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TOUGH MONEY: Entertainment

Dream Factory or Just a Bad Dream?

Two entertainment insiders share their often-conflicting views of opportunities and obstacles to a career in the industry.


So you want to go Hollywood? Depending on whom you ask, the entertainment industry is the stuff either dreams or migraines are made of.

Sylvia Massy, a Los Angeles independent record producer, has engineered and produced albums with Tom Petty, Johnny Cash, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, R.E.M., the Artist (formerly known as Prince) and others. She also owned an independent record label and is building a recording studio.

Richard Schulenberg has been a lawyer for Capitol Records, general counsel for Paramount's music division and head of West Coast business affairs for CBS Records. An instructor in the entertainment studies program at UCLA Extension since 1979, he also has worked in the television and motion picture industries as a writer and producer. Schulenberg is president of MSH Entertainment Music Group in Santa Monica, where he is producing TV projects and starting a record label.

Massy and Schulenberg recently shared their often-conflicting views of opportunities and obstacles to a career in the entertainment industry in a round-table discussion with The Times.

The Times: How did you get into the business?

Schulenberg: My first job [came from] being informed by my parents, "You're graduating from law school and you have to support yourself," which was a terrible shock to me. Literally within an hour of that realization sinking in, I was at UCLA Law School and saw a card on a bulletin board that Capitol Records was looking for somebody to do copyright law. I applied and submitted a 50- or 60-page copyright paper I had written. I suspect they hired me because it was the heaviest paper they got.

I never applied for another job. After [working at] Capitol, people offered me jobs, either because they had worked with me before or because someone recommended me. The music business is really an extended family; it is a business of relationships. [Getting] the first job is always the hardest. You get the first job, you do it well, you meet people--and there will be more jobs.

Massy: I started in radio as a college disc jockey and moved into making commercials. I gained the skills to record music and started sweeping floors at a music studio. I got little jobs here and there and starved for a long time. One day I got really lucky with a record called "Green Jello," and then all the managers called me at once. I got to choose a really great manager and it's been solid work ever since. I was about 30 then. I had spent my entire 20s floundering and living with two other roommates in a one-bedroom place in Hollywood. But everything's great now! It wasn't even bad then.

The Times: Was yours a traditional career path?

Schulenberg: I don't think there is a traditional path in the entertainment industry. It depends on luck--being in the right place at the right time--and who you know. A new tradition I'm aware of is people coming up through [unpaid] internship programs. More and more vice presidents of A&R [artists and repertoire] and people on entertainment panels started as interns. These are tremendous opportunities to get your foot in the door, [but you'll probably start by] doing some menial job. Sooner or later if there's an opening, people get moved up into a starting position and they go on from there. One of my UCLA extension students finally wrangled a job over at Warner Bros., and within two or three years he was a senior vice president at another label.

Massy: You could start your career [studying entertainment] in school or do what I did: work for free. There are plenty of little studios that need people and will train you if you're willing. There is a new generation that comes up every year that way. Or if you have a bundle of money, you can set up your own recording system and invite people to come in and do their project and then shop that tape and get started that way.

The Times: Does age matter if you want to start with an internship?

Schulenberg: It could be a problem. As I become more mature, I'm aware of being treated with a certain level of suspicion by younger people--that "You can't be hip enough to know what's going on." But there are [older] people who seem to do so successfully.

Massy: A friend of mine at a local studio works for NASA during the week on the space shuttle--he's really a rocket scientist. But on the weekends he works in the studio for free or for very little money because he just loves it and he wants to become an engineer/producer. It's nice to see people following their goals through.

The Times: How difficult is it to get ahead in the industry?

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