Calling Yourself CEO Does Not Make You A CEO


Time to take a pause for the cause and address a trend that has been going on in Hip-Hop for way too long.  Somehow, the term Chief Executive Officer (CEO) has actually moved from clever, playful lines in rap verses to a way for unknown artists to impress others with the fact that they run a company.

Let’s make this clear, we all come from humble beginnings and I’m certainly not looking to tear down the efforts of the many industrious, entrepreneurial souls struggling to build a successful business venture from the ground up.  Also, this is also not a personal attack aimed at anyone in particular, but rather a little advice that can hopefully save some of you an enormous amount of wasted effort and potential embarrassment while pursuing the path to music industry domination.

We’ll skip definitions for now as there is no need to go into elaborate detail of the business and organizational structure that the term implies.  A quick Wikipedia search or reading one of the countless business texts can resolve any questions.    I will, however, address some of the perceived talents and behavioral tendencies of those have traditionally been referred to as CEO.

Anyone who has worked in a professional capacity will agree that the title CEO implies that the bearer possess a skill set which includes leadership ability, business acumen, strategic insight, and the ability to make decisions vital to the success of the organization.  In addition, they are able to transcend industries and head companies in completely unrelated sectors.  In other words, a CEO is someone with a clear plan and the means to execute it.

It’s also no secret that a significant part of business is perception.  Thus, a large role in performing the duties of a CEO is being taken seriously.  The moment that one assumes a serious title for what is currently a disorganized, basement level venture, all credibility is instantly lost.  Nobody is being fooled with clownish antics or boasting about having multiple companies that do no business.

It’s standard practice for founders of successful startups to seek an experienced, outside CEO to guide the growth of their company.  Yes, many successful founders are smart enough to find someone else competent enough to lead their own company.  While your particular organization may never seek venture capital or go through an IPO, there is a very real lesson that can be learned.  Real companies are more concerned with actual success than with the appearance of success.

For those who still insist on assuming the coveted CEO title, here are a few questions your may want to ask yourself:

  • Would an established CEO outside of the entertainment industry recognize your position or dismiss you as simply another flashy, status seeking title holder? 
  • Would your accountant refer to you as CEO when speaking with colleagues? 
  • Would your banker (non-teller) recognize your title?

If you answered No to any of the above, it’s probably time to reassess the label you’ve given yourself.

There are plenty of other respectable titles that can accurately reflect your position in or outside of a company without making you look silly to those who may ultimately play a role in your success or failure

Here’s a thought… do you even need a title?  It’s perfectly acceptable to be a professional artist, vocalist, producer, musician, etc.

If you desperately need a title that implies status, try one that does the job without going too far over the top.  Titles like owner, founder, partner, or manager can all help define your role without having each of your emails suffer from the delete key or being laughed away by potential decision makers and investors.

749 thoughts on “Calling Yourself CEO Does Not Make You A CEO”

  1. Wow! Thanks for the curveball. I’m an avid reader of your blog via RSS practically daily. As a former DJ and producer I like to keep up with a lot of the content you all display.

    I am the CEO of my company, an outdoor advertising company (think billboards.) Unlike many music “businesses” and labels our company albeit probably just as small is actually viable. I’ve never commented before but your rant was right on the money!

    As a CEO my most important function is vision and the ability to make tough decisions. I encounter them every day and over time have had the ability to do a better job at it.

    In my increasingly less frequent dealings with folks in the industry I have seen that “CEO” title on so many business cards and it makes me frown. Not only do I…they not take those people seriously but it also devalues the music genre as a whole. Great Post!

  2. Wow! You broke that down beautifully. I think a lot of it comes down to a person’s experiences in life – if you’ve worked in a corporate environment you probably have a much better understanding of what a CEO actually is than if you’re still in the streets …. or Mom’s basement (which, considering the cost of collecting records, isn’t unthinkable…)

    At some point though, cats are finally going to realize very few people are getting rich off rap music any more. I think the door closed after 50 Cent entered the building – a ringtone here, an album deal there – but nobody really can claim an empire built……

    Does rap even have FANS anymore? Seems like it’s all “rappers, producers, DJ’s, CEO’s, managers” – no wonder the shit ain’t selling!

  3. “Would your accountant refer to you as CEO when speaking with colleagues?”

    Or in most cases, “Do you even have an accountant?” I’ve been running a record label for about a year, but I’d never call it a record label talking to strangers in a bar. We’re just a bunch of dudes who make hip hop.

    I’m pretty convinced we should have positive income flow for about a year before I’m allowed to take myself seriously as a business.

    Great breakdown.

  4. To be frank, I never knew Who is an actual CEO.. But owning a blog, I have never considered myself as CEO. Thanks for the useful info..

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