On the Cover: Jam and Lewis Keep the Hits Coming at Flyte Tyme

Oct 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Sarah Jones


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Music Matters Most

Jam and Lewis work for the love of the art, and the business supports that. But that's not to say they don't play the game. “Music is the soundtrack of life,” explains Lewis. “If you go outside, there's music in the air — you hear the birds tweeting, the cars, the rumble of just the air itself. That's all musical; it's all melody, it's all rhythmic. But when you take it and put it in a format that you try to sell — you make it an industry — there has to be business. There have to be dynamics and rules and things that make it acceptable or palatable, and knowable by all so everybody can work the commerce. But we made music when it wasn't business; it was just a hobby, it was just something that we love to do. We'd pay to do it if it didn't pay us. I always say, ‘If you love music, it will love you back.’”

“I've heard Terry say that,” adds Jam, “and a lot of times, when he does say it, it's to record company people who rather than listening to what the actual record is, they're too busy trying to think about the marketing. Listen, if the music isn't there, then all the rest of the stuff doesn't matter.

“In the recording industry, the guys who were great music guys, who had great ears and had great passion, a lot of those people either aren't around or they're working independently, but they're not really working under the major structure anymore,” continues Jam. “And those jobs have been replaced, it seems, with a lot of lawyers and accountants, and people that think about, ‘How much is this going to sell?’ rather than, ‘Wow, what a great song.’”

These days, the entrepreneurs are gone, laments Lewis. “The music business was built by entrepreneurs: It was a guy who had an affinity for music, who had an affinity for a particular artist. That guy would go find that artist, pay for everything out of his own pocket and would know the process through and through. And when they would go to market with it, there would be a marketing plan because you lived with it the whole way. Now it's very impersonal. You can turn your record in at the last minute, and in two days, somebody says, ‘I like it,’ ‘I don't like it’ nobody's involved anymore. And it totally changed the whole fabric of the industry.

“It's like a microcosm of America,” Lewis continues. “It was an entrepreneur spirit that built America, and those were the people who were guiding America the right way. Now the record companies are the way they are because there's no Herb Alpert, no Mo Austin — there's not the same entrepreneurial spirit there. It's just a guy who says, ‘What's hot?’ ‘Who you know?’ ‘Here's some money, go do it!’ American music, especially African-American music, is the only indigenous art form in this country. But then you take that and you take the people who love that out of the equation, what do you think you're going to get?”

These days, Jam and Lewis focus heavily on giving back to the community. As Chairman of the Board of the Recording Academy, Jam attended both political conventions as a nonpartisan ambassador to keep music part of the discussion. And Flyte Tyme recently hosted a Grammy camp experience, giving 60 kids a chance to experience studio life. “The responsibility we have is a divine responsibility because we've been blessed to be able to do it for so long; the giveback now is at the forefront of our lives,” says Jam. “We want to get kids excited about the possibilities that are out there. We are very privileged to be in the position we are in.”

Sarah Jones is the editor at Mix.

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