Anatomy Of A Songwriter Signing; Jessi Alexander

[Editors Note: This interview with TuneCore Artist Jessi Alexander originally appeared on NEKST. David Ross, author of this piece and the founder of Music Row Magazine, uses NEKST as a platform to cover ‘music and the technology it powers’.]

Music Row streets are filled with new and experienced songwriters hoping to climb that next career rung by finding the perfect home to nurture and support their creative efforts. But in an industry where success gets more elusive every day, only a fortunate few will find what they seek. Therefore the importance of these decisions—for both writer and publisher—cannot be underestimated.

This Music GM/Partner Rusty Gaston recently signed Jessi Alexander and both parties graciously agreed to discuss the dynamics of the new partnership and why they are so excited about a shared future.

According to Gaston, “This Music is a joint venture with Warner Chappell. The company was formed in 2006, with myself and songwriters Connie Harrington and Tim Nichols. We signed Ben Hayslip on our first day, who at that point had only charted one single. Since then he’s become a two-time ASCAP “Songwriter of the Year”. Today we’ve grown to five employees and 13 writers. As good as we put it on paper, knock on wood it has gone better. As we celebrate our 10-year anniversary we’ve won five “Song of the Year” awards, and had 40 ASCAP/BMI award winning songs. It’s been a super blessing.”

But despite This Music’s great track record, operating a boutique publishing company leaves little room for mistakes. So what goes into an important decision such as adding a songwriter to the team? “I always ask myself would I mortgage my house for this?” says Gaston. “If I can’t say ‘Yes,’ I don’t do the deal. I also don’t do pieces of business. Maybe a writer has a record deal or a cut bringing a certain amount of income and signing them could be a good business decision. But for me it’s about how much I believe in this person. I make my decision based upon people first and music second.”

Rusty Gaston

Rusty Gaston

Enter Jessi Alexander. “Jessi has been deeply involved with our company as a co-writer for years,” says Gaston. “For example, she co-wrote ‘I Drive Your Truck’ with Connie Harrington and Jimmy Yeary; and ‘Mine Would Be You’ with Deric Ruttan and Connie. So when Jessi approached us to say, ‘I’m thinking about looking around,’ we knew immediately we’d love to work with her. Jessi has tremendous respect for those 16th Ave. craftsmen like Bobby Braddock or Bob McDill who worked every day, chiseling people’s emotions onto a blank piece of paper. And she fits so well with our philosophy of a great work ethic and positive attitude.”

It’s easy to understand why Gaston would be excited to sign Alexander. Above he explained the “people first” side of the equation. But the new addition also ‘brings it’ musically. For example, her Grammy nominated co-write, “I Drive Your Truck,” won triple-crown Song of the Year honors from the CMA, ACM and NSAI. Her inspirational ballad “The Climb,” (inked with Jon Mabe) topped the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart for 15 weeks, garnered a Grammy nomination and won Best Song From A Movie from MTV.

I sat down with Jessi Alexander, (named after Jessi Colter) to get her side of the signing process and learn about her background. I wanted to know what career concerns mattered most, and what brought her to the conclusion that This Music was where she belonged. Unexpectedly, she also weighed in about gender on Music Row, offered some interesting advice for new writers and revealed some very personal feelings about why “The Climb” became a personal breakthrough moment.

NEKST: Did you interact with music growing up?

Jessi Alexander: I remember my grandfather sitting at a piano and playing a game with me. I’d say, “Hey Granddaddy play ‘Love Me Tender’,” and he’d tap it out with one hand. But my dad was probably most instrumental. He was a hippie child of the ’60s and during college collected all the great records—from Led Zeppelin to Jimi Hendrix. He also discovered Will The Circle be Unbroken which led him to Ralph Stanley, Willie Nelsonand even Joan Baez. His music library offered Bluegrass infusing with rock n roll, gospel, delta blues and more. I was an only child with few friends, so while everyone else was out playing, my pastime became absorbing this music. Now that I have a 7-year old it gives me more perspective on how weird I was. My daughter might know what bluegrass is, but by her age I was encyclopedic in my approach to music. And everyday I still draw from those experiences.

