Star Studded Resume of a Music Pioneer
Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers, the Isley Brothers, The O’Jays, Earth Wind and Fire, Sharon Paige, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes and Smash (The Group). These are just some of the legendary musical acts that heavyweight music executive Dr. Logan H. Westbrooks has not only worked with but helped them to begin their careers. Westbrooks has a career that dates back to the 1960s. As one of the first African Americans to work as a music executive for a major recording label, Westbrooks has more than 50 gold and 25 platinum records to his credit. The Memphis native has garnered over 100 million dollars in career sales, giving the music legend the well-deserved status as a pioneer in the music industry.
As a pioneer, trailblazer and major influencer in the business, Westbrooks has an incomparable wealth of knowledge regarding the music industry. But before we dive into that, let’s back up a bit. Let’s look into the inspiring story of Westbrooks’ early days and how his career began.
Logan Westbrooks’ Humble Start to an Extraordinary Career
Westbrooks grew up in the LeMoyne Gardens Housing Project in Memphis, Tennessee and attended Booker T. Washington High School. After graduating from high school, he attended LeMoyne-Owen College. The historically black college was right across from the housing projects where Westbrooks grew up. Later he transferred to Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration in 1961. LeMoyne -Owen College in Memphis, Tennessee also awarded him an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters. After college, Westbrooks did a two-year stint in the United States Army and then moved to Chicago, Illinois. His musical career began in the Windy City at RCA Victor where he landed a job as a management trainee.
Rising Through the Industry Ranks
Westbrooks demonstrated that he had an extraordinary knack for marketing artists, so he was quickly promoted. It’s not easy to appreciate how rare his quick promotion was at the time. But, think about this: it was very rare for a black man to even land a management position in a major corporation in the early 60’s. His talent, drive, and value to the company had to be extraordinary. It wasn’t long before he was promoting some of the biggest artists of the day like Sam Cooke and Elvis Presley. His career skyrocketed from there as he worked with other major recording labels promoting the likes of Lou Rawls, Nancy Wilson, Nat King Cole, and The Beatles.
Bringing Black Music to the Mainstream and the Globe
His success didn’t stop there, Westbrooks landed promotions all across the industry. Music industry giants such as Clive Davis recognized his talent. With this music industry icon, Westbrooks scored the opportunity to market “Backstabbers” by the O’Jays and more now memorable hits. Westbrooks established a Black Marketing Division at CBS Records that became the template at all the major labels. Then Walter Yetnikoff, the president of CBS International, picked him to join the international division at CBS. His new role made him responsible for all of Black Africa in the marketing of Black music on the CBS International labels. He was then based in Lagos, Nigeria working out of the Paris, France office of CBS International.
Independent Moves with Even More Success
Just two short years later, Westbrooks partnered with Don Cornelius and Dick Griffey working with Soul Train Records. Afterward came the defining moment of Westbrooks’ career: the formation of Source Records, his own record label. The new label took off with major success as hit record “Bustin’ Loose” took off with a boom, climbing the charts at an astonishing rate.
Westbrooks’ accomplishments have not gone unnoticed. In Oct of 2015, he received the Vanguard Award from the Living Legends Foundation. The foundation presented him with the award and said this is “for being a trailblazer on the front lines, opening doors for black artists and executives through diplomacy and integrity; for your generosity as a humanitarian’; giving back and paying it forward. All who work in black music at major record labels stand on your shoulders.”
The ever-changing music industry has paved the way for many great musicians throughout time. Decades ago the industry revolved around recording labels that had almost full control of what artists performed and what listeners heard. However, since the emergence of technology the industry has experienced a vast change.
The extent of Westbrooks’ career has given him the knowledge to discuss and teach about the changes in the music business. In the 1980s he authored “The Anatomy of a Record Company.” However, the book was discontinued and Westbrooks received many requests to have it reissued. He, too, realized that much had changed on the music industry landscape since the first book. So, he authored and released “The Anatomy of the Music Industry: How the Game Was & How the Game Has Changed.”
The book discusses the change from the old model of the music business to the new model. The book is a must read for anyone who wants to understand or navigate the modern music industry. It describes and discusses the impact of technology such as streaming and digital downloads on the power of artists, consumers and industry professionals to make choices. Many professionals including lawyers, music executives and artists are featured writers in the publication. This variety of professionals is offering wide ranges of expertise throughout the entire book. The publication has received praise and testimonials from giants in every facet of the music industry.
Westbrooks Discusses Technology and Streaming
According to Westbrooks the music industry will always change and will always experience progress. He feels that the introduction of technology and streaming was definitely an advancement for the industry. He explains, however, that initially it was not quite welcomed.
“As music started changing, for old school executives such as myself, there was quite a bit of resistance,” said Westbrooks. “Youngsters were seeking ways into the business, to get their music out there. We old heads, the old school, we were the gatekeepers and if we did not allow them in then they didn’t come in, so consequently they were shut out.”
Devaluing of Music
According to Westbrooks, artists then took it upon themselves to find other ways into the business. In order to get their music out to an audience they went through streaming.
However, Westbrooks feels streaming has derogated music to a certain extent.
“Streaming to me is great for listeners but has also devalued music with spins on a song; so, consequently the artists are only receiving a fraction of a penny,” he said, speaking of what artists get per play or download of a song.
Westbrooks says this is a problem in the industry that never before existed. However, he acknowledges that streaming is the future of the business.
