Growing up in another country, poor, and without a college education may lead some to stay in poverty or look to illegal means to make ends meet. But having aspirations to be a businessman like Roc-A-Fella’s Damon Dash and Jay-Z, industry executive Mel Carter knew what direction he wanted to take in life and pursued it.
Carter, who is now the senior vice president of A&R at Republic Records, is also an investor in Chef John Seymour and hip-hop artist and entrepreneur, Nasir “Nas” Jones’ restaurant Sweet Chick and owner of the Hikari-Ultra record label that is in a joint venture with Republic. With the skills and knowledge he has acquired over the years, he managed to generate $3 million in artist merchandise and apparel sales in the last year alone.
BLACK ENTERPRISE spoke to Carter about how his ambition led to his entrepreneurial success.
How has working in the entertainment industry prepared you for entrepreneurship as an investor in Sweet Chick?
My position requires me to not only manage my artists but their schedules, including recordings, budgets, and just about any issue that may arise during artist development. I’ll be honest, when I got promoted to SVP, a part of me felt like I should take on more formal training. I laugh at that thought because my day to day is so unpredictable. I’m ready to tackle whatever; it’s allowed me to think on my feet and find quick solutions. I’ve acquired many fundamental skill sets, including leadership development, through my position that I’ve carried on to entrepreneurship. Most importantly, I follow my instincts. I take chances on artists the same way I take chances on my investments.
My good friends, Nav & Sunaina introduced me to the owner John Seymour. He explained to me that Sweet Chick is a music company. I didn’t understand what he meant until I dined there. Sweet Chick is culture. The vibes are there, good music, amazing food, great crowd. The employees are so hospitable it feels good coming in. Both John & Nas have made Sweet Chick a staple of hip-hop culture. I’m happy I get to be a part of it.
As the SVP of A&R at Republic Records, what type of skills do you have that helped you rise through the ranks to your position and how do you stay motivated?
Wendy Goldstein (president of A&R) recently told me I have a very unique skill set in that I’m able to speak to both sides of the business. I’m able to connect with artists generally because they come from similar backgrounds like mine. Ultimately, this is a business, and corporate environments can make an emerging artist feel uncomfortable. I’m there to merge both worlds. Not for any tactical reason, I’m really just a people person. I put that skill to use but to the max.
When times get tough, I’m motivated by my daughter. I want to level the playing field for her as much as I can. I get a rush from watching my labor through my artists. Witnessing their growth and success is very fulfilling. In this business when you plant the seeds, it can take months or even years to grow; I have to remind both my team and myself of the end goal. Most importantly, I love helping people. I set personal goals yearly to be able to follow through. I know the more successful I become, the more I’m able to give back.
What are some of the business ventures that you are involved with and/or going to be doing in the future?
Like most businesses, understanding different parts that drive it helps you better understand the game as a whole. I have a joint venture with Republic, Hikari-Ultra. Having my own label allowed me to understand marketing, sales, what goes into record-making, publicity, and more. I do want to add that it’s just as important to try to perfect the skill sets you do have because it will set you apart.
Aside from my joint venture Hikari-Ultra, I’ve had success venturing into selling artist merchandise. More recently, I’ve unintentionally found myself venturing into the restaurant business. I have my hands in a few places and I’m looking forward to seeing how they pan out.
Having no formal business education, how were you able to maintain a career that mirrors that of your peers? What helped you become a businessman?
“They’ve read a bunch of words, I’ve lived a bunch of life.” That’s a quote by Jay-Z. I’m very confident in my decisions despite not having a formal education because I’ve been able to educate myself throughout life’s lessons. The opportunities I did have, my failures, poverty, and hardship shaped me to be the businessman I am today. Honestly, I’m thankful for that. I hustle that much harder because of it, there’s no way I’m ending up there again. In the same breath, I do want to mention the importance of education. If you have the opportunity to go then you should, even if it means enrolling in a few key courses. Master your craft.
With your background, what advice would you give anyone who wants to become a successful business person?
Just know that it might feel like everything is against you. There’s very few people that beat the odds and that’s because they bet on themselves through success and failure. Aim high, and when you fall short you still land above most. It might feel like you’re crossing the finish line with a sprained ankle but you have to keep going. I say this all the time and I probably will never stop but fear is the No. 1 killer of dreams. Fear will scare you out of a successful position that was intended for you.