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Calhoun interviews Grammy-winning recording artist Estelle during The Recording Academy D.C. Chapter’s day-long seminar on the music industry’s latest innovations and changing platforms. (Photo by Shantella Sherman)

Like a bitter refrain that reoccurs too often, fame among African-American music artists has often been saddled with financial woes linked to poor business practices. Whether it is the artist unaware of the contract demands or limitations, or issues with copyright and engineering masters, Black Music Month has become a time to study the music business to avoid the financial pitfalls of fame.

This June, the D.C. chapter of The Recording Academy, also known as the Grammys, held a day-long seminar for its members to offer insight into the latest industry innovations and changing platforms. On hand for the event was Grammy-award winning artist Estelle, whose panel discussion with Bryan Calhoun, co-founder of Freeform Development, a music technology company, highlighted how new technologies, including social media influence the music world.

“We want to bring the benefit of information to our members, which include the best practices and tools in business. We know that we’re not Los Angeles, New York, and Nashville, but we want to ensure that the members in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia have the same accolades and access they deserve,” Wendi Cherry, D.C. Recording Academy executive director told the AFRO.

And while artists like Estelle move fluidly across genres and geographic spaces to gain major music success, the business of international copyright, downloads, and royalties remain among the core issues local Grammy members navigate. Social media is at the heart of a shifting music business that wants access quick, precise, and constantly. But how does that translate into business?

“I’ve been around for years, then I did a guest appearance on the American television show ‘Empire’ and all of sudden, I’m an overnight success,” Estelle said laughing.

“The song I sang was from years ago, but suddenly an entire group of people who did not know my music, have it to enjoy. The difference is now I have to have a social media presence and people want to know what I am eating and wearing, what my every move is, and sometimes you just don’t think as an artist that that is part of the business. It is.”

For others, like Nathan Wingo, whose family managed a music hall in Omaha that Black performers used for live recordings, understanding the business means the difference between shuttering the doors.

“There are so many aspects of performing, recording, and copyrighting in this business that used to be done with only handshake deals. I can’t do things like my dad and granddad did them, so these types of seminars become my college,” Wingo said.

Established in 1957, The Recording Academy is an organization of musicians, songwriters, producers, engineers, and recording professionals that is dedicated to improving the cultural condition and quality of life for music and its makers. The Recording Academy is responsible for groundbreaking professional development, cultural enrichment, advocacy, education, and human services programs.