Remember Dire Straits massive 1985 smash, “Money For Nothing”? The song starts off with Mark Knopfler singing, “Now look at them yo-yos, that’s the way you do it/You play the guitar on the MTV/That ain’t workin’, that’s the way you do it/Money for nothin ‘ and your chicks for free.”
Nearly 40 years later there is still so much attention and envy given to the fame and riches of musicians. But now with the continued debate over the royalties over streaming, decreased album sales and more, the fight for the payments is more intense than ever.
That’s where companies like Pink Noise, a Las Vegas-based business management firm come in. Founded by Khloe Churko, or “Collections” Khloe, a nickname she quips she has proudly earned after, for example, finding an additional four million dollars for one rock star client, the company is growing rapidly.
So Churko brought in Detroit-based Stephanie Belcher, a tax expert, to help Pink Noise. I spoke with Founder/CEO Churko and Belcher, VP of Operations, about Pink Noise, why people overthink and worry too much about how much they pay in taxes, and much more.
Steve Baltin: What is the primary objective of your teaming up?
Khloe Churko: We are a business management firm in a traditional sense of handling income and expenses as any music business management firm would. The difference is that we are a lot more hands-on and boutique-y in that sense, which is very popular right now with people wanting to just be more involved and active in their businesses. The old feeling of having someone just deal with it and an artist not knowing what’s going on ’cause someone’s handling it is starting to leave, ’cause artists are becoming more and more involved and want to know where their money’s going and what’s happening. So we’re a lot more involved, but we still handle and have the knowledge to make sure they’re not making bad financial decisions. And the point of Stephanie joining in is that it just grew extremely fast. It was just me. I have another gal that works here, but it’s just growing way too fast and we have to grow with it. So we have staff now who have a great business management background but more on the tax side, which is where I don’t have as much knowledge. I have a good amount, but I don’t do tax returns where she does. She knows a lot of that stuff, so we can offer that now, and then probably the next step will be a royalty expert, ’cause we do a lot of royalty collection and royalty checks, and I call them not an official audit, but checking to make sure everything’s being accounted for properly for artists and musicians, producers.
Stephanie Belcher: Yeah, it’s rare for business managers in the music business for this to be a woman-owned company. This is a very male-dominated division of the music industry. As far as having the forward-facing person be a female, I can only think of one. There are women bookkeeping and managing the business is a lot of times kind of like a “female role.” I don’t want to necessarily assign gender to jobs, but this is something we’re actually owning the business and being the point person, being the kind of day-to-day, I think it’s amazing that Khloe started the company. She really took the reins.
Baltin: How did Pink Noise start?
Belcher: Khloe grew up in a musical family, has seen the music industry in and out through her entire life, and opted out and went and did other things and spent, eight, 10 years working in different industries, managing a restaurant and working for the TSA. But her dad opened up a new studio. One of the biggest studios in the country, and definitely one of the most popular ones in Las Vegas. Her dad said, “I would like you to come back and help me do this. And we want to make it a family company.” And so Khloe was managing the studio. And managing a studio, a busy studio is a master class in business management, because you’re touching every single part of the recording process from top to bottom. All the split sheets, all the contracts, all the royalty percentage splits, everything that’s confusing. And Khloe did it for so long before she decided to start doing it for other clients. And I find that to be incredibly inspiring because she basically surrendered to the flow and decided to use her amazing skills to help music get creative. And she started talking about this on Facebook, saying like, “Hey, I’ve been managing this studio for five years. And now I’m taking on new clients and I just want to talk to other business managers.” And as far as I know, I was the only person who replied. Even now, we don’t know very many other business managers our age or who are working with younger, more independent, more DIY clients. So, we started talking, like two and a half years ago now, and just bouncing ideas off each other with education and helping younger artists get their business started. She would just shoot me a Facebook message that was like, “Hey, when you’re setting up a publishing company, do you do it this way or that way?” And we would just talk about it. And that’s the kind of conversation and education that hasn’t really had to happen in music business management previously. Because I’ll say, 10 years ago, if you were actually succeeding in the music business, you had a label and a manager, and a business manager came along with it. And it was the kind of thing where probably somebody was assigned to you, or you signed on with a label and then they’re like, “Here’s your manager, here’s your business manager.”
Churko: Which is so terrible, that’s my least favorite thing in the world right now. I deal with a label often that does that, and it drives me bananas because it’s such a conflict of interest. And a lot of my clients are now victims of that situation where they realize someone was stealing or someone’s over commissioning. But when everyone’s in bed with each other, no one’s paying attention, you don’t have a third party person to look it over who’s neutral. You need a Switzerland when it comes to making money in the music business, especially when so many people are relying on making money off of you. So, a lot of my clients are people who had that situation, that wanted to branch off and have a third neutral person to look everything over. And most of the time everything was wrong and it was being over commissioned or just straight out stealing. I’ve seen business managers stealing and stuff, because you’re not questioning them when you don’t know, if you don’t understand how it works, you think it’s all right and you want to put trust in those people. So that’s another thing we really thrive off of being a third party, not in the label network, but are familiar with everyone, we know all those players. We know a lot of the managers and the other business managers. I deal with a ton of other business managers. I would say we play for the good guys, we are here to help the people understand what’s going on versus just saying, “Oh yeah, we got it under control, here’s your check, and here’s our check,” but it’s like what’s actually happening in a month or in a year or whatever.
