If you were Map Questing the journey that Bryan Calhoun has taken through the music industry since he began taking finance classes at the Terry College in 1990, you would start by typing in the address for UGA's campus radio station, WUOG, whose cubbyhole offices on the top floor of Memorial Hall did not afford Calhoun a view of where he has ended up nearly two decades later at the modern, glass-walled SoundExchange offices on 14th Street in Washington, D.C.
WUOG has an all-volunteer student staff, and its signal begins to fade not long after you leave the Athens city limits. In music industry circles, it's the rookie league, or what comes before the rookie league. But it's also a seat-of-the-pants, make-your-own-destiny kind of place where young upstarts like Bryan Calhoun go to get started in the music business, sort of while nobody's looking and before anyone can tell you that you'll never make all the hay you're intent on making with your life and career.
"When I wasn't DJing at WUOG or organizing step shows, I was booking acts for the student union's Contemporary Concerts division," says Calhoun, who learned so much in the process that he and some enterprising classmates — including J Lett (BBA '93, JD '97), who is a successful entertainment attorney in Atlanta — pooled their money and started working independently to help usher in the first wave of hip-hop stars before they reached superstar status.
Having worn a number of hats along the way, Calhoun now serves as vice president of new media and external affairs for SoundExchange, which the U.S. Copyright Office has designated as the bursar for the entire digital performance industry.
"SoundExchange is a non-profit organization that collects and distributes digital performance royalties on behalf of recording artists and copyright owners (usually a record label) when their recordings are performed on digital cable, satellite TV, the internet, and satellite radio, such as XM and Sirius," says Calhoun.
SoundExchange currently represents more than 5,000 record labels and 40,000 artists. Its clients include both signed and unsigned recording artists; small, medium, and large independent record companies; and major label groups and artist-owned labels. Bottom line: This is a company that writes a lot of checks.
"We're collecting roughly $200 million a year in royalties," says Calhoun, who has also worked with such hip-hop icons as Ludacris and Kanye West, who caused a firestorm of criticism when he interrupted Taylor Swift's acceptance speech at the 2009 Video Music Awards. Calhoun doesn't manage the controversial Mr. West, so the direct fallout from the VMA incident wasn't his to sort out. But Calhoun does, in fact, manage West's website, so he did have to deal with the negative responses and hate mail — some with racial epithets — that flooded West's on-line inboxes and message boards.
Calhoun turns up in various music industry niches besides SoundExchange and the West marketing team. Principal among those is a company Calhoun created on behalf of the little guys in the recording industry who aspire to be as big as Ludacris or West someday.
"In 2003, I started Label Management Systems to level the playing field with major record labels by offering indie labels the business and budgetary solutions necessary to run their operations efficiently and manage their releases successfully," says Calhoun, who didn't stop with mere consulting services. He also developed a financial software application to help small labels predict and manage cashflow. The idea for the Music Business Toolbox came to him after he convinced his label boss to release a compilation album where the only financial analysis was scribbling some numbers on the back of an envelope. "It seemed crazy to me that we committed hundreds of thousands of dollars to a project with almost no analysis," Calhoun recalls. "I figured there had to be other labels that would want to do some more detailed analysis."