Sounds more like you were “gifted,” not weird.

Well, I love how your weaknesses can become strengths. Being from a broken home in the country (Jackson, TN) without siblings, much TV or toys, music was an easy choice. At age nine my Dad asked me what instrument I wanted to learn. I chose electric bass. If he had gotten me that bass then maybe I wouldn’t have learned guitar, but he couldn’t afford a bass and an amp, so he got me a pawn shop acoustic guitar thinking I wouldn’t know the difference. Of course I did, but that started me playing guitar.

Did you imagine yourself being an artist or a songwriter during those early years?

jessiI grew up around blue collar type factory workers. My first jobs were working at a dry cleaner, at Subway and the car auction. Even after moving to Nashville around 1999 I approached the music industry in a blue collar way thinking ‘work hard then you’ll get that raise or promotion.’ Pretty quickly I saw it wasn’t like that and it seemed frustrating to realize how elusive it can be as to why certain people have success and others don’t. A promotion can be a song hold or an award. But I also understand how fortunate I am just to get to do this.

Continue reading David’s interview with Jessi Alexander here!

Interview: Justin Klump on His New Album & Finding The Small Successess

Singer/songwriter Justin Klump found his love of music as a teenager and applied his work ethic toward making it his life ever since. He’s got three independently released albums (distributed via TuneCore!) under his belt and his self-titled fourth coming this Friday, May 13th.

With success on SiriusXM’s The Coffeehouse, iTunes’ Singer/Songwriter Charts, and over 100,000 miles of touring across America in less than five years, we invited Justin to perform at our second-ever Indie Artist Forum in Nashville back in February. He was kind enough to answer a few questions about what it takes to make your drive pay off and how he’s navigated Nashville as an independent artist who moved in from across the country:

When did you discover your love of songwriting?

Justin Klump: I was 15, and a friend gave me Under the Table and Dreaming and Crash by Dave Matthews Band. I picked up the guitar a few weeks later, and started writing songs six months after that. At that point in my life, I was having trouble making sense of the world, and writing songs gave me an outlet to try and figure stuff out. I’ve always spent a lot of time in my head, and writing songs forced me to get what was circling around inside out into the world – for better, or worse.

What is the Vancouver, WA scene like in terms of budding singer/songwriter support? What ultimately prompted the move to Nashville?

Vancouver has some cool stuff going on – especially recently. The community there loves local music, and is very supportive of it. And, being as close to Portland as it is, a lot of the scene blends into what’s going on in Portland. Portland, Oregon has a great live music scene.

I wanted to move because I felt like I needed to get out of my comfort zone in order to grow as an artist, songwriter, and person. I was considering LA & New York as well, because I wanted to be in a big music town, but Nashville won me over because the emphasis on songwriting is next to none. I grew up in the northwest, and wasn’t quite sure how to take the next step in my career in such a familiar place with people who’ve known me for years. I needed to get uncomfortable, and be inspired around new people and fresh ideas.

IMG_8044-front A

What do you consider to be some of the most important steps in marketing and promoting yourself as an artist in a town like Nashville?

Figure out what you do that makes you unique, and develop that every day. Don’t chase what’s hot at the time, and try to adapt what you’re doing to fit that mold. It’s already been done, and chances are, when you get to market, it’s not going to be hot anymore. You could spend your career being a step behind, and not giving the world something that only you can provide.

It’s also important to take an organic approach to getting your name out. Build relationships, not contacts, and recognize that this is a marathon, not a sprint. I don’t subscribe to the belief that you have one shot – there’s no “one big break” – it’s a succession of small successes that help you from one patch of concrete to the next. You have to be pro-active, but you have to be realistic in your timeline. Many people refer to Nashville as a “ten year town”, and I think that timeline sets up more realistic expectations than believing you’re going to be an overnight sensation.

