Stoy by your favorite breakfast spot for an invigorating espresso, and you may hear the gentle strains of Charles Rough's clever ode to coffee playing over the speaker--thanks to Rough's entrepreneurial savvy. Back in 1997, the career musician took matters into his own hands after the recording contract of his dreams had eluded him for more than a decade. "I had searched for the Holy Grail for many years but never made it to the dotted line," says Rough, 35. "Finally, I said `Why do I need a major record label when I can do it myself?' "
So the musician-turned-entrepreneur (known as Chaz to his fans) recorded "Black Coffee," a song he penned while touring coffeehouses nationwide, then shopped the single (complete with an acoustic-only "decaf remix") under his own label, Louisville, Kentucky-based Primitive Entertainment. Sold to coffee companies as corporate giveaways for their clients, "Black Coffee" has since found its way to radio stations across the state.
After the success of his coffee "cassingle," Rough went on to produce a CD recording of "Journey," a wedding song he'd written for his own nuptials. He marketed it with an innovative twist: Packaged inside a wedding greeting card, the CD contained advertising spots Rough solicited from 11 local wedding-related businesses. Rough then struck a deal with Bride & Groom magazine, a Louisville monthly, to distribute the card/CD inside 1,000 issues.
And the hits just keep on coming. Rough's Unitywear, a line of multicultural-themed T-shirts he designed, is worn these days by the likes of President Clinton and Muhammed Ali. The shirts sell at such retailers as JC Penney and Mercantile, as well as on the Web. Expanding on that theme, Rough recently wrote and self-published a children's book, The Book of Unity, that's caught the attention of major publishers.
He's also recently produced his first children's multimedia CD-ROM, which contains 14 songs, a full-length music video and Internet account-setup software for Unityworld.com (the ISP that's his latest business venture). "It all connects," explains Rough. "The music sells the books and T-shirts."
Looking forward to a breakout year, the one-man conglomerate says, "I'm having fun--and I'm doing it on my own. The Holy Grail was always in my hand."