Albert Carter, 37, started his career in the music industry as a rapper in Philadelphia, US, around two decades back. But he later realised that being on stage was not his strong suit, so he shifted his focus backstage, later going on to start his own digital music distribution and streaming business.
Carter had learnt two different ways of dealing with money from his parents. "My mother always taught me to save, while my father guided me to invest. I try my best to do both, but currently, I'm in full-on investing mode, especially within my company," Carter shared.
Money Lesson #1: Make sure to have the necessities before the wants.
He added how that he was raised in an environment where he saw many people put wants in front of needs. "I saw people had nice shoes on their feet but no food in the fridge. So for me, it was imperative to understand that needs should always come before wants.
"Initially, I received Dh18 [$5] allowance in the growing years. That increased to Dh73 [$20] until I got my first job. Once I got my first job, I understood the concept of money. However, I did have shiny object syndrome. I used to like nice things and would buy what I could afford. So as an adult, certain traits still sit with me, my vice is nice sneakers, but gratefully I can afford them now," he said.
Money Lesson #2: You need to know the value of hard work to earn money.
"My first job was cutting grass with my father, which allowed me to understand that no matter what, one needs to work hard for money, at least in the beginning. I would make between Dh183 and Dh220 [$50-$60] per week at about 11 or 12 years old."
With this work experience, he learned the value of working hard. "Cutting grass is one of the most physically demanding jobs, but I understood that working hard for your money is essential, whether physically or mentally," he added.
"I had arrived in the UAE as a math teacher in Al Ain around six years ago. This country has allowed me to meet people that I otherwise would not have had the opportunity to meet. The country's diversity allowed me to expand my network I had never thought about or dreamed of.
"I also started investing in stocks when I was 18 years but got into cryptocurrency while living in the UAE. My current strategy is to focus on my stock investments, crypto and interest-bearing savings accounts. However, my dream is to build my business into a multi-million dollar business and live off that."
“Business of music was always my passion”
When initially working behind the scenes in the music business, Carter donned different hats – first as a small-time manager, then later on as a label owner, booking agent and distributor. He currently owns a digital music distribution business ‘AudioSwim’, which builds NFTs to support artists in the music industry.
(A non-fungible token or NFT is a unit of digital data stored on a block chain - a form of digital ledger – that can be sold and traded online. Types of NFT data units may be associated with digital files such as photos, videos, and audio.)
The business of music has always been his passion. Carter said, “We are currently at a point in the music industry where the artists aren't being looked after. When we look at the streaming era of music in the future, we will see how unfair it is to artists in the long run.
"My business aims to support and allow the artist to retain more of their IP (Intellectual Property) rights, maximise exposure and get financially compensated. The nature of my business is to allow for a creative, collaborative community to thrive online and offline."
When did you start your business in the music industry?
Carter started ‘AudioSwim’ during the beginning of the pandemic in April of 2020, initially creating an LLC (Limited Liability Company) in the US, in Delaware, to open the business, before expanding to the UAE.
"I expanded my business to the UAE to give an alternative to artists worldwide who face higher taxes in the US. (In the US, there is a 30 per cent tax imposed on overseas musicians). I needed more than one trade licence in Dubai as we rolled out different phases of my digital music business, like operating a financial brokerage and live events,” added Carter.
“I also recently created an LLC for my company in Dubai for the software component to incorporate the block-chain features of my business. I currently have three trade licences and an LLC in Dubai to ensure I'm licenced to do business across various sectors."
What were the different expenses you had to pay?
"I've managed to fund the business primarily by bootstrapping and paying money from my salary into the business. I've worked to be able to save money by developing key partnerships. I do have one private investor.
"The business's various expenses included creating two different software (distribution and block-chain NFTs), which cost the most, over Dh55,097 [$15,000] put together. I also pay monthly services for storage and outsource a tech team and for, hosting and more. So roughly about Dh7,346 [$2,000] a month on top of the initial start-up cost. Plus, desk space and trade licences."
Lessons Carter learnt from his entrepreneurial journey
Lesson #1: Do your research and get advice from multiple people who already have established businesses to find the best option.
Carter's initial challenge with setting up a business was to learn the best places to get his trade licences. "I researched and talked to many people who already have established companies to determine which one works best and is most suitable for my business.
"There are so many options that offer different and diverse opportunities. So I opted for a DED trade licence for my first two licences and the LLC from Dubai Internet City.
"The first licence is the technology licence that allows me to build the distribution model; then the second is for me to contract with artists on a managerial level. The third licence is a financial brokerage that allows me to help find investors for artists. There is a great system in place here and in my home country."
Carter stated that the ability to adapt and persevere helped him succeed. As an entrepreneur, one needs to keep going in difficult circumstances to achieve.
Lesson #2: Network as much as you can, and make do with as little money as possible.
Carter's idea is to consider and review things when spending every dirham. "Before you spend, check how it will help you grow your business. Sometimes opportunities aren't apparent initially, so you have to know your industry and see what makes sense.
"I even go to networking events that have nothing to do with my industry, as I believe one can meet someone who may spark an idea or build a connection that you would not usually have made otherwise.
"For example, I met a gentleman at a networking event about water, whom later I found out was prominent in the entertainment industry and passionate about the environment. This connection led me to introduce myself to international artists.
"I also want to make sure I am doing right for the people I work with. Although there may be people who do different jobs within the company, I ensure that I know what's going on at every level of the organisation."