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Is unscripted TV the new reality for record industry executives?

By Karu F. Daniels, Special to CNN
June 25, 2012 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Jimmy Iovine and Mona Scott-Young are two executives who have transitioned to reality TV.
Jimmy Iovine and Mona Scott-Young are two executives who have transitioned to reality TV.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • With the music industry seemingly in a slump, executives are branching out
  • Some are finding success in reality TV
  • Music manager turned TV producer says shows are "relatable"

(CNN) -- For years, there has been talk that the music industry is in decline. The increase of Internet music piracy and the decrease of consumers' attention spans have been two of the factors blamed for for lackluster sales. So it's no surprise that music stars have sought other streams of income outside royalties, concert dates and merchandising sales throughout the years.

Some, like Beyonce, Carrie Underwood, Gwen Stefani and Queen Latifah, are the faces of major cosmetic brands, while others, like Jennifer Hudson, Janet Jackson, Marie Osmond and Mariah Carey, offer up their images to popular weight loss systems.

Even in hip-hop, rap moguls Diddy, Jay-Z and The Williams Brothers diversify their portfolios with liquor brands (Ciroc), nightclubs (40/40) and book publishing imprints (Cash Money Books), respectively. Former pop music chart-toppers Jennifer Lopez, Paula Abdul, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera seem to have hit pay dirt by morphing themselves into judges on television talent competitions.

But they aren't the only ones. Record label honchos such as Jimmy Iovine, Mathew Knowles, Ron Fair and Antonio "LA" Reid are also moonlighting on unscripted TV shows.

A chieftain at Interscope, Iovine had a stable of hitmakers on his roster, including Lady Gaga, will.i.am, LMFAO, Eminem, Mary J. Blige and 50 Cent, when he assumed the position of being an in-house mentor on "American Idol."

Renowned for molding and making global superstars out of Destiny's Child and his daughter Beyonce, Knowles runs his own Music World Music record label. He has also been an executive producer and appeared on the reality series "Breaking From Above," which is seen in more than 150 countries, according to his spokesperson.

Fair, who previously appeared on Keyshia Cole's BET reality TV show "The Way It Is," is a revered studio producer and record label executive who has worked with Pussycat Dolls, Queen Latifah and The Black Eyed Peas. Last year, he served as a judge of the Canadian talent competition show, "Cover Me Canada," along with singers Deborah Cox and Jordan Knight.

Reid, who helped make international stars out of Usher, Pink, OutKast and Toni Braxton on LaFace Records and then helped resurrect the career of Mariah Carey and signed Justin Beiber to Island Def Jam, is currently the head of Epic Records. This past year he became a household name as a judge on Simon Cowell's American version of "X-Factor."

But what about other behind-the-scenes people who helped bolster music artists' platinum-plated careers? What's a music industry type to do when record sales have dwindled and jobs are eliminated in the record business? Move into other realms of entertainment.

"You have to be prepared to lose for years and years and years in order to build a successful record company. That's just a fact," entertainment mogul David Geffen told Forbes in 2003, shortly before leaving music altogether. After founding record labels and helming projects by Cher, Elton John and Aerosmith, the former music manager became a Hollywood architect, producing Broadway shows and blockbuster films such as "Risky Business," "Interview with a Vampire," "Gladiator" and "War of the Worlds."

Even the corportations themselves are having to adjust. Last week, it was reported that entertainment powerhouse Sony is looking to lease out real estate in its New York headquarters -- this after its Sony Music Entertainment arm dissolved longtime record labels (Jive, Arista) into one (RCA) for cost cutting measures.

Lisa Cortes, who toiled at record labels such as Def Jam and Mercury for years before becoming the president of Loose Cannon Recordings, where she released albums by Buju Banton and Richard Pryor, has become a noted film producer of such projects as the Academy Award caliber "Monster's Ball," "Shadowboxer" and "Precious."

While Hollywood may seem to be a tall order for most music industry veterans, TV is shaping up to be more of an easier transition. Reality TV to be exact.

Former Def Jam Records president Kevin Liles produced a short-lived docu-series on the gold-selling R&B heartthrob Trey Songz for BET. Atlantic Records Vice President Cara Donatto threw some weight behind the MTV reality show "Gotti's Way," which she once produced. Phil Robinson, who once served as Combs' Bad Boy Records lieutenant, can now be seen on VH1's wildly popular "Basketball Wives" series. He not only manages one of the show's cast members, Shaunie O'Neal, but he also shares a producer title.

Mona Scott-Young is a former hip-hop dancer who later managed hit-making producers Trackmasters before becoming one of the most influential women in music, overseeing the careers of Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott, Busta Rhymes, Maxwell and Fantasia at Violator Management. These days she seems to have found a new groove in reality TV with her "Love & Hip Hop" franchise on VH1.

"I think what's been happening in music within the last few years and with it changing so drastically, I think that everyone has had to expand their horizons," she said. "Not from just a business model for an economical standpoint but also in being able to tap into every medium and every resource that's available in the pursuit in building their brand or even promoting their projects and their artists. So television is a very natural medium."

"There is also the thought process that a lot of the talent made for very successful film and television projects came out of music and ... the television networks and film studios leveraged and capitalized on [it]. So I think the thinking was that we might as well move into these arenas ourselves and take advantage of the very same things that we spent so many years building."

Like its channel-mate "Basketball Wives," "Love & Hip Hop" has stirred some controversy with its girl-on-girl fights and over-the-top drama, but it's turning out to be one of the most successful projects for the married mother of two. A network spokeswoman confirmed that this week's premiere of "Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta" delivered the best ratings for the network since January.

Scott-Young's previous foray into unscripted television was UPN's "Road To Stardom with Missy Elliott" -- a quasi-mash-up of "America's Next Top Model" and '"American Idol" -- back in 2005, but the treacherous family dynamics and scandalous love lives of hip-hop stars is proving to be a winning recipe.

"This is a slice of life for people," Scott-Young said. "And I think that a lot of people, although they don't want to admit it, not only see themselves in some aspects when watching these people and their lives play out, but sometimes it's all about seeing how other people live and how they handle their problems. So I think there's something very relatable about these [unscripted] shows that engages the viewer."

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