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  • Crain's New York Business Feature (April 2004)

    The Education of Princess Superstar: Maverick Rapper Creates Own Label

    At an early age, Concetta Kirschner decided that she wanted to be a star. She took her first public step in that direction at 17 by calling herself Princess Superstar.

    The aspiring vocal wunderkind did not simply stop there and wait for the music industry to discover her. Instead, she took matters into her own hands, becoming an entrepreneur to make herself successful.

    "You've got to work harder than most people if you really want something," Ms. Kirschner says. 'When I found that the major record labels weren't interested in me, I decided to start my own."

    Daily Double
    In fact, since 1997, the energetic blonde rapper has played dual roles: Princess Superstar on stage and chief executive of her company the rest of the time. The strategy has paid off handsomely. Over the past seven years, she has put out three records, and she recently negotiated lucrative licensing deals with independent European labels.

    "Concetta has really empowered herself by building a small business around her," says Ian Montone, a partner with law firm Davis Shapiro Lewit Montone & Hayes who represents Ms. Kirschner. "She's the one in charge."

    To take control, the entertainer first had to learn the basics of running a small business and a record label. She started by calling everyone she could think of in the music business and asking for advice. Next, while keeping her day job as a Web site designer, she began taking entrepreneurial training classes at the nonprofit Women's Venture Fund after hours.

    Besides mastering the intricacies of cash flow, Ms. Kirschner learned that "it's important to market yourself in ways nobody has ever thought of." She credits the classes with showing her low-cost guerrilla marketing techniques. Her variation was to stage a distraction at Tower Records that gave her time to tack up a poster for her latest album; the feat was good for about 24 hours of free publicity.

    In a similarly bold move designed to make the world aware of the importance of her tiny enterprise, she named it A Big Rich Major Label (later retitled The Corrupt Conglomerate). To further inflate the firm's image, and its apparent head count, Ms. Kirschner created different names when making calls-allowing her to disguise the fact that she was the only person handling sales, public relations and booking.

    One of her most difficult tasks was adding bodies without having ally money change hands. Ms. Kirschner recruited volunteers, mainly students, and paid her manager with equity in the firm. To save on rent, everyone worked in Ms. Kirschner's Manhattan apartment or in her local Starbucks.

    Since she had no money to produce her label's first recording, she took a $3,000 loan from the Women's Venture Fund, borrowed $10,000 from her parents and racked up thousands of dollars in credit card purchases. Then she put her business plan in motion, producing and distributing thousands of albums.

    "A lot of small businesses fail because they haven't successfully identified their niche," says Maria Otero, president of the Women's Venture Fund. "Concetta did that well, identifying venues where her sound would be successful."

    Take Two
    Two years later, Ms. Kirschner had enough cash to put out a second CD. She used a second loan from the Women's Venture Fund to finance more aggressive marketing.

    Both recordings did well by independent standards, selling about 10,000 copies each. An even larger payoff came in 2000, when Ms. Kirschner signed an agreement with a German label under which it released her next album, but ceded her the rights to the music after five years. That deal allowed Ms. Kirschner to finally quit her day job, ease up on the responsibilities of running a business and concentrate more on her music.

    Now that she has a track record and $250,000 in cash from a recent deal with another German label, Ms. Kirschner is thinking it might be time to sign with a major label after all; that way, she can take advantage of a distribution network and large marketing budget. Regardless, her early entrepreneur ship will continue to pay dividends.

    "If I get a worldwide hit, I still have my earlier records that I can sell," she says.

    Shira Boss-Bicak

    Article reprinted without permission.