What kind of advice would you offer to a new artist looking to relocate to a more music-friendly city?

Get out and meet people. Go to shows, mixers, and happy hours, and introduce yourself to people. Figure out who the players are, and say hi without being overly eager. Be nice. Work harder than you think you should have to. You’ll meet people further along than you, and hear things that are really, really great, and you can either choose to be inspired, or let it get you down – choose to be inspired.

You can write songs from anywhere, but if you move to a music city, make the most of it by getting off your couch.

Justin Klump performing at the TuneCore Indie Artist Forum in Nashville - 2016
Justin Klump performing at the TuneCore Indie Artist Forum in Nashville – 2016

We’re obviously psyched you’ve chosen TuneCore for distribution, and we’d love to hear about your experience at our Nashville Indie Artist Forum!

TuneCore’s a great home!

The Forum was a great experience, both as an artist and as an attendee. There were a ton of inspiring interviews that gave me new ideas throughout the day. I thought Craig Wiseman was hilarious, inspiring, and informative. His energy filled the room, and was a highlight, for sure!

As an artist, it was an honor to perform in a room full of other artists and songwriters, but also terrifying.

I saw a few people that I hadn’t seen in a number of years, so it was cool to re-connect with them. And, it was great to meet some of the TuneCore staff!

As you prepare to release your fourth independent album, tell us about how both your process have evolved, both from the creative and business standpoints?

I was much more intentional with this release, and spent more time with the songs, and the songwriting before pressing record. I wanted to sit with the songs longer to make sure they resonated with me months after they’d been written, and I played most of the songs out before we recorded to see how other people reacted. I wrote more songs than I can remember before narrowing it down to the ten that ended up on the album.

I knew I wanted to invest more into this album, and that was part of why I took my time. I recorded and mixed my last few releases on my own, and so the budget was bigger on this one because I worked with a producer here in Nashville, Andy Hunt.

I guess taking my time and being intentional was both a creative, and a business decision. I wanted to record songs that connected because I wanted to increase my chances of people hearing the songs, and increase my chances of recouping my investment.

Between your first single off of the new album and previous releases, how has your success on radio impacted the way you reach new fans in this day and age?

It’s allowed me to connect with new listeners – who may not have heard my music otherwise – and helped me build a bigger audience. I’ve been able to develop relationships through email or social media with people who heard a song on The Coffee House, for example, and sent an email saying my song spoke to them. It’s been very cool to see the reach that radio has, and even cooler to hear from someone that they heard my song on X station a thousand miles away.

Also, I use the reporting tools in the TuneCore back-end to see if airplay is correlating with sales, and to see how much action is taking place in a particular market. From there, I try to identify new markets that I could perform in to further connect with new fans.

What kind of story are you hoping to tell on Justin Klump?

I think the main theme of the album is holding onto hope through whatever struggle you’re up against. For me, life hasn’t always been a straight shot to where I’ve wanted to end up, but the detours have taught me some of the most important lessons I’ve learned. I want these songs to be anthems for the underdog – for the people who aren’t sure they can keep going, but just need a little bump to take the next step and keep going.


What are your plans for the rest of 2016 in terms of keeping the momentum?

I’m headed to the west coast to start album release dates next week, and the lead single, “Loved You Good”, impacts AAA radio on May 16th. I’ll be continuing the release dates this summer, and then circling back to my primary markets, and expanding into new ones in late September, October and early November. We’ll be releasing the songs from the album in various mediums throughout the remainder of the year as well.

Outside of touring and the new album, I’ve started writing for my next album, and plan to spend a good amount of time in my studio flushing out ideas.

