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At 82,000 members and growing, the McCombs School Alumni Network is a formidable bunch, working in just about every profession under the sun: CEOs, astronauts, athletes, small-business owners, entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers, artists and on and on.

In this installment of our “Ask the Expert” series, Texas checks in with music exec Peter Schwarz, MBA ’01, and HR manager Janice Little, BBA ’86 and MBA ’92, to learn more about what they know.

What does it take to run a successful music business?

By Peter Schwarz, MBA ’01

Peter Schwarz, MBA '01 (right) with marquee client Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel

Peter Schwarz, MBA '01 (right) with marquee client Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel

There’s the old joke about the kid who tells his dad that he wants to be in the music business, and Dad warns, “Son, you can’t have it both ways.” It is no secret that lifestyle choices compel long-term commitment to the music industry more than anything else (which is another way to say that the biz is made up of a select few people who just can’t bring themselves to do anything else).

Yet I’m happy to report that there are ways to sustain profitability in music. The following are a few of my lessons learned.

Set modest goals. In a winner-take-all industry, to provide a middle-class living for your employees year-in and year-out is a major feat. That will attract amazingly talented musicians who won’t wander off.

Understand your product. If you think it is a CD, then you are up against a profoundly over-saturated marketplace. But if it is “six people who know how to write and perform songs together,” then you have a lot more opportunities to explore.

Be willing to change direction quickly to find the cash. In eight short years, our team here has created a record label, a publisher, an academic training facility in our recording studio, a symphony, a Broadway-scale musical, a voice-over and jingle-writing service, and even a bar at the Austin airport.

Focus on the pie. It’s critical to have a good attorney to protect your artist, but focusing solely on legal matters and intellectual property concerns ignores new business opportunities and slows down the ways in which your artist and audience can connect. The music industry needs to focus more on growing the pie, rather than protecting how a shrinking pie gets sliced.

Take advantage of star power. Your artist is a networking machine because everyone wants to meet the star. Savvy artists with lengthy, stable careers know how to make this information flow work for them.

Bolster the back office. Music may be a creative industry, but it still requires the same administrative machinery as any other business. People who wish they were on stage do not usually make great accountants.

There are some things in music that will never make sense to a business person. Just say “OK,” move on and remember why you love the business. How many of us get to watch our product receive a standing ovation nightly?

Peter Schwarz, MBA ’01, is the business manager for Ray Benson and Bismeaux Records, Productions and Studio, home to Asleep at the Wheel, Carolyn Wonderland, The Texas Tornados and the stage production “A Ride With Bob: The Bob Wills Musical.”

Download a free mp3 of “Hesitation Blues,” the lead track from the Grammy-nominated “Willie and the Wheel” album by Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel. (No longer available – expired Feb. 28)


How do you maintain a work-life balance?

By Janice Little, BBA ’86 and MBA ’92

Janice Little, BBA ’86 and MBA ’92, is a busy executive at Dell but has worked out a system to ensure she has time to spend with her family and help her sons with homework.

My personal belief is that you don’t have to lose yourself to anything—work, life or family. My mother worked and raised five children—surely I could.

After getting married, managing my life wasn’t difficult because the new challenges—such as feeding and walking our dog, Spike—were easy to handle. But when I became a mother, my life changed dramatically. All at once additional stress elements entered into my life, and it was double duty. I gave birth to micro-preemie, twin boys 16 weeks early. For the first time, managing my life as a wife and new mother, my work and the balance between them became a very real challenge.

I knew I wanted to be a “power broker” mom with a career. After all, I didn’t get my MBA to stay home. More important, I wanted my boys to see success in action.

My solution was to customize my approach to work-life balance and design my work and home life into a form that would work well for us.

First, we hired help. Whatever could be done by someone else gave us time to devote to our children. We hired a maid and pool service and bought a home warranty to handle time-consuming repairs.

Next, we got organized. I put all the key school and extracurricular activities and doctor appointments on my work calendar. I literally send an invite from my work calendar to home so that it is on both PDAs. I send an invite to my husband so he knows as well.

I also simplified our daily routine. I work with two other moms to rotate after-school pick-up of the kids. I cook every other night, and we eat leftovers on nights in between—easy steps that give us more hours together as a family each week.

My husband is my partner. He asked what I needed to make everything work and helped bring it to fruition. He always valued his time and taught me how to value mine.

When things get out of balance, I pause. I make difficult decisions and I don’t regret. I move forward. I have chosen to make my work-life balance a personal decision every day. This decision gives me confidence when I take on new work assignments or extracurricular activities in which my now-11-year-old boys participate.

Not only is my family important to me, but I am important to me. I never wanted to lose myself while becoming a wife, mother and career woman, and I haven’t. You can make the same personal decision.

Janice Little, BBA ’86 and MBA ’92, is a senior human relations manager in corporate responsibility at Dell Inc. She is a mentor and coach to women at Dell and led the woman’s initiative for the African-American affinity group, focusing on work-life balance. She has 11-year-old twin boys and is married to former UT quarterback Donnie Little.

  1. Mark Vice on Wednesday 13, 2010

    I love it!

  2. Mark Vice on Wednesday 13, 2010

    I love it!

  3. Deanie Little on Wednesday 13, 2010

    Janice is my Aunt, I have always respected her as a strong, Intelligent woman. After reading this article it just confirms it even more.

  4. Deanie Little on Wednesday 13, 2010

    Janice is my Aunt, I have always respected her as a strong, Intelligent woman. After reading this article it just confirms it even more.

  5. Tracy Mueller on Wednesday 13, 2010

    I’m glad you enjoyed the article, Deanie! And how nice to have such a good role model in the family. : )

    ~Tracy Mueller

    Managing Editor