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Damn, I wish you were my financial adviser

Sophie HawkinsSophie B. Hawkins' career was almost derailed by a banjo.

By 1998, Hawkins had had several Top 5 singles, including "Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover" and "As I Lay Me Down," which stayed on the Billboard charts for 67 weeks -- one of the longest runs for any adult contemporary single in Billboard's history.

But for her Sony album "Timbre," Hawkins recorded a song called "Lose Your Way," which was written and centered around a banjo. The song was slated to be the first single from the record, but Sony hates the banjo and, much to Hawkins' dismay, edited it out of its version of the song. Hawkins was incensed, thinking the new version sounded horrible. At a radio station appearance to promote "The Cream Will Rise," a documentary film about her, Hawkins played a rough cut of "Lose Your Way" that included the banjo, and the phones rang off the hook in approval.

Leaving the station, Hawkins asked her driver if she knew anything about the Internet (because she herself did not), and asked the driver if she could put out a message for people who heard the banjo version of the song to e-mail Sony, asking them to leave it in. Sony was deluged, receiving 2,000 e-mails a week. Sony told Hawkins to make them stop, something she says she was powerless to do by that point. At first Hawkins was delighted, certain that Sony would heed the fans and release the album -- with her version of the song -- with much fanfare. But according to Hawkins, Sony buried "Timbre," releasing only 20,000 copies -- a minuscule number for a top-selling artist.

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Hawkins left Sony soon after and re-acquired the master recording.

"Timbre" was eventually re-released by Rykodisc via Hawkins' own record label, Trumpet Swan Records. Hawkins is planning a spring 2003 release of a new record titled "Sweet Cantaloupe," in partnership with another label.

Bankrate spoke to Hawkins about the business education she has received throughout all this.

BANKRATE: Why did you decide to redo "Timbre"?

SOPHIE B. HAWKINS: Because I was asked to. Almost the day I got off Sony, Rykodisc said they loved the record and that I should re-release it and make it a double CD. They thought it was the best record I ever made and that it should be out there and that I would do really well with it. So how could I refuse? And thank God I did it because it did really great. I had a single that did wonderfully with only $20,000 promotion, which if you know anything about radio is awesome. It made it onto the Billboard Top 100. Most companies spend $400,000 for that.

BANKRATE: How do you see your future, business-wise?

HAWKINS: The thing in business is you have to have something you own, even if it's on a small level. Something that's original and unique and has its own life. For me, that means owning my masters. I'm a songwriter. I'm 100 percent my own writer. So I always get checks. If someone else covers my songs, I get checks. If my song's on the radio, I get checks. So the next step from being a songwriter was owning the actual masters, which is what I did when I left Sony. If I only sell 100 CDs at a concert, I get a lot of money from that, as opposed to 3 cents per when I was on Sony, which I never even saw because they always say you're not recouped and can't get any money.

BANKRATE: What was your economic picture like during the struggle with Sony?

HAWKINS: Because I had written all the songs and I had a hit, I had made a tremendous amount of money. Every time a royalty check came in, I fell on the floor, shocked. I didn't understand how popular the songs were. And it's still the case because those songs are played a lot. So my financial situation was good, but not as good as after I left Sony because I still had lots of people in my life siphoning off my money, and I wasn't watching it. When I left Sony, I got rid of my business manager. I write all my own checks now. I had a year where I even kept my own books because I needed to learn about it. So now I do everything myself. I have different ways I invest -- in land, stocks, bonds, in some funds. I have Ameritrade, E*Trade and I even have a more traditional Bear Stearns account. So I'm pretty flexible and very aware. I pay my bills twice a month on Sunday, religiously.

BANKRATE: When you have a hit song like "Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover," what is a song like that ultimately worth for you?

HAWKINS: It's worth millions. I will leave my catalog to my children. If there's still radio and people still play songs, it'll be worth something to them. Because even a small success like "Walking in My Blue Jeans" has amazing royalties. Even songs that aren't even radio hits will get played in Europe, songs off the album, cuts that you never would think get played in Singapore or Israel. You just can't believe the numbers.

BANKRATE: So even a song that's not big here is making you a lot of money?

HAWKINS: Yes. I also keep my overhead down. That's my biggest philosophy. I spend very little on a car, and I lease only because it's a deduction for my corporation, otherwise I would buy. I rent a studio that's very cheap. But where I put my money is in my work, my gear, my studio. Not too much money, but enough so I can keep totally current and professional. I don't spend a lot on clothes. I take Jet Blue. I'm very much into keeping the cost of my life down so I can enjoy it.

BANKRATE: You mentioned you had a lot of people siphoning off of you. How much do you think you lost because of people like that?

HAWKINS: So much that it gives me a stomach ache. So many millions. The first thing Gigi (her current manager) did is say, 'What the hell is happening with your money?' And I said, 'I don't know.' And she said, 'That's a big problem.' Because she knew the business. When I finally looked at it and saw that my business manager was making more than me at the end of the year, after taxes and all that, she said, 'Sophie, this is ridiculous. How hard is your business? How many checks do you really write?'

BANKRATE: What do you invest in?

HAWKINS: Recently, like everyone else, I started investing more in real estate. I did really well at the end of the Clinton years because I got out of AOL. I sometimes tripled and quadrupled my money in the stock market, and then got out of it. My instincts were pretty good there. I got very interested in the stock market, I even learned how to short and do options and all that. I ordered kits off the TV and really studied that, and then one day I woke up and said, I'm really interested in this only a little bit. What I really love is the earth, I really love land, so why don't I put my money into something I can at least grow something on, vineyards and corn, stuff I can leave to my children. So then I started switching. I kept my bonds. I kept some of my old lady retirement stuff. I kept some of my oil stocks. So I still have stocks that perform really well. But I sold a lot of stocks and started moving more into real estate.

-- Posted: Dec. 12, 2002

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