On the evening of Friday, September 30th, all the seats of Sorenson Theater, from the front row to the very back, were empty.
A strange sight to see, considering cheerful guitar chords, lively drumbeats and a rich throaty voice, dripping with the sweet country twangs of Nashville, floated throughout the room. However, if one looked a little closer, one would see audience members seated at different round tables on the stage itself, with nostalgic tablecloth and big bowls of Chex Mix, creating an old-timey Southern bar feel. Patrons sat back in their chairs, looking up at the musicians, with an atmosphere replicating the surrounding music: homey and intimate.
That intimacy was cultivated in front of their eyes by guest musician, entrepreneur, consultant and Babson alumni, Jamie Kent (BA ‘09). The New Hampshire native, but now Nashville resident, had spent the Friday at Babson, with a business conversation in the afternoon discussing the immersion of entrepreneurship in the music industry, followed by an evening concert showcasing his latest songs.
Kent’s itinerary for the day seemed to embody Babson wholly with its ideals of combining passion with business to generate that “social and economic value” — which is exactly what Kent wanted when he chose Babson College over Berklee School of Music for his undergraduate career.
When discussing how his Babson roots influenced his career and life path today, Kent noted two stories: Len Green’s Ultimate Entrepreneurial Challenge class and his summer sampling beer.
“The biggest thing people have a hard time with is that in order to make things happen, you need sales. That’s what being a musician is at its core, and doing that at its core means being able to sell yourself, in that case being able to sell your sponsors.”
Kent explained further, “And I learned at Babson, specifically in Len Green’s class: the Ultimate Entrepreneurial Challenge. He put us in groups of five and told us each group had to feed the entire class of 50, and then quickly added: ‘I hope you don’t have to pay for it.’ It was like this crucial moment, this change of mindset and thought of ‘Okay, how can we get someone else to pay for what we have to do?’ So that was this eye-opening thing for me, and then the next summer I figured out how to get sponsored to go across the country and sample beer.”
Kent described his summer. saying: “I wrote about that and found a magazine to publish it, and they paid for our gas. Then, we got Pullman to sponsor it, and we got some camping gear; it was just me and another Babson student, and we did it for a whole summer. So now I’ve sort of taken those concepts and what I’ve learned throughout Babson, and applied it to my own music. As an independent artist, I have my own kind of independent label that I put stuff out on, but in order to have the reach that a bigger company would have, I partner with other musicians and community members.”
These partnerships come in the many shapes and forms of brand endorsements, consulting for other musicians, and utilizing his innovative fan base that was inspired by a research project Kent completed in his Babson days.
“I was doing a lot of research at the time on cooperatives and collectives as a different means of doing business and a different exit strategy. A lot of people talk about going public or selling their company, but making a co-op is also a really cool thing because it gives ownership back to the people and the employees.”
He continued, “So I thought, how can I do that in music? Cooperatives have a lot of rules involved, but collectives don’t, so I started this thing called The Collective in which people could invest in my career from the very beginning. This allowed me to jump right into working as a musician full-time by playing and building shows, which brought me to a level where I was making enough money from shows.”
“You don’t usually do that. A lot of the time musicians get stuck in this Catch-22 of wanting to be a full-time musician but not being able to afford it, so they get a job waiting tables, bartending, to the point where they never really become a full-time musician. And when you do something full-time, you get better at it than everyone else. That kind 10,000 hours thing. So The Collective allowed me to do just that, and allowed my fans in the beginning to have a say and voice in what I do. So they actually voted on all the decisions I’ve made including picking all my album artwork, what singles should be off record, that sort of thing.”
But despite how smooth it all sounded, Kent notes it wasn’t that easy. Especially his decision of choosing the entrepreneurial road over the other Babson-esque end of the platform of corporate Fortune 500/“Big Four” life. One of the songs he wrote around graduation, “Isabella” details that tough decision through a theoretical situation of a pretty gal that works in the cubicle next door that he asks out for coffee, the “road not taken” sort of song.
But besides from being that guy going into Boston on the weekends to record his own songs, Kent otherwise lived a “normal” Babson college kid life. He founded Green Housing, Babson’s first sustainable-focused housing that was just recently disbanded; he hosted SODAs (The Nineties was the theme); and The Babson Free Press even got a photo from him to prove it.
Overall Babson’s education, opportunities and experiences offered have been focal parts in bringing Kent to where he is today. His advice to current Babson students who are also nervous about taking that step to really pursue one’s passion as a career is:
“Do it. If you do what you love you’ll find a way to make it happen. Everyone at Babson is given an unique education that a lot of people don’t get. And that makes you able to turn your passion into a job. It’s hard work, but when you do what you love, it doesn’t feel like hard work. And if you fail, at least you’ve tried. Right now is the ideal time; you don’t have kids, you’re not married, you’re at the perfect life point to just take a shot, make it happen and use that entrepreneurial mindset to do it.”
“Also utilize the Babson alumni network! It’s a small group of people, but it has been so helpful for me, and everyone truly wants to help each other succeed. Get coffee with them, pick their brain. Just don’t be afraid to ask for help.”
Well in that case, Babson students, do try to get over the intimidating amount of press, music, albums, and success surrounding Mr. Jamie Kent himself, and just reach out. Maybe he’ll give business tips, maybe he’ll serenade you, either way… It’s a win-win.
By: Lydia Stetson ’19