“But, on the other hand, streaming is the future because of its mobility, its ease of use, and its low cost, but the compensation for artists has to become more equitable.”
How Radio Stations Play a Role in the Industry
Radio stations. Yes, we listen to them, especially for the over-commercialized top jams and hit records that keep our bodies moving and our heads bopping.
Westbrooks says these stations play these songs in a rotation that features only top artists, therefore making it impossible for new artists to get radio time. Prior to today’s formula in radio, stations used to take chances on new artists by giving them opportunities to get radio play. According to Westbrooks, stations are more greedy now and only feature popular musicians.
“In the past, they took chances and also there were other influences that caused them to play certain records,” he said. “But now radio stations don’t want you to turn away from their stations, so consequently it behooves them to play what they consider the very top of the hit records.”
Consumers’ Keep it Going, Too
Westbrooks says that consumers typically listen to the radio and the moment they don’t like a song they change the station. This ingrained pattern of behavior among listeners, he asserts, is the reason stations don’t take chances on new artists anymore.
He says, “Radio stations don’t want you to do that. They want you to lock into their dial and stay there.”
Westbrooks says this model will never go back to the way it used to be. However, the industry has changed very drastically. The use of streaming and technology has almost eliminated the problem anyway.
Artists Regaining Ground
Although technology has changed the business, the industry is moving more so in favor of artists.
“As they were getting less and less money… with the lobbying and the resistance, it’s a common ground now to make it more equitable.”
According to Westbrooks, today an artist may receive millions of spins of one record. Yet, the industry expert says, that artists may receive very little money. In response to this, an artist can protest by not allowing their music to be played.
Westbrooks says the amount of money an artist makes does not concern their fans. As long as they can listen to the tunes they like, fans are content with listening for free.
“Consumers can care less. Their only concern is that they hear music they like and they want to continue to hear it,” the legend said.
The Key to Marketing and Promoting
Marketing and promotion are the most important factors in getting consumers to purchase an artist’s music. Westbrooks recalls that in the past, the biggest factor in promoting a hit song was to frequently play it. Stations would play the same tune over and over, etching the song into a listener’s mind.
“At that time when I was actively in the business, it was repetition,” he said. “You got to hear, you gotta get it in play, you gotta get in on the air,” he explained. He then went on to describe the important role that print media played in making a recording a hit in the past.
“And not only do you wanna get it on the air; you want to deal with print media as well. Let’s take Chicago for instance. Whether it’s WVON or any of those stations that were hot in Chicago at the time, I want that record played.”
Black Media’s Importance in Era of Segregation
According to Westbrooks, at the time the industry was segregated. “So, it was important to get those records played on every black radio station in every city, on television and in the night clubs.”
“I also wanted to tie it in with all black publications. I want pictures and stories about that artist in those newspapers… in that magazine,” he said. “In other words, I want to saturate the marketplace with it.”
He continued, “If you hear it enough, you’re gonna like it, you’re gonna fall in love with it, and you’ll run out and buy it.”
How Westbrooks Discovered his Niche in the Industry
When Westbrooks discovered his niche for marketing and promoting, he wasn’t new to sales.
“I’ve always been somewhat of a salesman even as a youngster growing up selling newspapers,” he said. “My major in school was business and administration.”
According to Westbrooks, even in college, he was a student rep for tobacco companies. So, when he left college it was his natural inclination to choose this route.
“Business and administration was my forte so that’s what I pursued,” he said.
Challenges He’s Faced
Success never comes without challenges and for Westbrooks, the most memorable challenge happened at a renowned radio station.
“There was some resistance in radio. As a matter of fact, radio station WBLS, one of the top radio stations in the country at that time…had the prevalent and innovative program director, Frankie Crocker,” he said. “Frankie Crocker never did play ‘Bustin’ Loose,’ never did.” (Remember, this was the first big hit of Westbrooks’ own label.)
He acknowledged that there were other similar occurrences. He added, “The stations all around played it, but he never did play it. Just by the same token Earth Wind and Fire, when Don Cornelius was alive, they never appeared on “Soul Train.”
Three steps to succeeding in the Industry
Westbrooks suggests following a three-step formula to those who want to stay relevant in the business.
- “They should develop their skills and stamina in order to position themselves for longevity in the music business,” he said. “No one should want to be a one-hit wonder; you want to make a hit after hit after hit.”
- “Stay current with the trends and the changes in the business and be aware of developments…in order to stay relevant, and sometimes you have to recreate yourself to stay in the game.”
- “Learn all you can about the business and surround yourself with people who will look out for your best interest.”
Advice to Artists
Westbrooks suggests that artists pursue singularity and distinction beyond appearance when honing their crafts.
“They should seek uniqueness, and I’m not talking about their costume and makeup,” he said. “I’m talking about developing qualities that make you stand out among the others, whether it’s your voice, songwriting ability or your performance.”
According to Westbrooks, it is important for an artist to “work on their craft and reach further and further in the pursuit of excellence.” Then Dr. Westbrooks ends on a positive note on the state of the industry.
“The music industry has no voids and the sky’s the limit.”
To learn more about Logan Westbrooks and his extensive career you can visit his site at loganwestbrooks.com. You can purchase his book “The Anatomy of the Music Industry: How the Game Was & How the Game Has Changed” on Amazon or at loganwestbrooks.com.
And finally, regarding the book he says, “This book lays every bit of it out.”