Making Music and Money Preserved in Motown Expansion

Legendary music and performers like Steve Wonder and Diana Ross come to mind when people do any type of word association with Motown Records.

In fact, the Motown Museum announced a planned $50 million expansion to showcase Motown’s history and ongoing legacy in Detroit.

“The expansion is about continuing the spirit of Motown but in an active way,” said Motown Museum Chairwoman and CEO Robin Terry.

But as the adage goes, the business in show business – specifically entrepreneurship – are just as much a part of Motown’s legacy as its music. Take for example the way founder Barry Gordy launched the label with the help of a loan from his family. That epitomizes entrepreneurialism.

The Motown Museum expansion will pay homage and display throughout the building Motown’s history and legacy as a creative entrepreneurial force.

Terry added that the Motown Museum and its programs are all about helping the next generation parlay their entertainment skills into valuable commodities.

“We’re taking that spirt of entrepreneurship and inspiring the next generation,” Terry said. “See talent as a business and not just a talent to be discovered.”

Announced in late 2016, the Motown Museum expansion will grow the museum to a 50,000-square-foot world-class entertainment and education tourist destination. It will feature interactive exhibits, a performance theater, recording studios, an expanded retail experience and meeting spaces.

Terry added that the museum has reached the half-way mark in its quest to raise $50 million for the entire expansion.

Outside of the Motown Museum, its legacy continues to have an impact on the music and entertainment industry today. However, there are some things today’s industry doesn’t do in the way it was done at Motown.

“I go back to the basics from the beginning, how they did artist development, how they were talking to the artist prior to them getting out there,” said Nina Nichelle, an adjunct faculty

member at Detroit Institute of Music Education(DIME) and founder and CEO of Nichelle Consulting based in Detroit.

“How you see Diana Ross, when she first came to Motown. She was this scrubby-old teenage girl and she became this sophisticated refined woman. We don’t have artist development like that anymore.”

Nichelle, a native of New York City, moved to Detroit six months ago to join DIME’s faculty and relocated her entertainment consulting business to the D.

Record companies still do artist development today, Nichelle said. But it isn’t with the family-like approach that could be found at Motown during its heyday in the 1960s and early 1970s.

“Not like Motown, Motown had the real,” Nichelle said.

In fact, for the uninitiated or uninformed the entertainment industry can be cold in comparison to the way Motown operated.

Nichelle makes a point of teaching students in her music industry class at DIME this reality.

“I tell my students all the time, that once you understand that you are a product you won’t get offended by how the industry treats you because it’s a money game,” Nichelle said. “With (Motown) it was a family-oriented business that made sure you were okay and taken care of. I think they could use a lot of Motown blueprints – that would help today’s artist.”

Meanwhile, DIME is helping to preserve the legacy of Motown in its own way.

“I think with DIME they’re educating the future of music in general,” Nichelle said.

By Arthur Bridgeforth Jr.

Photo: Robin Terry

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