Behind the Scenes of the Music Industry with Bob Celestin


Lauren Cohen, Staff Writer

The Department of Music invited guest speaker Bob Celestin to talk about his experience in the music industry as a part of the master speaker series. Celestin has worked as a manager and music attorney for over 25 years. He told the audience about his career with working with artists including Mary J. Blige, Heavy D, Al B Sure!, and Desiigner.

He started his college career off at Yale University as a pre-med. At Yale, he was on the college radio station, where he was introduced to music programming. Record labels sent representatives to meet with him to show him their music – he mentioned how he made connections because of that. The executives asked him if he wanted to be a DJ or own his own radio station, but he wasn’t sure. They then informed him that most record labels were ran by lawyers, which got him thinking about being an attorney. One day while playing basketball he injured himself and spent the night in the hospital. Realising that being a doctor wasn’t for him, he applied to Columbia Law School and got in.

At the time (1981), New York City was a big music scene. Hip hop was first being played, and performed and he never thought it would be what it is today. At the radio station he was interning at, the black executive said how hip hop was a fad. But, Celestin said, “Black people don’t create fads, they create art.” Once he graduated from law school, he worked at a firm and on the first day he thought everything about it was boring. On the weekends, he would spent time at hip hop clubs and movie premieres for independent black filmmakers.

To get a job at the entertainment law firm Celestin had to wait anywhere from a year in a half to two years, as they wanted people with experience. So once the time passed he got a job at Arista Records in the legal department. At the time, their biggest artists were Whitney Houston, Whodini, and the Grateful Dead.

Celestin said, “I had gone from playing music and enjoying it to getting behind the scenes of the business.”

Celestin sat in on Whitneys second album contract and was able to meet her a couple of times during that process. “She was really cool”, he said.

In 1986,  Celestin met Andre Harrell who founded Uptown Records, and was asked to work for him. He was asked to come to the studio with Andre and Heavy D. This was his first time in a recording studio. “I went from playing music to seeing the process. It’s like a whole new world”, Celestin said. The record was successful and Andre was able to give Bob a job. He managed artists like Mary J. Blige, worked in legal during the day and was in the studio with artists at night. “It’s really amazing to see what her [Mary’s] career is now, she’s a legacy artist”, he said.

He mentioned about an intern named Sean Combs (P. Diddy).

“When I was in my last year at Uptown Puffy was an intern and was the most impressive intern I have been around. He deserves all his success because he would do everything and anything asked of him. It’s different today because most want to get paid.”

He met up with Louise West who he claims to be the “mother of his career.” He became a real lawyer for Missy Elliot and Timbaland. Missy was a songwriter at the time. “Missy didn’t want to be an artist, and she was offered a record deal even if she didn’t want it, and now she’s a big artist in the business.”

For the past 17 years, Celestin has been in his own practice, representing reality stars, and independent DJ’s. He represents Desiigner who had the hit single, “Panda”, which has sold over 8.9 million copies worldwide.

“Whatever you’re doing it has to happen online. Being a lawyer, the legal foundations of music haven’t changed. But building a fanbase online is big,” Celestin mentioned. He used Chance the Rapper as an example. He was online and people started to know who he was. He was giving away his music free, digitally, however he gets paid a lot to perform. He’s turned down many record labels, hence the lyric in the song No Problem, “If one more label try to stop me.” He has a deal with apple which helps make sure his music is out there. Artists get paid when music is streamed so it’s not really giving it away for free.

Someone in the audience asked, “Do you really need a record label?” Celestin went on to reply, “You can but you won’t go anywhere. The labels have the power to promotion and radio. Desiigner got signed, and was on Stephen Colbert a few days after. You can’t do that on your own. Eleven labels wanted him but Kanye got him.” He also mentioned how all of Desiigner’s stuff was online first. He went onto say, “I can’t tell you for the life of me how a record goes viral.”

Celestin was recently in Australia with Desiigner at a music festival. “There were around 10,000 white kids who knew all the lyrics and were singing along. I don’t like staying backstage so I went into the crowd and I had my badge on and these kids came up to me and were like ‘Are you Desiigner’s father?’” The audience laughed!

“Music is one of the places to go to, to deal with the badness. Its a great thing to help you cope with whats going on. It really is a universal language. It’s going to be interesting to see what songs arise from what is happening in our politics,” Celestin said.

He mentioned how you need to be prepared to make certain sacrifices if this is truly what you want to do. “Follow me on the gram “bobcelstin,” Celestin said.