Logan Westbrooks made music history when he joined Capitol Records in the 1960s, becoming one of the pioneering Black executives in the industry. He went on to play an instrumental role in the careers of an endless list music giants that includes Nancy Wilson, Carlos Santana, the O’Jays, Sly & the Family Stone, Johnny Mathis, Miles Davis and the Jackson 5. As the owner of his own label, Source Records, Westbrooks scored a number one hit in 1978 with “Bustin Loose,” by Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers.
In addition to numerous business ventures, Westbrooks also leveraged his business and marketing prowess to elevate his commitment to charities (alongside his wife, Geri), operating the Helping Hands Home for Boys for over 15 years. Not done yet, he also became an ordained minister, presiding over a church in Arcadia, California.
However, despite all of his endeavors, Westbrooks first love has always been music. The highlights of his career have been enshrined at Indiana University’s Archives of African-American Music and Culture. In 2014, the Memphis native was awarded with an honorary doctorate of humane letters from his alma mater, LeMoyne Owen College. Currently he’s celebrating the release of his new book, entitled The Anatomy of the Music Industry: How the Game Was and How the Game Has Changed.
EBONY.com recently caught up with Westbrooks to learn more about his legendary career, and to also gain insights about the current state of the music business.
EBONY: What’s been the most notable change you’ve seen in the music industry?
Logan Westbrooks: Understanding that all things transition, morph, and even change direction, what I see as the most notable change in the music industry is streaming, because of the direct impact it has on the amount of revenue the content creators receive for their efforts. Streaming is great for listeners, but it has also devalued music, with spins of a song receiving only fractions of a penny.
Also, another harsh reality is that people, and even content creators, have become convinced that music should be free. I can’t remember any other time in any industry where that has happened. On the other hand, streaming is the future because of its mobility, ease of use and low cost. But compensation for artists, writers and producers has to be made more equitable.
EBONY: How would you rate the current state of the music industry?
LW: The major labels are still in control because they still have more power in terms of money than indies, and they still control terrestrial radio. However, the Internet has enabled indie artists to excel in ways never imagined before, and indie artists are now anchored by the growth of Internet radio and other options.
In reference to innovation and creativity, the majors continue to produce more of the same predictable cookie-cutter hits. The best in creativity comes from the indie who are free to stretch the limits of their music because they aren’t confined to cookie-cutter song formulas. So the listeners should be happy because so much more music is getting out there—some of it quite good. There are more options.
EBONY: Has technology been a good or bad for the business?
LW: Technology usually means progress, so in that sense it has been good for the music industry. It has enabled artists to produce and promote their own music, which was not possible before. There are updates and changes on a daily basis, so there’s a lot to keep up with and have to stay current on. However, revenue is down all the way around because of streaming. One of the upsides of streaming is the astronomical number of spins a song can potentially receive. I’ve heard of songs getting 200, 300, and even 500 million streams. Amazing.
EBONY: What are your thoughts about the virtual disappearance of Black music departments in the music industry today?
LW: It saddens me that Black music divisions have been eliminated. At the same time, Black music has soared because people have stepped up and created music companies and labels. So divisions have disappeared, but independent labels were created. That’s been a part of our legacy in this country: to be used and then discarded. But that has never stopped us before. We always have and always will figure out a way to keep things moving. It makes you more entrepreneurial. This is no different.
EBONY: What’s the big take away for readers of your new book?
LW: My book explores the way things were for artists, writers and producers in the past and how they are today. Readers are able to learn what worked best in the old model and incorporate them with today’s techniques. Readers get firsthand information from people who experienced it back in the day and who are experiencing it now. It’s a very unique approach in sharing information about the music industry.
EBONY: What are the top three things people should consider today when pursuing a career in the music business?
LW: One thing is to develop your skills and stamina in order to position yourself for longevity in the music business. No one should strive to be a “one-hit wonder.” You want to make hit after hit. Another thing is to stay current with changes, trends and developments, both creatively and technologically, in order to remain relevant. Sometimes you have to recreate yourself to stay in the game. The third thing is to learn all you can about the business and surround yourself with people who will look out for your best interests. Today, there is no excuse for not knowing. The Internet has changed all that. Everything you need to know can be found online if you do the research, much of it free. There are no more excuses.
EBONY: What should artists consider?
LW: All artists should consider their role and what would make someone interested in what they have to offer. Artists should seek a uniqueness—and I’m not talking about costumes or makeup. I’m talking about developing qualities that make you stand out among the others, whether it’s your voice, your songwriting ability, or your performance. Work on your craft and always reach further and further in the pursuit of excellence. Perfection is not always possible, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t reach for it anyway.
Gil Robertson IV is an award-winning journalist, bestselling author and president of the African-American Film Critics Association.