’t seen in her lifetime. The Queens, New Yorker thrives on keeping busy, typically running from one job to the next. After Egel started her career as nurse in New York City and later earned her law degree, the bright-eyed music lover began helping friends in the music business with their blossoming R&B band, known today as the iconic group Hi-Five. It was these early days that gave Egel her first taste of music management.
Today, Egel leads her own artist management company and record label, E Music Entertainment, and also works as a lawyer with a focus on the music business. She’s worked with artists of all calibers, from highly experienced, to fresh new talent who are just learning the ins and outs of the business. One of Egel’s latest endeavors includes an easy to follow and free audiobook entitled, For The Record. She’s also about to release a new 6-week online training and coaching course for independent artists on April 26.
In the wake of the current pandemic, much like the rest of the world, Egel has been forced to slow down and put a lot of projects on hold. We caught up with her recently to get her thoughts around this international crisis, ask her about the new online course, and hear her advice for artists and DJs during this tough time.
Start by telling us a little about yourself.
What most people don’t know is that I was a nurse before I became an attorney. I was actually a leader in the NY Nurses Union representing more than 9,000 nurses in the State of New York. I met a woman, Maureen O’Connell, a country clerk in Nassau County, and she convinced me that I should go to law school. She just kept saying to me “We need smart nurses, you should really think about law school.”
I think that I always kind of wanted to be a lawyer. It was a really high goal growing up. You know, nobody in my family really graduated from college at that point. So Maureen really changed the trajectory of my life. I went to law school and earned my law degree.
It wasn’t until after that that I got involved with Hi-Five. They were my friends. It all started out as them just being my friends and helping them out. My mom was a singer, my brother was a singer, and my other brother plays basically every instrument. I’ve always been around music and that’s really how it all began.
How did you start to fuse your experiences with law and the music business?
I think what happened was I was giving the group Hi-Five (and predominantly Treston Irby because that’s who I was closest with) a lot of practical advice about the music business, and he was like “Why don’t you become an advisor and work with the group?”
So I went on to work with this legendary ‘90s group for a number of years. That was really a training ground because even though I had a legal background, here I was doing everything – going on the road, learning marketing and promotion, in the studio, watching them create music. It was like full immersion into the urban music world. I worked with them for quite a number of years.
I was also doing little projects on the side with indie artists to offer advice, create contracts, and other management stuff. I did manage a few indie artists along the way but it was on the side. I finally got to a point where I wanted to work with indie artists but I wanted to do things my way, so I figured I would just start my own label, while continuing my law practice.
Has the coronavirus crisis affected your management business?
Well I think for me personally it’s allowed me to stand still because I’m always running, running, running. To the studio, to events, setting up interviews. Actually my artists have been doing quite a bit of interviews because now people are really getting on board with setting up the equipment in their homes. But it’s actually really grounded me and now I’m able to do a lot of the things that maybe didn’t have priority before. It’s kind of put me on pause, and I’ve been able to achieve a lot of work that maybe got pushed to the back. I’m trying to stay resourceful and stay positive.
What message are you sending your artists during this tough time?
I think most of the artists I talk to are afraid for their health here in New York. But I keep sending the message that as long as you have your life and health, you can recover from anything. Money shouldn’t be the priority, your health should be.
How about any legal or financial advice? What are you advising artists should do if they’re out of work at this time?
There are a lot of great resources available for independent artists out there. One that I really recommend is A2IM, (Association of Independent Music Labels). This foundation is lobbying to get government funds to help musicians and touring artists in need. (More info here: www.a2im.org)
What are some things that producers and DJs should be working on right now?
For me personally, I’m figuring out five things that I want to do when this is all over and I’m making sure I do them. You know, because tomorrow is never promised and I think that music is a great way right now for artists and DJs to lift people up.
I think that DJs are actually in a better position. They can make playlists and go on live and bring people into their lives and interact with them. I think that’s an amazing opportunity to provide an escape for the people stuck at home. They can create these virtual house parties on platforms like Zoom or on social media. You can have 100 people in their living room just dancing and having fun. It’s good to be able to escape sometimes. I think DJs should definitely be doing virtual house parties!
I read your blog article about “playlisting” and thought it was really relevant to everyone at home starting to make their own music. How important is playlisting and is it more important in the current climate?
Well I think playlisting is prominent in everything, but let me tell you two main points here; the two things you need to break a record. First and foremost, you need the DJs – and this is truly my philosophy – I’m not just saying this because I’m talking to BPM Supreme [laughs]. If you talked to any of my artists they would tell you this is true. The DJs are number one! They listen to music all day long. They are the ones curating playlists, playing on the radio shows, playing at all of the major clubs and venues. They know how to mix music together in a way that can change your mood. If you don’t have a song that resonates with DJs, you could be wasting a lot of time and money. DJs are still the front line on music. I believe in working with the record pools and building relationships with the DJs.
The second must-have for breaking a record is where playlisting comes in. Playlisting can be anything from working with third-party companies to be included in playlists, collaborative playlists, or building your own. But while I definitely think it’s important to get your music on playlists, and you know, have it be seen and heard, my strongest advice is to go through the DJs. They’re going to give you the best feedback.
Do you think it’s important for DJs and artists to have a “backup plan” or have diversified sources of income?
In my personal opinion, I think it’s fine for artists to have another job, but let me just say that if you want music to be your main source of income, you have to treat it like a business. If you really want to succeed, and tour, and do all of those things, unfortunately there is a window before it closes. If you want it to be a hobby that’s fine, you can do that, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to earn you a living. If you want this to be a business that pays you, you have to treat it like a business, not like a hobby.
I think a lot of independent artists don’t make that transition because they’re in the creative aspect of it. So I think it’s okay to work another job, but if you’re serious about creating a business, you have to take the leap and put everything into it for at least a year and focus 100% and see where it takes you. It’s very hard to try and manage a full time job and still grow as an artist to your full potential.
On that topic, what would you say it takes to make it in the business?
You have to have a strategy. You know, I’m always looking for what I like to call “fire in the belly.” I know it when I see it. You have to want. If you want it bad enough you find a way to make it work. It really goes back to that you have to treat it like business and you have to have a strategy.
Tell us more about your online course. Are you excited about the launch?
Yes! The 6-week course is all about the music business, from A to Z. I think I have about 25 DJs who are on board with it and want to help promote the course. If an online course isn’t for you, there’s also an audiobook, and it’s free to download, so no excuses! [Laughs] For independent artists and for DJs who are new to the music industry, it’s 80 pages of very useful information. I would really advise that you spend some time with it, let it process, so that when we come out of this crisis you will be able to be more focused, save time, and make money in this business.
Download the free audiobook, For The Record, here.
Debbie’s 6-week course launches April 26 and includes online live training, personal coaching, and other resources to help you make this year the best one yet. If you’re interested in taking the course, leave us a comment below. Debbie will pick one lucky person to receive the full course for free!