I live in a “suburbanish" neighborhood just north of the northwest corridor of Washington, DC. This means my wife and I were involved in the Hunger Games like sport of getting as prepared as possible for the arrival of Winter Storm Jonas and it’s 25 plus inches of snow it’s dumped all over the northeastern region of the United States. Preparation for such an event involves the purchase of several bottles of red wine, six packs of craft beer and a pack of Chips Ahoy! cookies, all in hopes the groceries will all last long enough before needing to find a store in order to eat. Snowed in and lucky enough for our cable to have stayed on through the storm, we settled in to watch yesterday evening’s premier of Lifetime’s Toni Braxton biopic, “Unbreak My Heart”. It has been some time since my whispered, baritone singing voice has gotten practice and so the occasion was a welcome one. Aside from getting to learn more about Toni Braxton's personal life in a linear, organized fashion, the biopic spent a good amount of time serving as a cautionary tale about the pursuit of fame as a young, unexperienced talent or professional. The following are several things you should take away from Ms. Braxton’s business dealings and music career. 1) Dreams coming true doesn’t pay bills; contracts do that. In the opening portion of the movie, music executive L.A. Reid tells a young Toni Braxton that her contract is a “standard artist contract”. In any new circumstance, whether coming into a new job or new business opportunity, you should never allow an associate, employer or potential business partner “blind you” with your dream. Becoming successful in the way you so desire is important, but you should never be so blinded by the prospect of it becoming reality that you don’t pause to consider how the arrangement will benefit you financially or otherwise. 2) The poor lip syncing situation of the biopic won’t pay anyone’s bills. If Lifetime wants to guarantee my tuning in to their eventual biopic of Mariah Carey, Britney Spears or Missy Elliot, they’re going to have to figure out how to do a better job of making their actors appear as if they are actually singing. 3) Cars are not a form a payment. Though a somewhat outdated concept, paying musical artists and talent in gadgets and do-dads was a common practice in the 90s. Rolling up in a new hoopty is something many newly enriched individuals dream of; but what you must always remember is there is no payment like hard cold cash. Unless someone is paying you in money or planning on paying off your student loans after so many years of service, there’s no reason to forgo being paid money in exchange for “future opportunities” or various types of bling. 4) Self-employment requires an extra level of diligence and care. During one point in the biopic, Braxton was being sued by companies who’d hired her to perform. After becoming sick, it was their desire to recoup money they lost after she had to cancel on her obligations. This was an interesting moment not because she was sick, but seeing that as a “self-employed” artists, when stuff hit the fan, the burden fell at her feet. She was wholly responsible for her business agreements. Anytime you are at the center of an operation, be you an R&B phenomenon or a homeowner, you are ultimately responsible for everything attached to the title. Prepare and educate yourself accordingly. 5) Living and operating at and beyond your means is never a good idea.
In the early going of her career, the biopic presents a young Toni whose business obligations (and lifestyle) went beyond her true financial operating capacity. Unknowingly responsible for the entire costs of her tour, band salaries, hotels, travel and whatever else is involved in being an artists in the early 90s, the movie progresses to show a Toni overwhelmed and over extended in her business obligations, so much so she is eventually driven to bankruptcy. If you are sure of nothing else, you can be sure that life will always manage to throw you a curveball, and that curveballs often involves the need for money. For this reason, it’s always important to conduct your life and your business dealings at a few clips below what you can actually afford. Then, when unexpected things happen, you will at least have some extra dollars to fill in the gaps and get you to your next check point in life. Ben Carter is the Host of Manage Your Damn Money and author of Fictitious Financial Fairytale: A Completely Untrue Story About Money, Friends and Moscow Mules.