Music to our ears: Erik Steigen’s amazing journey from Norway to LA
March 11, 2019
As a young boy, Erik Steigen was in love with music. He played in bands in his native Norway as a teenager and was determined to follow his passion as an adult.
When he was old enough to go to college, there was no doubt about what he had to do. He applied to the prestigious Berklee College of Music and, to his delight, was offered a place.
While in school, he had another shot of good fortune. “While I was in College, I applied for the Green Card Lottery and won.” With a Green Card, he could stay in the US permanently.
After university, Erik knew only one thing: he had to move to Los Angeles.
“I moved to LA with $1000, which was pretty much all I had. I used it for a down payment on a studio apartment with a pull down bed.”
He soon landed his first job with MCA, a record label subsidiary of Universal.
“I walked 25 minutes to work each way in 110 degree heat. It was summer in the San Fernando Valley and it wasn’t great. It was four months before I was able to buy a used car.”
For Erik, working in the music business was as a result of genuine interest and convenience.
Aside from his love of music, he was also curious about the business side of it.
“I always had this duality where I really liked academics. I grew up in a family of academics and I always enjoyed the theoretic and business side as well. Plus, when you come as an immigrant you have to have a job so I just got started and got going and liked it.”
After a short stint at MCA, Erik moved to a music entertainment law firm where clients included major acts like Tom Petty and Counting Crows. After five years there, he moved once more to lead the music department of a large business management firm.
This time, Erik stayed for ten years.
It was a good job. But after a decade, circumstances hinted that it was time he ventured out on his own.
A Leap of Faith
“The company was splitting into two different companies. I’d been there for 10 years and it was the right time to try things on my own.”
“I decided to have a go at it and start USA Media Rights. I got my first client within a month.”
That client is Dave Mason, a former member of the English rock group, Traffic. Erik still represents him to this day.
With personal difficulties and the regular struggles of starting a new business, he notes that things were rough for the first year or two. “It became smoother after a while though, which was nice.”
He admits that he had better luck than others when it came to landing his first clients. His years of experience in the industry meant he had a large network at his disposal. His reputation also meant people were willing to suggest his services to their own colleagues.
“It was very organic. I do sometimes go out to try to bring in clients based on the music and the quality but very often it’s word of mouth. I get clients and then they refer me to new clients. Or, I have a client represented by a music company and when they see that relationship, they might call and say they have another client who needs someone like me.”
For him, the most difficult part about starting his business was the cash flow.
“It’s the hardest part for any small business because you don’t have all the tools you might need to expand and grow. The challenge is to find the right clients and be able to manage them and manage the cash flow to keep growing.”
At USA Media Rights, Erik and his team of three manage the rights and finances of people in the music business.
“For some clients we take care of their music copyrights and licence their songs. We also collect royalties on their behalf. For other clients, we help manage their careers and their finances like invoicing, bill paying, bookkeeping, consulting, all into one.” The company assists clients with almost anything related to the music business.
“It really depends on what our clients need; we’re pretty open to what their needs are.”
It’s been 7 years since Erik Steigen founded his company and he’s more in love with his job now than he’s ever been. He’s recently added a new branch to his company: Royalty hunting. Taking on older musicians as clients, he and his team track down royalty payments that are owed to them.
“I started working with one of the record producers for the Bee Gees and was able to find quite a bit of money for him. It went on from there and became a stand-alone service we offer.”
One thing he loves about what he does is how he’s able to engage with his clients and support them on social media.
“It’s not a really common practice in this business,” he admits, “But that’s what makes me different and I think it’s fun to be involved in what our clients do creatively.”
This spread of internet connectivity has also enabled him to take on more clients from around the world.
As a result of this, USA Media Rights now represents artists and producers from as far as New Zealand and Zimbabwe and the now-established business is in the perfect position to take advantage of the spotlight currently shining on musicians from other parts of the world.
Taking On The World
Thanks to the spread of technology, Erik has been able to attract clients far beyond the USA.
“The world is shrinking so much and artists are blowing up overseas. I have a client who was discovered when he was tweeting about beats he’d made and someone picked up on it and it became a huge hit song.”
“The music industry has become more aware of other parts of the world. We have a Latin explosion right now and the next one is going to happen in Africa.”
Erik tries to be around to help these musicians as much as possible with their finances. Their far-flung locations means this was a struggle as wire payments were inconveniently slow and costly. That is, until he started using Veem.
He loves how much money he’s saved using the service.
“My job is to manage my clients’ finances, so being able to save them money is great.”
He also loves the use of blockchain technology, which eliminates most of the risks associated with old-fashioned money transfer methods.
“I’m trying to replace traditional wires. I have several clients who are connected so I might have a client who is the manager for another client. When that client has to pay their manager a commission, instead of cutting a cheque or doing the traditional wire, we just Veem the money to that person.”
Erik admits that sending and receiving payments can be complicated in the music industry, especially with so many international clients.
“Our clients will sometimes produce something elsewhere, like New Zealand and the record company will pay them in the US. We just had a Finnish artist who paid a client from Sweden.”
In these types of scenarios, it’s great to have Veem as a fast, efficient option.
Erik has big plans for the company he’s built. “I’d like for us to expand into film and TV where we don’t just work in music but also handle people in these industries.”
Despite the struggles of the earlier years, it’s obvious he has no regrets.
“Go for it. Take the chance,” he says to future entrepreneurs, “There’s a quote I love (by Ray Bradbury, the writer of Fahrenheit 451), ‘Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off. Build your wings on the way down.’”
“You gotta give it a shot.”