"Another thing it's taught me," Prentice says of the business, "and I catch myself every time I start to feel bitter or resentful about it, is that I'd say 90 percent -- maybe even more than 90 percent -- of making it in music or in acting or any other performing art is who you know, or what family you were born into. That's really kind of unfortunate. It's amazing to me how much nepotism there really is."
And let's not forget payola. Yes, it's illegal, and no, it never went away. It's just done with smoke and mirrors these days. Record promoters can't hand over envelopes stuffed with cash (or other valuable incentives) to radio station music directors or popular on-air personalities without risking jail time. But they can help lure listeners and, in turn, advertisers to favored radio stations by arranging free concerts featuring artists whose usual per-show fee exceeds that of the average American's annual salary. Money still changes hands, and DJs still hype records till it hurts. And hit songs still require deep pockets.
"I've pursued a lot of radio, and the cloaked payola there is all-encompassing," Prentice contends. "I've had at least half a dozen music directors say they loved my stuff, but they couldn't play it. They either gave me a bogus reason, like it wasn't in their format -- but it was R&B/pop [and they were R&B/pop formatted] -- or they gave me a sincere reason, that they just can't play anything from someone who's out on his own. They've got to have it from a major indie or from a major label."
There is a light at the end of the tunnel, though, or at least a warm glow. Prentice makes at least part of his income -- he hasn't pulled the plug on his nondescript day job -- singing advertising jingles and through his working band Elite. Ever optimistic about the future, he notes that he's turned down some unsuitable indie offers and has had some recent interest -- and requests for more material -- from several respected names in the business. Good thing. It's going to take the support of some serious players to pull off what he has in mind.
"My overall goals are really to be one of the major recording artists coming into the millennium," he says without a hint of irony. "I feel like I've been blessed with a unique talent and I feel a certain obligation to do what I'm doing. If somebody's going to sign me as a pop artist, they're going to want to make their money from me, so I understand that game, too. I've got to give the record company their worth. Maybe a couple of platinum albums, write some great music. And then once I've made their dough and people appreciate me as an artist, then I can start evolving and doing other things. It would just be an evolution of maybe five to ten years down the line, where I have the latitude to do stuff that is really challenging to me as an artist."
As if the whole learning curve hasn't been challenging enough. In 1986 Prentice left the University of Miami to get, as he calls it, "in-the-field training." While he quickly credits former UM mentors such as faculty members Larry Lapin, Rachel Lebon, and Nobleza Pilar with giving him the tools to succeed, he's probably learned just as much at the steely doors of that other institution of higher learning. And Prentice is gonna keep on knocking. Hard.
Britt Prentice is scheduled to sing the national anthem at a Miami Heat home game next season. For information on his Unchained Soul CD, call Phoenix Records at 800-494-0659.