Elle Takes Us Behind The Business of Music at NCCU

Written By: Elle Forrest

Photo Credit: Torrey Swain

Editor's Note: Thank you to the NCCU School of Business for inviting The Lux Blog. 

Pictured: (Left to Right)  Charles Whitefield, Andreao “Fanatic” Heard, Vanessa Ferguson, and Eli Davis

Pictured: (Left to Right) Charles Whitefield, Andreao “Fanatic” Heard, Vanessa Ferguson, and Eli Davis

With so many people trying to get into the music industry, it’s only fair to say that it has its obstacles. Not only as a performer but also in understanding the next phase or in other words the business aspect of things. Lessons are always available through life’s experiences but NCCU Business decided to give students a head start on the matter through hosting Behind the Voice-The Business of Music. Offering information on forming relationships in business, maintaining creativity and a few other helpful jewels and gems.

Pictured: Lenora Helm Hammonds

Pictured: Lenora Helm Hammonds

Starting with introductions was moderator Lenora Helm Hammonds, Director of NCCU’s Vocal Jazz Ensemble and owner of Zenzalai. The panelist board consisted of a dynamic group of music industry professionals; Charles Whitefield, music executive and Co-Founder of Hidden Beach Records, Andreao “Fanatic” Heard, who has produced music for Lil’ Kim, Will Smith and Nortorious B.I.G., Eli Davis, manager of 9th Wonder, Anthony Hamilton as well as his background vocalists the HamilTones and lastly but certainly not least, Vanessa Ferguson, a finalist from last season of the NBC’s singing competition “The Voice.”


Although the NCCU School of Education Auditorium held a very tranquil atmosphere there was a slight buzz in the air suggesting the upcoming excitement of the night’s discussion, music. Faces were waiting in anticipation as Professor Hammond lead everyone on a journey into behind-the-scenes topics and discussions. One being a matter of creativity and what sources are used to maintain creative flow. It’s easy to start strong but sometimes artists burn out before finishing at all. This is where creativity comes into play, creativity is birthed in the midst of creative people. One should surround themselves with fellow creatives. Next, be creative in staying relative to the music industry.  One must be committed to the process of pursuing their passion which in turn allows for a unique sound and longevity in the business. Fanatic reached out to audience members with advice on studying sounds and various genres to creating a personal brand. “Be unique, be iconic. That allows people to talk about you from now until you’re gone.” However, creativity doesn’t stop in just the artistry of music. As an artist one must think outside the box when it comes to the generation of capital, remember potential capital can be acquired from anywhere in the world. Be open to travel, other cultures and people from outside local areas.

While talent is important in the music industry, networking and forming relationships plays a big part of success. Panelists discussed social media as a key component of not only in demonstrating talent to the world but in networking as well. Once a circle or team is formed make sure to stay connected with those people and maintain a healthy rapport by taking time to understand boundaries within the business even after friendships have been formed. In the words of Eli Davis “Looking for short cuts gets you cut short”. Respect processes and protocol that are necessary in the business of music. It allows for smoother transitions and better quality of work. Allow yourself to soak up knowledge and learn from the people you've come to trust. The ability to be open to growth and development is primal to letting others see your business ethics in the industry.

I had a moment to speak with moderator Lenora Hammonds about her ideas on talking to aspiring youth concerning business and here’s what she had to say.

Why do you feel an event like this is necessary for upcoming professionals/artists?

In the business of anything, whether you have a beauty salon, gas station, restaurant or a music career, the wallpaper for the success of that business is your business savvy. Because what runs everything is people’s ability to make money. Artists don’t understand the business like they should. They get blind sighted by being on stage. They see Beyonce but they don’t know that she hustles and works really hard. Not knowing the business(side of music) will cave you in.

Towards the end of the discussion all panelists were eager to give lasting jewels and gems for those willing to listen. Mostly in concerning seizing opportunities and simply working smarter and not necessarily harder in business. Tips ranged from being passport ready to purchasing your own equipment for future endeavors outside of paid studio time. Both serve purpose in chances at opportunities on different levels. Having a passport allows a person to travel and show themselves as an artist while the purchase of personal equipment allows the owner to find their real artistry in those late night moments where they are in a free space to try new things that would otherwise be neglected in a room full of people(studio).

At the end of the night the students gathered towards the stage and out of seats to watch as Vanessa Ferguson rocked everyone with her renditions of  Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues” and Stevie Wonder’s “ Higher Ground”. As she talked to the crowd, her personality shined through the performance almost as bright as her vocals. Dressed in all black accompanied by the illustrious style of hat upon honey golden tresses she was right at home on stage. We got a chance to vibe for a moment afterwards and excited would be an understatement. However her calming energy made talking seem like two women simply playing catch up.

What are some of your favorite pastimes outside of music?

The business of music is very stressful. I’m a musician but music is what I do, it’s not who I am...I love the movies, I love food, cooking, I love sleeping, hanging out with my grandma, spending time with family. Oh and I’m about to get back into basketball, it was my life.

How do you get past the stress of performing and what advice would you offer others?

Well it’s different for everyone. One of the things that could help is realizing you were made to do it, if you know you were made to do it then just keep that in your mind. One thing that helps me is headphones, I typically listen to James Brown before getting on stage. Sometimes nerves kick in but you have to change your focus. Think about what you’re there to achieve. Before going into the blind auditions I told myself ‘You can’t afford to be nervous.’ This is national TV! I worked so hard all these years and I’m going to go on stage and do my best.

Kimberly Knight