Chances are you’ve probably never heard of entertainment executive Ian Burke. Not because his work doesn’t warrant it, as you’ll discover below, but more so because he is 100% behind the scenes. Burke is a music mogul, even if his name isn’t often in the headlines. A longtime music manager, deal-breaker, decision-maker, and career starter behind phenomenal artists; TLC, Kriss-Kross, Arrested Development and more… Here, we delve into Burkes accomplishments and discover why he has been coined one of the music industry’s Quiet Giants.
Words: Katrina Woody
IMC: Where did you get your first start in music?
Burke: When I went to school, I was already working in the business, so I went to school to kind of reinforce everything. I went to the Art Institute of Atlanta. They had a program called the Music Business Institute, which taught like a commercial music program. I specialized in commercial music. The business of music. Back then; it wasn’t a degree, just a certificate of completion.
IMC: Is this why you chose to start your business in Atlanta?
Burke: Yeah. I’m originally from New York, and coming to Atlanta and getting involved in the music industry was a way for me to kind of set up roots here for myself.
IMC: Was that difficult to do at the time?
Burke: You know what? No. It all sort of fell into place. It just so happens that one of my classmates was a musician, and he was playing at a local function. He invited me and asked if I would help the band set-up. I just had a lot of fun with that. This was way back in 1985, and a real big event. I think the thing that really pulled me in was that there was this real famous boxer by the name of Sugar Ray Leonard, he is like what Floyd Mayweather is now. He was in the building and he shook my hand, and gave me a little wink. You know what I’m saying? One of those little cool winks, and I was like, “Oh! This is awesome!” And right then I thought, This is the life I wanna live.” I wanna be in that type of life. From then on, it was nothing but music. I was like a sponge after that. I just started becoming, like, a roadie, so I was going to work 9-to-5, I was going to school in the evenings and on the weekends, I was out with the band. What I did was, at school I put up a post saying, I’m looking for roadies, and I pulled my classmates in and they would work under me helping set-up all this equipment. These local bands, they never really thought of that. They were so used to doing things themselves.
IMC: How did you make money and live?
Burke: I didn’t. I was working a regular job. I would spend my money and never ask for a dime. I was just a go-getter. And then, I started getting interested in putting projects together. That’s how slowly, but surely, Greenhouse Management was formed.
IMC: How did Greenhouse Management evolve?
Burke: I managed Arrested Development and I befriended Jermaine Dupri and his father Michael Mauldin who came and saw the band and took them off my hands, as I felt like I had taken them as far as I could go. In return, he referred me to John and Nina [Easton] Abbey, the owners of Ichiban Records and got me the job there. My first real job was in the hip hop department at Ichiban. I worked with this rapper named MC Breed; he had this big record out in the summer of ’91 called “Ain’t No Future in Your Frontin’.” I later began writing for The Source Magazine representing the South.
IMC: So things were moving in the right direction for you?
Burke: Oh yeah, absolutely because, I was doing what I loved to do. I was enjoying myself, and I just felt like things were going to sort themselves out and benefit me later on in life. It has and it hasn’t. It has as far as my reputation goes, which is great, I love that. Financially, it’s a completely different story. I see millionaires that I created, and I’m still here going “huh…” [as he digs in his pocket].
IMC: Sometimes things don’t add up the right way
Burke: [Laughing] Yeah, sometimes things just don’t add up the right way. Sometime after I left Ichiban Records and became homeless. And I was sleeping on people’s couches and floors, and, by fate, I hooked up with Rico Wade from Organized Noize. Rico Wade was the one who helped me put TLC together. He introduced me to Lisa Lopez (Left Eye) and Tionne Watkins (T-Boz).
IMC: Now you’re working with You42
Burke: Yes, it’s a tech company and I am the VP of Live Music. We develop social media ideas for the entertainment and lifestyle industries mainly within recording and film. I connect the company with artists and brands to expand its content space.
IMC: You’re still managing as well right?
Burke: Yes. I have a Latin pop artist named Gabriel Orengo he’s out on the West Coast now. He had a single out last year called “AyAyAy” produced by Bryan-Michael Cox. He’s my first Latin artist, and I think he’s going to do well. I have a little alternative R&B girl right now that I’m representing, and a young actress who’s out in Hollywood right now at Disney Bootcamp. She’s 10 years-old; she’s adorable, and I think she’s going to be a huge star.
IMC: What advice do you have for emerging artists and upstarts?
Burke: Educate yourself. A lot of artists come in with blinders on. They can only see what’s in front of them, and that’s when you miss out on the big picture. When I sit down and talk to my clients, I rationalize with them. I say, “Ok, what’s going to be the best thing in the long run?” You make decisions based upon things that make sense. So it’s all common sense and education.