Baltin: What would you say is your greatest recent success as a business manager?
Churko: I haven’t officially tallied, but I’d have to say I’m sitting somewhere around four million dollars in collected money that hadn’t been reported to the artist properly, that I’ve managed to collect from labels, whoever owes the money. Because they’re just wrong. And no one’s gonna come to you and tell you that they owe you money. But one’s gonna say, “Oh, by the way, we forgot to pay, here’s the check.” You have to tell them they forgot about you and you have to find it, which is what I do best and they call me collects Khloe on the side. I’ve chased money. I think the longest I’ve chased is about six years. I chased money for six years, and I just got it paid recently. But I will every two weeks be like, “Hey, I need a statement, Hey, I need payment, Hey, what’s going on with this? Hey, just checking in.” And eventually they get sick of me and pay me. That’s what you need, and that’s what artists need. They need persistent people because they’re busy. I have artists who tour 200 days a year, they don’t have time to chase royalty money or payments and stuff. That’s the point of me. But I’m polite and because of the studio, I’ve made so many great connections with people that I know someone everywhere. I’ve made those connections where I don’t burn bridges, I stay friends with everybody, I keep it, I kill people with kindness, I send gift baskets when they help me out.
Baltin: Have you found being a female-run firm has impacted you?
Churko: There’s a lot of people that have come forward and go, “Oh, I just love that you’re woman-owned or you’re female-run.” That’s totally a factor, and I think that’s becoming more and more popular to support those businesses as well. And I’ve had a lot of men say, “I like that you are female-owned.” It’s not just women looking for us, but a lot of men appreciate that too.
Belcher: Yeah, same with me. I don’t think I’ve ever specifically had a conversation with somebody about my gender in tax prep, but a lot of people tell me that it’s really nice to talk to somebody about taxes who has a personality.
Churko: It’s the personality that brings it, ’cause people are so bland in the financial world. People don’t want to be talked to like that anymore, they want to understand what’s going on. So you have to be able to break it down on a kindergarten level and still make it fun, make the boring stuff fun.
Baltin: Stephanie, how did you become a tax expert?
Belcher: It took me a long time to wrap my brain around the fact that I was gonna stay in tax. I took my first tax job answering the phones as a temporary day job to get through Chicago winters. Because touring slows down so much in Chicago in January and February, it’s so dangerous to exist in that kind of ice and snow. So, back in 2009, I couldn’t find enough freelance event production work to sustain me through the winter. So I did three tax seasons that way before I finally went, “Fine, I’ll start preparing taxes.” And I really dragged my feet on it. It’s funny because I’ll tell people I love doing taxes, but what I really love is taking that fear away from people and putting it down on paper in a way that looks like a puzzle and getting an answer, and submitting the answer to the IRS and saying, “Do you agree? Is this cool?” And then moving on with our lives, ’cause so many people are literally paralyzed with fear about their taxes to the point where they don’t really expand the way that they should. They limit their own abundance because they’re like, “I don’t know how much I’m gonna have to pay in tax on this.” People just do all these subconscious things that limit their abundance and limit their income because they’re terrified of what’s on the other side. And from my education standpoint, and from my tax prep standpoint, there’s nothing to be scared of, because at the end of the day, if it’s good in real life, it’s bad in taxes. So, if you’re having something happen to you that is gonna improve your life, but you’re holding yourself back because you don’t want to owe the IRS, that’s not the way to grow a business or a career. And I wanted to eliminate that fear from people and allow them to grow. And the fact that I ended up being good at taxes completely blew my mind, but now I’m just leaning into it and I’m gonna keep sitting for certifications and I’m gonna keep doing my continuing education and doing all the tech stuff that I need to do, so that those really incredible, talented musicians have a safe space to go. And they say, “I’m gonna owe a lot of money this year. Can you please help me?”
Churko: And I feel like 70 percent of our job is psychology and like just talking people down when they’re all worked up about taxes or their money or freaking out because they made too much. I get that call every year in like December. “How much money did they make this year?” “Well, you did about this much.” “Oh my God. I’ve got to pay taxes on that.” It’s just like this constant panic of, “I’m just not gonna file. I’ll deal with it another year.” And it’s like, “No, we’re gonna deal with it this year.” But finding the best ways to pay the least amount of tax possible, but at the end of the day, if you’re paying tax, you’ve made money usually. So you have to remember that too.