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Martin Kamenski knows what it takes to manage the finances of a rock star because he used to be one himself, sort of. The president and founder of Rockstar CPA, a Chicago-based accounting firm and B Corporation (a class of corporation that positively benefits society and the environment by following third-party standards) topped the college radio charts when he was an undergrad at Marquette University in Wisconsin. "We had a band called Yeah We Are," says Kamenski. "We had a single that was #1 that beat out Radiohead at the time."
Kamenski retired his musical ambitions shortly thereafter but discovered he was still drawn to the creative world. After graduating from Marquette and relocating to Chicago in the early aughties, the accounting and theater double-major found himself working at a big four accounting firm and also consulting for local theaters. He soon discovered that people in the entertainment industry including musicians, writers and photographers were hungering for an accountant who understands their specific business needs.
"Although the work for PricewaterhouseCoopers could be engaging," says Kamenski, "the people were never as engaging as the ones I saw myself running in circles with socially. Over time, those circles became the core group of my clients." In 2008, Rockstar CPA was officially born.
Kamenski says the purpose of representing creatives is two-fold. On the one hand, there's an intent to help clients in entertainment industries get the most out of their tax deductions (a set of drums, for example, is a legitimate tax deductible business expense) and not pay extra taxes that they needn't. But Rockstar CPA also aims to advise small business owners who identify as artists. "Clients that we deal with don't engage in the world of business the way others do," says Kamenski. "They need someone to break down tax laws and business structure and make it manageable and useful for them."
Rockstar CPA rocks out in other ways as well. For example, they've developed an app for iPhone and Android users that allows clients to snap pictures of their business expenses or track mileage, have empowered clients to book appointments and make payments online and engage the local community throughout the year via monthly beer and wine-infused seminars. "The word 'rock star' means more than just defining a label for a type of musician," says Kamenski. "It's about a mentality and a kind of passionate existence that does describe how we do what it is that we do. We're about as passionate and excited about accounting as one can be."
In terms of advising anyone wanting to go into the business of managing finances for creative people, Kamenski stresses the personal relationships he's built with clients over the years (primarily through word-of-mouth referrals). "I can't tell you the number of times I've heard the exact phrase, 'Wow, nobody has ever taken the time to explain it like that,'" he says. "If you take care of your people and take the time to educate and help them and make them feel appreciated and not like a line or number in your file, that makes all the difference."
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