By Jordan German
A self-proclaimed Midwesterner at heart, Tobi Parks left her life in New York, to move to Iowa’s capital with her wife and children. A music industry veteran, Parks knows the ins and outs of the business and has worked her way up the ranks at Sony over the past 10 years. Now settled in Des Moines, Parks fell in love with the tight-knit music community here and is collaborating with MU, working towards a law degree and working with Station One Records. Parks took time out of her busy schedule to give MU fans a little insight into the music biz.
Music University: How did you get your start in the music industry?
Tobi Parks: My father is a songwriter, so I’ve always been exposed to the industry. He and I did not have a terribly close relationship, but I’ve always known that my father was a songwriter. He wrote a really popular song in the ‘60s that is still on oldies radio called “Just One Look.” So my interest in music sort of spawned from him. As I got older I got really interested in playing music, so my interest in music really started as a performer. I started playing in bands when I was 12. In terms of a professional standpoint, I went to college at Webster University and majored in audio production and learned a lot about general recording and engineering. All the while I was working in record stores and doing different internships. I left St. Louis and moved to New York mostly to focus more on my performance career in terms of being a musician. I decided to quit my full-time job and decided to pursue music as a performer full time and did that for a few months until I realized a regular paycheck doesn’t come with the life of a musician, and that makes me very nervous. So, I called a friend that works at Sony Music and I was like, ‘I just want some kind of job that I don’t want to think about… something I don’t have to take home with me just so I have some regular cash coming in.’ So I started at Sony as an intern about 10 years ago and ended up really liking what I was doing and ended up as the director of the department 10 years later. I still play music and record. Even the time I was working for Sony I was in a band that was touring pretty regularly and did session work for people like Cyndi Lauper and I worked with this band called The Cliks.
MU: What is your favorite part about working in the music industry?
TP: Unfortunately, I’m much older now than I was when I was touring a lot, but I still play and I still try to stay on the creative side. Now I have kids so time is not as free as it was. I’ve always managed a lot of the business stuff, but with my dad having been a songwriter and communicating with him throughout my life, I became really interested in the role of the songwriter and the business side of music publishing, which is an area of the business a lot of people don’t know much about. At Sony I work with songwriters and music publishers for the licensing and exploitation of the compositions of our master recordings that we release. So that’s really where my interest is… I love what I do in terms of the work I do with Sony.
MU: Can you tell me about your work with the Des Moines Music Coalition?
TP: It’s kind of a long-winded story, as most of my stories are. It starts back with my kids actually. A couple of years ago my wife and I adopted a couple of kids and when you become a parent your life takes on different things. Its hard living in New York just as a single person or a couple; it’s even harder when you’re trying to raise a family. My wife’s sister is actually a professor at Drake [University] and moved to Des Moines about 12 years ago. Ever since then Jen [sister-in-law] has been telling us we should move here. We wanted to get out of New York for our kids and we were looking for places to move and we wanted to be someplace we had family support and also someplace where at the time, we could still be legally married. So basically the default was Iowa. So about two years ago we made the decision Des Moines was it. I started doing some research and found the Des Moines Music Coalition and reached out to Chris Ford. It just so happened that was right around the time they were planning Music University two years ago and Chris invited me to come out and speak.
MU: Do you have any further ambitions for your career or are you content with your current position? What do you see yourself doing over the next 10 years?
TP: Right now I work for Sony remotely and that’s a new experiment for both of us. I don’t really know what the future holds in that regard. However, I’ve been pretending to be an attorney for 10 years so I’ve decided I should actually confer the degree upon myself, so I’ve been going to law school at Drake. I don’t really know what the future holds. Ultimately I love music and I love the business side of music.
Tobi Parks and Rob Sevier present “How to Sell Something People Don’t Know They Want: Aesthetics and Packaging in the Age of Digital” from 9:30 to 10:15 a.m. in Classroom A/B (3rd Floor) at MU: A Conference and Showcase for Musicians October 17, 2015.
Register for MU today at music-university.org