Event Recap: Indie Artist Forum & TuneCore Live Nashville

Last week, TuneCore kicked off its second ever Indie Artist Forum, inviting musicians and industry professionals to meet at the Acme Feed & Seed in Nashville, TN. The goal was to hold discussions with independent music makers and songwriters, share wisdom from folks in the field, and revel in performances by talented TuneCore Artists based in the creative city.

Indie Artist Forum

Folks began to line up outside the venue as early as 9:00 AM, and not long after, the Forum was underway! Eager artists and songwriters checked in, mingled and grabbed some breakfast – just in time to catch TuneCore singer-songwriter Justin Klump perform.

Justin Klump - Indie Artist Forum

As breakfast wrapped up, our noble host, the ever charismatic artist Kelley James hit the stage to introduce TuneCore CEO Scott Ackerman. He connected with the crowd, sharing notes on TuneCore’s 2015 growth, and where the company is headed in 2016. Scott’s words resonated with the artists in attendance, and they were reminded that they, too, were very much part of the company.

Scott Ackerman - Indie Artist Forum

“Our ultimate goal is to be on the journey with TuneCore Artists, from that first song all the way through their career,” Ackerman explained.

Charlie Peacock - Indie Artist Forum

Next, it was time for our first music industry guest to speak, legendary Grammy award-winning producer, artist and songwriter, Charlie Peacock. Charlie urged artists to establish some level of flexibility and adaptability, even while maintaining their authenticity. As someone who has navigated the business so well himself, his advice meant a lot.

“The path you want to be on is a middle-way, you want to enjoy your successes, knowing that they won’t last long. You must reinvent and reinvent,” Charlie divulged, adding “If you’re ever in a dip, find out why you started making music in the first place. If you’re a maker, you’ve got to be making. You’re only stuck if your imagination is stuck.”

Peter Frampton - Indie Artist Forum

After geeking out over Mr. Peacock, it was time to introduce the rock star known as Peter Frampton! Frampton awed the audience with an inspirational overview of his career, stressing the importance of dedication and practice, as well as taking notes from the best to help grow your music and performance.

Check out some of our favorite Peter Frampton quotes from the Forum:

  • On guitar: “Unless I get a great sound that inspires me, I can’t play.”
  • On his biggest inspiration: “Django Reinhardt. I think I have every recording he’s ever done. You can tell when you listen to him play, that’s all passion.”
  • Advice to young artists on connecting with their audience: “I was very shy when I first went on stage. Along the way I watched all these bands and how they communicated with the audience – it’s a special power. I learned so much from Steve Marriott.”
  • On new technology in music: “Use technology – don’t let it use you.”
  • On putting your influences to work: “It’s all about stealing from the best.”

Like Strangers - Indie Artist Forum

After a two hour session with the rock idol, it was time for lunch and a performance from Nashville-based country duo Like Strangers!

Craig Wiseman - Indie Artist Forum

Hitting the stage next was a local celebrity and accomplished publisher/songwriter whose worked with Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw and Blake Shelton (to name a few) – Craig Wiseman!

Craig captivated the room with his candid advice on starting and growing your music career. He shared insights on co-writing, paralleling it with dating and how it takes time to find the right co-writing partner, and the impact that can make on your career. He kept the whole room laughing and garnered several standing ovations!

“There’s no conspiracy that the record label doesn’t want you,” said Wiseman, “When it’s all said and done, it’s simple: it’s about great freaking music. If you want to get out of bed and make a song every three months, it’s not going to happen.”

“But if you want to play ball like Michael Jordan – if you’re busting your ass, and you’ve got the song, you can’t stop the phone from ringing. It’s your game to get to that level.”

Indie Artist Forum

Genevieve Thompson and Drew Simmons were summoned to the stage after Mr. Wiseman to share insights on growing a music career in 2016 and utilizing social media to build your audience. Thompson is a partner at Back 40 Entertainment – a label, publishing and management company – and Simmons is the artist manager behind Young the Giant and GM of Foundations Artist Management.

“You shouldn’t skip steps in establishing an audience before you show them your music,” Drew advised when questioned about building hard ticket sales.

