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Stores in Miami's Overtown neighborhood were looted and set on fire in January 1989, after a Hispanic police officer fatally shot a black man in the area. Just a week later, a young college student named Eric Kline -- a white kid originally from suburban Boston -- headed into Overtown with a fellow video-production student from Florida International University. The two shot raw footage of homeless people amid the debris, and Kline turned it into a music video for the folk-rock ballad "Where Did the Sound Go?" by his cousin Doc Lawrence, a singer-songwriter.
The poignant, black-and-white video helped earn Kline FIU's Student of the Year -- Telecommunications Production award in 1990, the year he graduated with his bachelor's degree.
"The concept, the direction of the piece, the editing was all there," recalls Bert Delgado, who taught Kline telecommunications at FIU. "You can shoot great pictures, but without editing rhythm, the whole thing dies. You can also have great editing, but if you don't have great pictures, it doesn't take off. Eric was and still is, I'm assuming, extremely creative. He thinks in images."
Confident of his talents, Kline decided he wanted to make music videos for a living. "I fell in love with the notion that I could marry music with the visuals," he remembers.
So instead of taking a common entry-level job -- say, editing news clips at a local TV station -- Kline continued to hone his craft. He stayed on campus after graduation, living in a tiny apartment and using the school's editing labs. While waiting for his big break, he took a job waiting tables. Then, one day, there was a knock on the door.
"It was a friend of mine who had been in my [video-production] sequence, and she said, 'Eric, I wanted you and Max to meet,'" Kline recalls.
Max Gousse worked at Video Jukebox Network, a local South Florida music-video channel that eventually became today's Box Music Network. "Max and I became friends almost immediately, and about six months later, I got a call from one of the production people at the Box," Kline says. "They gave me a shot at doing some rap promos, so I started doing those, and they apparently liked what they saw."
Over the next decade, Kline, now age 32, would go on to produce more than 350 band documentaries, promotional spots, and record commercials for some of the biggest names in the music industry, including Will Smith, L.L. Cool J, Aerosmith, Marilyn Manson, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, and Boyz II Men. There were also music videos for his cousin and for a rap group called Stylz & The J.I.Z., which recorded for Gasoline Alley/MCA.
In addition Kline produced Box interview segments called "Box Talks" and went on to became senior producer at the channel. But the lure of being his own boss led him to leave the Box and form his own company, E. Kline Productions, in 1997. He still produces "Box Talks" on a freelance basis through E. Kline, as well as other musical projects.
The producer's entrepreneurial streak was inspired largely by the philosophies of infomercial kings such as Tony Robbins and Brad Richdale. You know, those hypermotivated guys on late-night cable who hawk secrets to financial and personal success. With his slicked-back black hair and stocky build, Kline even looks the part.
His manner is no exception. He speaks quickly and aggressively, in a slightly nasal tone that contains traces of his Northeastern childhood. And he's not shy about touting his accomplishments. He's plainly appropriated the go-getter swagger of his late-night mentors.
"I'm a big Tony Robbins fanatic," Kline admits. "His programs have significantly influenced me on a business and a personal level."
Which helps explains Kline's latest project: a book-and-CD package promising "those of you watching at home" an inside track to success in the music business. He says the idea came to him after watching an infomercial in which Brad Richdale pitched a $39.95 sell-your-own-product scheme. Kline spent two days cranking out a 30-page booklet titled How to Make It in the Music Video Business. His logic was simple: He had made it, so why not sell his knowledge?
Kline is quick to add, of course, that financial gain isn't his only motive: "It's been a dream of mine to help people," he says, "because you're not fulfilled until you help others out."
Convinced he could expand on his portrayal of the business, Kline started talking to music-industry contacts and compiling the interviews. The result is the recently released book-CD set Inside the Music Business: The Power Players -- Conversations With Eric Kline, which includes chatty interviews Kline did with 28 musicians, producers, entertainment lawyers, record-label executives, publicity people, agents, and managers.
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy manager Gary Stamler, a former music attorney, holds forth on what it takes for a band to get a record deal. Music-video director Billie Woodruff (Gloria Estefan, TLC) talks about the importance of interning in kick-starting his career.
"Nothing can compare to what I've put out at this point," claims Kline, his finely honed, pitchman's fondness for hyperbole shining through.