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So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star?

Producer, author, and entrepreneur Eric Kline reclines in the video-production studio
Sherri Cohen

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.

He readily admits that similar books exist. But most of them, he says, are written by attorneys and are about the legal side of the biz. Kline's twist is presenting info and advice about all facets of the industry and doing so not just in a book but in a two-CD set of audio interviews as well. Each section of the book -- there's one devoted to each industry specialty covered -- begins with a page of "Essentials." For example "Essentials of Management" outlines the roles of personal managers, business managers, and agents and explains what percentage of an artist's income each generally receives.

As with many books out there, however, what we get is a lot of very general, commonsense stuff. "Well, you have to have an attorney that respects you and understands your goals and shares your vision," MCA Records Executive Vice President Abbey Konowitch advises young artists in one interview. "A lot of these guys are in there to make a deal and move on." An artist too naive to know as much almost deserves to get burned.

Another problem lies in one of Kline's favorite catch phrases, "Success leaves clues" -- his conviction that industry newcomers can learn from successful old hands. True enough. But story after story in the book -- and Kline's own story, for that matter -- points to the fact that several factors must be in place for someone to make it in the music business, none of which can be learned in a book. As an artist, you have to have talent; almost always, your talent must be seen by someone with industry connections; for that to happen, you must be in the right place at the right time.

That said, Kline's book and CD interviews are full of intriguing, behind-the-scenes stories and insights. In the interview with Ice Cube, for instance, the rapper-turned-actor discusses the formation of his influential rap posse, N.W.A, as well as his interest in… architecture.

"I wrote a rap titled 'Boyz-n-the-Hood' and gave it to Eazy-E's group at the time. It was a group called HBO," he tells Kline. "When HBO passed on it, Eazy, Dr. Dre, Yella (DJ Yella), MC Ren, and myself formed N.W.A (Niggaz With Attitude). Then in 1987, I left and went to Phoenix to study architectural drafting. In 1988 I came back, and that's when we did Straight Outta Compton…."

The highlight of the nine audio interviews is the story of the founding of MTV, as told to Kline by Les Garland. Then head of West Coast operations for Atlantic Records, Garland was approached by MTV founder Bob Pittman in November 1981 about becoming vice president of programming for the fledgling video channel. Garland signed on and shortly thereafter OK'd MTV's original slogan. At an early strategy meeting, says Garland, marketing consultant George Lois told a handful of MTV executives: "'It's [like] that guy on the block who had color before anybody else, and everybody went to their house to watch color TV when the big shows came on. It's a very personal thing, it's their MTV.' He goes, 'Do you guys remember a breakfast cereal called Mapoe?' There was this animation, this little kid who used to beat his spoon on his highchair tray [and say] 'I want my Mapoe!' [Lois] goes, 'I want my MTV.' And I go, 'That's it.'"

Great story, but like many of the others, not one that offers much in the way of practical industry advice. So in terms of "infotainment" -- a word Kline has borrowed from his infomercial heroes -- there's far more 'tainment than useful info in his guide.

Kline has also taken a couple of final cues from his late-night-TV role models. He's chosen to direct-market the book rather than make it available in retail stores, which would cut into profits. He also plans on launching a series of "Power" seminars by early next year. "They will give people even more insight as to how the music industry works," he says, "make it very interactive, involve some of the power players from this book-CD set and a bunch of other ones who are anticipated in volume two."

C'mon. You knew there had to be a volume two.

Contact John Ferri at his e-mail address:

john.ferri@newtimesbpb.com


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