Groove City

Blending confidence, sound strategy and an eye for talent, Kevin Peck works to put Baltimore on the musical map.

May 14, 2002|By Donna M. Owens | Donna M. Owens,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Kevin Peck wants to start a revolution in Baltimore - a music revolution.

Quite simply, he wants his hometown to become synonymous with making hit records, and to mold the next generation of music superstars. So Peck has launched his own independent record label - 410 Music Group, LLC - hoping it will do for the city musically what Motown so famously did for Detroit back in the '60s.

"I'm like a new Berry Gordy, but my goal is to be bigger than Motown," 410's 35-year-old CEO says plainly. "The Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area has so much talent, but people think you can't make it as an artist or label unless you are in New York, L.A. or Atlanta. I'm working to build an international reputation right here in Baltimore."

To that end, he's set up a studio in Mount Vernon, signed his first act and begun the long, hard process to persuade the music industry to pay attention. But in 10 years in the music business, Peck has already hit a few high notes and proven he has a knack for spotting talent.

For much of the '90s, he was the management force behind homegrown R&B singing sensation Dru Hill. Theirs was an unplanned partnership - almost fateful.

One night as he dined in a local restaurant, Peck heard someone singing. It turned out to be his waiter, a member of the fledgling Dru Hill. He introduced himself and soon heard the full group perform in a talent show at Morgan State University. "I thought they had phenomenal talent, but at the time, I was not thinking about a career in music. I figured I'd help them out in some way."

The night of the show, Peck offered the group members a ride home and treated them to a meal at Burger King. That was 1992. The rest, as they say, is history.

It took some time and plenty of hard work from all sides, but eventually Peck would help the group land a record deal. He went on to successfully manage and co-executive produce the multiplatinum artists, who sold some 10 million records worldwide.

"Now there are a lot more books and periodicals to tell you about the music business, but we were all learning," he says. "People used to say I was a rookie manager; if so, I was the rookie manager of the year. ... It was a great learning experience."

Peck continued to manage Dru Hill until 1999, when the relationship ended amicably. "The reality of this business is, once artists become big, they often change management," he says, without bitterness. "There's always someone in your ear, promising to do more for you. It's like: What have you done for me lately?"

Still, the knowledge Peck gained in the competitive and often volatile music business (not to mention the money he earned in the process) helped set the stage for running his own label.

Man behind the music

"I saved enough money to live for three or four years," he says. "I also learned that artists come and go, deals come and go." He pauses and smiles. "Deal-makers last forever."

Peck never set out to be a music mogul. A fifth-generation descendant of Baltimore's prominent Murphy clan - publisher of the Afro-American newspaper chain - he grew up in the family business, doing odd jobs at the paper.

He later attended Morgan, where he studied marketing and graduated with honors, then did a brief stint in corporate America, but quickly found himself disillusioned. "I was a management trainee, but all I was doing was faxing, collating and copying. I felt like I was wasting time," he says. Eventually, he decided to rejoin the newspaper that his great-great-grandfather founded in 1892.

"I decided, hey, if I am going to bust my butt and it's not my own thing, I should work with my family." He spent six years at the paper as its advertising sales director, learning business skills that he says serve him to this day.

Toward the end of his Afro tenure, Peck began juggling his day job with his music-management duties, complete with requisite night gigs and road trips. He also made the decision to move his family to Atlanta - the hub for many African-Americans in the music industry - where they stayed for about two years.

"It was tough sometimes," says Peck, who is married with two young daughters. "But when you have a dream, you have to take steps toward that dream."

`Motown as our model'

Today, Peck is dreaming of a future lined with gold and platinum records for 410 Music.

The 2-year-old company - named after Charm City's area code - is headquartered in Mount Vernon, inside a four-story brownstone that Peck purchased in 1999 and converted into a studio, rehearsal and office space with a kitchen and sleeping quarters.

The spacious site has a contemporary feel, with the studio done in shades of purple and orange. Peck's office has all types of high-tech music gadgets, a big-screen television and sleek decor in crimson and black. On a recent spring day, the tall, boyishly handsome executive is seated behind a desk crowded with paperwork, CDs and family photos of his wife Carla, and their little girls, Taylor and Morgan.

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