Dual passions: After years spent moving between music and business, Emily Richards satisfies both loves

A career-change success story

Emily RichardsClassically trained pianist, most downloaded indie artist and female version of Elton John—all are apt descriptions of Emily Richards. So are accountant, company president, entrepreneur and, for a time, PwC associate.

For Emily, these seemingly unrelated interests actually complement each other. “Music and math go well together,” says Emily. “Musical expression is the creative side of math; accounting is the business side.”

Of the two, music has been her lifelong passion. Emily has released ten albums and is currently recording songs for an eleventh. She’s been on four national tours, headlining a 50-city show for MP3.com, as well as participating in the 2004 Rock the Vote Tour.

“I joined my first band when I was 18. They had to sneak me into bars to play,” she reminisces. “Today, I’m often compared to Sarah McLachlan or Tori Amos. I’ve been called a female Elton John, although I don’t do tall boots or crazy glasses.”

Emily has been playing piano, writing songs and performing since childhood, so it’s fitting she chose to pursue music and modern dance degrees at the University of Utah. It was there that she took her first musical detour. Tragically, a car accident left Emily with a back injury so serious she couldn’t sit at the piano, let alone dance, and it prompted her to change majors. She didn’t know much about accounting, except that it was considered the hardest business major and that graduates could work for prestigious firms. The challenge hooked her. After graduating, Emily talked to the big accounting firms and found an immediate connection at pre-merger PwC. The man who recruited her—and later became her mentor—was a professional baseball player; he worked at the firm in the busy season then took leave to play ball. Seeing someone who could strike a balance and still support the firm made a big impact on Emily. Because of this, Emily was encouraged to join PwC as a way to ignite her musical career.

“Scott, my mentor, said that if I dedicated myself to the firm and proved my value, which might require letting go of my music to some degree, the firm would support me in whatever I do because it would benefit them as well.”

Her trust was rewarded when she won a contest and was invited to record in Nashville. PwC allowed her to make it happen. “I’d take Fridays and Mondays off to record. It was a lot of work to not let either side slip; I couldn’t allow myself to provide anything but the very best client service. There were times, in the middle of recording where I’d have to step out and do a conference call,” she remembers.

Emily was invited to open for country star Martina McBride. That led to a record deal with a Grammy-winning producer in Los Angeles, and the firm happily accommodated her. PwC relocated her from Salt Lake City and cut her work schedule to three days a week. Then in 2004, she was given a 10-month leave to do the Rock the Vote Tour.

Afterwards, she planned to return home and record another album while working at the firm. But her direction was about to change again: Emily was contacted by Michael Robertson, founder of MP3.com. Before its sale in 2001, MP3.com was the most popular digital music site and Emily was the site’s most-downloaded artist.

“Michael found out I had a background in accounting—he already knew me as a musician,” Emily explains. “You don’t get a call from Michael Robertson saying, ‘Come be the president of my new company’ every day. It was the best of my PwC experience combined with my music experience.”

Emily joined the new company, MP3tunes.com in 2005. It was a great opportunity to give other artists the same digital opportunities that helped launch her career, and it also allowed her to work with leading technology companies as well. But after three years, the site was getting increasingly tech heavy and Emily longed to get back to making music.

She left MP3tunes.com in mid-2008 to record her next album and start her own venture, ArtisTech Media. One of its offerings, Tune Track, she describes as similar to Facebook but specific to musicians. Serious fans can listen to recording sessions, see rehearsals and access downloads of live shows.

To launch the service, Emily is featuring the recording of her new album. She’s also working with a new band, 2012 am, which she describes as having more of an electronica sound when compared to her earlier music. She still makes time to connect with friends from PwC, though, and recently joined the local San Diego office in a volunteer project, painting a homeless shelter.

It’s those connections that Emily says define her success—in business and music. “Lots of things are considered successful. I’m grateful I had a song downloaded a million times. But I preferred playing that song at a wedding for two people who asked me to play, and seeing what it did for them.”