Andrew Briskin – February 24, 1968 – August 27, 2012
Damn. I already have tears. This one is hard.
Andrew’s passing was a surprise. The details aren’t important. The impact of his vision, passion and love is.
You wanna know the origin story or my indie music career? It starts here. Andrew is the ethos of indie music entrepreneurship in the face of social and cultural discrimination.
If you know parts of my story, you know I was outed to my campus in Nashville. Six years of conversation therapy and I was finally considering that maybe God was telling me there wasn’t anything wrong with me. Without having even kissed a boy yet, I confided in my roommate about my feelings and my years of wrestling with God about it. His response…along with his religious activism…resulted in me being outed to the entire campus. The board of directors of the school did kick me out of all religious affiliated classes, but decided to let me finish my music courses that semester. When an executive at the Gospel record label I was signed to heard of the drama on campus, they dropped me and walked me out of the record label, killing my only dream – to be a Gospel singer that God would use to bring joy and healing to people who need it. I had been touring since I was 12 years old singing inspirational music, selling my gospel CD, doing alter calls and even groomed by industry professionals since I was 16 to step right into a Christian music career. Now I am suddenly told by the gatekeepers that I was not allowed in their industry anymore. Branded a leper, leaving town was the only option. Nashville was too small and everyone knew my business now.
I met Andrew in Los Angeles. We met online – where you meet boys. It started as an intimate connection. But I liked him. I loved his worldly wisdom, his playfulness and his tenacious entrepreneurial spirit. I had never seen someone so well rounded – so many skills and so capable of running multiple businesses. By himself.
He had a mad love and profound understanding of the music business.
When we met, we saw opportunity with each other.
At first, Andrew just helped me survive. During this time, I had spent a few weeks living out of my car. Showering at the gym. Appealing to various friends or strangers for a meal. It was rough. He gave me jobs. Some jobs that would give me stories to tell for years. Other times, just mundane work cleaning up his office, moving things, etc.
Our time together taught me more about him. Andrew had started an entertainment business back in 1995 called Tango Blues Entertainment. He had dreams and the means to make them happen.
Our time together also educated him about me. The occasional bar or jewish deli I would sing at was a showcase for his visionary mind. Watching me. Thinking how he could apply his skills to monetize mine.
But alas, Nashville wasn’t unique. It may have been about religion there, but LA had its own reasons to not sign gay people. And if you recall, I didn’t get the choice to enjoy the “religious closet” or the “entertainment closet”. I didn’t get the choice to keep quiet, get signed, and have my hits before I “boldly” came out and became a globally respected “advocate” for my community. How convenient that’s been for many we now praise for their “bravery”. Hey, no stones to throw. I would have cashed in before coming out too had I not been outed. I won’t pretend to have been so brave so young. As a matter of fact, I’ve had periods of my life where I was envious of the opportunity some gay artists have had to be closeted and wildly successful. I never got the choice.
Andrew would hear my stories in real-time – being signed to A&M, Arista, Columbia, Work Group, Sony, seven labels over this short period of time – and how the courtships, demo deals and contracts would disappear after them discovering I was outed. No marketing department had a blueprint for introducing a new, out artist to a mainstream public. It was early 2000’s. Yes, well established artists were already coming out after decades of hiding. But no one had broken a new artist starting out openly gay. And breaking a new artist is a huge financial risk.
Andrew saw a need building as a growing number of disenfranchised new gay talent continued to be shut out of the industry.
I don’t recall who he had already been working with – I believe dance artists. But I began to watch his whole process. Whatever was available to him online, he could get a story going. He just knew how to manipulate new technology to get exposure for his artists. He also knew how to get gigs, land magazine coverage, build a presence in the LGBT scene and have it all result in actual income.
I learned a lot from watching him get traction for “outcast” artists.
His first move with me was getting me an audition for USA Network’s Nashville Star, Season 2. A pretty mainstream move. I didn’t analyze much. But being a reality show/talent search for country music artists – hosted by Nancy O’Dell – I instantly knew the drill. Say nothing and see if they find out.
With my long time friend Yvonne who was there rooting us on.
With Nancy O’Dell – Auditions for Nashville Star
The same week the show decided to cast me as one of their artists for the season, Atlantic Records, who I had started conversations with, decided to sign me.
Nashville Star offered me a slot in their show.
Atlantic Records offered me a recording contract.
I had to choose.
Nashville Star would keep Drew and I together. It was his baby.
Atlantic Records would separate us professionally and geographically as I would move to NYC.
I chose the record deal.
It put a real strain on my relationship with Drew at the time. He didn’t think the outcome would go any differently than it had with any other label.
A year later, we both find out he was right.
Atlantic found out I was gay and immediately things disappeared. I’m not sure my producer agreed with this – hence his desire to get me on The Apprentice with him – but it was clearly stated to me that the marketing department simply had no faith in being able to market an openly gay artist.
I needed to take advantage of this 7 minutes of national exposure. Immediately.
I called Drew. He knew he was right, ever the realist. He was glad to see I had a slice of opportunity to bring to him. Before the conversation was over, our differences were very much behind us and he had an entire plan for me to maximize the impact of this fleeting moment.
He talked me into doing that little $200 CD called One Of The Ones, got it registered with his company Tango Blues Entertainment, built the website, created press releases, had the product ready to sell and all online channels ready to handle the potentially rapid influx of brand new interest on a national scale.
It worked. That night, by the end of that episode, I had sold out of my 1000 copies of my little piano/vocal CD, Andrew frantically putting in a rush order for more while taking every backorder we could.
He did it.
He immediately started emailing gay press outlets, telling them all about my story. All of it. The conversion therapy, the exhaustive stories of being disenfranchised in the music business, the conflict of religion verse sexuality and finally…my professional coming out.
You can hear the songs I recorded for Atlantic Records as a member of the LK Crew in our Listening Room. You can learn more about the LK Crew here. (You will want to become an Angelino Supporter or a New Yorker Supporter to access the LK Radio.)
At this point in the post, it would be repetitive to share what happens next. Jump here to find out!
Just know that every hat I wear in the interest of slowly and steadily growing a one-man business is because of Drew. The skills, the tenacity, the passion and the relentless desire to share art with the world. I learned from one of the scrappiest fighters there were.
I introduced him to Debby Holiday shortly after my indie music started to take off. He created a whole new chapter for her as well in the world of dance. He made her first #1 dance hit happen! And until his passing continued to add to her list of Billboard hits. Speaking of Debby, you can hear our duet in the LK Radio Listening Room of the LK Crew membership – an original song we wrote together called “Yes We Can” and performed around Los Angeles in support of Obama’s first term.
Drew’s impact goes far beyond myself and Debby. There are a hundred stories I could tell of him taking the underdog and moving them to the top in the most unconventional ways.
To me, he’s just one of the few people in the biz that actually took a genuine chance on me. Okay, actually one of maybe two.
And now, I must say that the LK Crew members are the reason I get to keep doing music and hopefully accomplish what I wanted to accomplish at the start of this story. Inspire, uplift, and help heal. Thank you.