Questions with Artists We Admire: Eric Nicks
Eric Nicks is what you’d call a mogul in the music industry, founding Alpine Music Group in 2010. He is also the founder of R&B Live NY, has been the Vice President of A&R for Def Jam and the Senior Vice President of A&R for both Sony Records and Motown Records. He and Kristen Maxfield have known each other for nearly 10 years now, and he is a featured panelist in Maxfield Music’s Business of Music event on November 5th . We caught up with Eric recently while he was enroute to a music event in New York City and he was kind enough to let us pepper him with 5 Qs!
What made you want to be involved in the music industry?
EN: I never wanted to be in front of the camera, never wanted to be an artist, but I’ve always been a creative person. I was always out and about when I was in college and I threw a lot of parties and events. After college I was doing sales for a boutique hotel in Manhattan. After just three years I rose to a high sales position but didn’t have time to see friends because of my hours. They would share all of their experiences meeting these incredible people and artists as the urban culture started to rise in the New York nightlife scene and I felt I was missing out. One day I was reading “All I Need to Know about the Music Business” on the train to work and decided to quit my job. I dove right into the music business and it’s been the best decision I ever made.
How did you get your start in the music business?
EN: A really good friend of mine, Anton, his sister was Foxy Brown. She was the first artist I worked with. She was a popular 1990s rapper. I was part of her management team and, honestly, we didn’t know shit from shit so we were just doing whatever to promote her music. Then, another one of my friends, Tone, who was half of the Trackmasters’ production team, producing records for LL Cool J and Foxy Brown, brought got us connected and we were just getting’ in what we could. We kept hustling, talking to anyone we could. Our hard work got us deal with Defjam and then Chris Lighty hired me as an A&R representative for Violator Records and Management.
What tools did you use to help educate yourself about the industry and how to get ahead?
EN: I got most of my knowledge from experience and being on the job.. In music, I see a lot of people who spend a lot of money on their formal education and if you’re not learning an instrument, you’re learning the business end of music. But, schools don’t teach you how the business actually works. Schools don’t teach “This is how it actually works.” When I first started, I knew how to really listen to a record, immediately able to discern what I didn’t like and what an artist should change; I had an ear and that helped me. If you can get an internship with a music company, they’re extremely important and you learn on the job experience. You can’t go to school and learn this. You need be an intern and really get in there and learn.
I was lucky, I was attached to an artist that everyone wanted, part of a team, of an artist that everyone was trying to sign. This is an art form in every sense of the word.
You can’t put a science to this business, you can’t analyze it, because every successful artist has a different route to the top and the only common denominator is you get out of it what you put into. If you work hard you’ll get noticed. There is no one recipe for success, you just have to hustle and put your all into it, because everybody’s story in this game is extremely different.
It’s a small world inside the music business. You’ve got to get out and hustle, you’ve got to meet everybody.
Did you have a mentor?
EN: Chris Lighty, one of the talent managers who promoted Tunnel night club back in the day and who hired me for an A&R position at Violator, who you currently manages Busta Rhymes. And also Lyor Cohen, Head of Global Music for Youtube, formerly of 300.
What’s a typical day for you right now?
EN: That’s what I love about my job there is no typical day. I will jump on a plane and run to L.A. for three meetings and then come back to New York City in 48 hours. I could be going to the office to listen to three up-and- coming artists or running to Miami, Atlanta or Baton Rouge to listen to the new, hot, up-and- coming rapper that’s buzzing. That’s a typical day for me. I start at 6:30 a.m. and could end at 3:30 in the morning the next day. I have a daughter that I get up and eat breakfast with get her off to school and then my day starts. And I like it that way and I like that don’t have to catch 9:30 train and eat breakfast at the same coffee shop every morning and usher in with the herd (laughs). I eat when I’m hungry and other than that it’s go go go go!
If you could give one piece of advice to anyone wanting to work in the music industry, what would it be?
EN: You’ve got to get out in hustle, you’ve got to meet everybody. This is a contact sport, this is not a sport where you can just sit at home, you have to build relationships and you’ve got to make things happen. Your creative talent is great, but you have to match that with building relationships and make things happen. I was able to create many number one records because I hustled and I had relationships with others. Swizz beats, Pharrell and others. Relationship building is everything: Going out to clubs, networking events, showing up uninvited to studio sessions.
Things are different now, but when I started out we had no social media and no internet. We had to hit the ground running and we barely had cell phones and you had be there in person, show your face. We couldn’t develop relationships from our couch and like a picture. My favorite quote is “Don’t get caught without a chair when the music stops!” I keep this quote with me and share with everyone because being prepared is the most important thing.