John Marks - Indie Artist Forum

Our final speaking guest of the day was John Marks – taste making SiriusXM music programmer and current Head of Global Programming, Country Music at Spotify. He provided insights on the changing landscape of radio and the future of streaming. Marks challenged the audience, insisting that there has never been so much opportunity for independent musicians to be discovered and heard as there is today.

“I am calling the kettle black – I was always a radio person my entire life, but streaming is simply the wave of the future,” John regaled. “There’s a whole generation of people ages 12-34 who are growing up without a traditional radio experience.”

R.LUM.R - Indie Artist Forum

What better way to close out a day of indie music strategy discussion than with another performance?! TuneCore Artist and Nashville newcomer R.LUM.R capped off a long day by captivating his peers, our speaking guests, and the TuneCore staff with his edgy and thoughtful R&B tunes.

Just a couple hours after R.LUM.R wrapped up his set, the Acme Feed & Seed was transformed and our first-ever TuneCore Live: Nashville was underway!

Nightly - Indie Artist Forum

Up first was the brand new Nightly! We’re always pleased to showcase our talented artists at TuneCore Live, but this was the first time we’ve had a group perform that was also playing their FIRST show! Nightly got the energy going early with their catchy indie pop sounds.

Ray Scott - Indie Artist Forum

Up next was country artist Ray Scott, who helped us keep this thing as “Nashville” as possible! Wielding a traditional country sound, Ray entertained show goers with renditions of his hits like “Drinkin’ Beer” and “Those Jeans”.

Meghan Linsey - Indie Artist Forum

Closing out the night was the charming singer songwriter Meghan Linsey. Sound familiar? You may have caught her as a contestant on this small-time TV show known as The Voice in 2015! Meghan kept the crowd going and provided the perfect soundtrack to close out an amazing Saturday of music, education, and of course, a little bit of partying.

A special thanks goes out to all of our guest speakers, performing artists, our sponsors and most importantly, the independent artists who took time out of their weekend to work on their career and join us for what turned out to be an amazing day of learning and discussion. We cannot wait to party again, and you can stay tuned for details of our next Indie Artist Forum!

Check out our photo gallery from the Indie Artist Forum and TuneCore Live Nashville:

Nashville: Indie Artist Forum & TuneCore Live Breakdown

TuneCore Indie Artist Forum

We’re less than two weeks out from our second ever Indie Artist Forum (Saturday, February 20th) at the Acme Feed & Seed, and this time we’re taking the fun to Nashville! With so many hardworking independent music makers living in one place, it only makes sense that we’d choose this city to connect with them.

There’s some exciting artists, industry professionals and performers that have been announced so far, and just like during our inaugural Indie Artist Forum in LA last September, we’ll be coupling the event with a special TuneCore Live: Nashville edition later that evening.

The good news is: you can still RSVP to the Forum! The better news is: if you cannot make the Forum, you can still come party with us at TuneCore Live afterward! Regardless, you can keep reading to learn more about the awesome guests that will be joining us next weekend.

Peter Frampton
Peter Frampton Indie Artist Forum

Yes, you read that correctly. The legendary Peter Frampton will be joining us at the Acme Feed & Seed to bestow some of his wisdom onto an ambitious crowd of indie artists, songwriters, producers, and MCs. And believe us, this dude has some wisdom: at the age of 16, he landed British pop hits fronting The Herd; from there Frampton went on to form the successful Humble Pie alongside Steve Marriott of Small Faces as an 18-year old. Concurrently, he was working as session guitarist with artists like Harry Nilsson, George Harrison, and Jerry Lee Lewis.

You likely know Frampton best as a solo artist, as he’s achieved significant success since the early 70s, perhaps most notably with his hugely popular 1976 release, Frampton Comes Alive!, which sold over 17 million copies worldwide.

GRAMMY Award winner? Check. Rolling Stone cover? Check. