Jamie Kent grew up with a beloved summer ritual: watching James Taylor perform at Tanglewood, the famed concert venue in the Berkshires.
In 2015, Kent made another summer pilgrimage to Tanglewood, but this time the singer-songwriter’s purpose—and view—had shifted. He wasn’t a member of the crowd; he was on stage, performing as the opening act for Huey Lewis and the News.
“It was just one of those moments,” said Kent. “It was what I had dreamed of doing as a kid. When I played that stage I knew I was on the right track.”
The right track, indeed. Kent was named an “artist you need to know” by Rolling Stone and The Huffington Post. His album All American Mutt debuted at number 16 on the Billboard Top Country Album chart. He plays more than 200 shows a year, including opening for The Doobie Brothers and performing in showcases with the South by Southwest Music Festival. All of this with no major label representing him. No management or public relations team, either.
His secret to success? A blend of pure talent and dedication with a side of entrepreneurship.
Turning Fans into Funders
Kent entered the entertainment fray during a rough time: The industry was rapidly changing, thanks to the disruptive effect of online streaming.
“It’s kind of the wild, wild west,” said Kent. He believes the industry is at a point where fans are consuming music more but valuing it for less. “It creates opportunities, but artists have to figure out where to find them. It’s scary and exciting all at once.”
With the industry in a state of flux, Kent created a new approach to funding his dream and engaging his fans: The Collective. Fans (called “partners”) who join The Collective fund and advise Kent’s career in exchange for access to exclusive music, merchandise, and a say in his major decisions.
“The Collective provides a connection to my career that other fans don’t get access to. They’re my advisory board,” said Kent. Beyond financial support, he values the career input partners have given him. They’ve chosen album covers, performance locations, and song direction. “Their advice is the most important thing I get.”
Consider The Collective an early model for artist crowdfunding; when Kent launched the idea in 2009, there wasn’t anything comparable on the market. Now Patreon, a subscription-based platform for creators to generate revenue directly from their fans, provides a similar service. Much like Kent’s Collective, it enables an artist-to-fan connection that one-off platforms like Kickstarter and Go Fund Me don’t provide.
As Kent’s star continues to rise, he’ll rely on The Collective to guide him. “I’ve got some important decisions to make in the coming year. The Collective will be integral in helping make those choices.”
Pioneering a New Approach to a Music Career
Ideas like The Collective put Kent in a unique class of music entrepreneurs disrupting the industry. But before Kent was a disruptor, his passion for performing had humble beginnings: community theater in fifth grade. “That sparked my love for being on stage and entertaining people,” he said. Over time, that interest evolved and, when Kent entered high school, he focused on music; he took up musical theater, learned to play guitar, and even started a band.
By then he knew he wanted to pursue a career in the music industry. But his approach to achieving that dream was non-traditional. After graduation, he didn’t immediately dive into landing a record deal or enroll at an arts-focused college. Instead, he went to business school.
“I saw friends choose music school then end up in non-music industries,” said Kent. “They weren’t prepared to pursue careers in the music business.”
Kent’s desire to master business fundamentals—and apply them to his musical ambitions—led him to Babson College “because of its focus on entrepreneurship.” At Babson, Kent learned what he calls one of the most valuable lessons of his career: bootstrapping.
That lesson came by way of a course taught by seasoned entrepreneur Len Green. Green placed students in groups of five. Each week, a group had to feed the entire class. The catch? The group wasn’t allowed to pay for it.
“The question was: how do you get someone to give you something of value in exchange for something other than money?” said Kent. “It’s a mentality that I hadn’t thought of before that class.”
That lesson serves as the foundation for The Collective. It’s inspired Kent’s partnerships with brands like Durango Boots, Bose, and Gibson Guitars. These endeavors help support the Nashville-based singer as he dedicates his life to the craft. He’s writing up to 150 songs per year, touring year round, and exploring new approaches to engaging fans old and new.
Add that business savvy and entrepreneurial mindset to Kent’s feel-good blend of Americana, folk, and rock, and it’s clear to see why Huey Lewis said Kent is “Gonna be a star soon, that kid.”
Photo: Lyndon Jackson Photography
Posted in Entrepreneurial Leadership