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Roy Elkins is cool. While he’s not one to bring it up, he’s worked with the Allman Brothers, the Beach Boys, Joe Walsh, Boyz II Men, DJ Jazzy Jeff and other legends and heavyweights in the music industry. He’s even played with a few of them.
“I’ve had the opportunity to jam with some of the best,” he says.
But when you press him for details, when you ask him to drop names of who else he knows, who he’s still friendly with, he humbly and kindly changes the subject.
Because that’s not what he wants to talk about. He’d rather discuss how his company helps independent artists. He’d like to tell you that Madison is a great place to work in music. He wants you to know that the future of music starts with getting instruments in kids’ hands and teaching them to toil at their craft.
A Michigan native, Elkins started out as a musician. After moving to Memphis and fulfilling a dream of playing Beale Street, he eventually turned to the business side. He sold keyboards, then moved into technology, working in training, media production and artist relations for a global corporation.
A job at music software developer Sonic Foundry brought Elkins to Madison in 1997, and about three years later he started his own business, Broadjam. “I wanted to cater to songwriters,” he says.
Foreseeing the time when the music industry would favor singles over records, Elkins created a company that maintains a searchable database of more than 500,000 songs. Broadjam also helps members get their music licensed for placement in film or television, plus connects them to a social network and opportunities for reviews. The company has four full-time employees, a few part-timers and more than 150,000 members in 190 countries. It’s fared better than Napster, MySpace and other web start-ups of the same era.
“The reason we were able to survive is we’re in Madison,” Elkins says, citing lower costs, access to talent and a community conducive to the work Broadjam does.
“Generally small towns don’t have killer computer programs, killer music programs and creative environments where people want to stay.”
Elkins listens to thirty or forty songs every day for work, and he’s especially excited about the talent he sees in Madison. “We truly have some of the best musicians in the world sitting right here in our town,” he says.
Serving as chair of the Madison Area Music Awards and being a sponsor for the Madison Hip-Hop Awards has increased his passion for local musicians, particularly the younger set.
Technology makes it easy for musicians to create music that sounds good, but it doesn’t force them to develop their skills, Elkins says. “We’re trained to want things instantly and quickly. That’s not how art is perfected.”
So he encourages budding musicians to practice daily—as he does—and apply some old-school techniques, like writing a song with just a pencil and piece of paper.
While he wouldn’t pass up the chance to be a full-time musician, Elkins is grateful for his place in the music world, where technology and talent meet.
“I tell people I have the second-best job in the world,” he says.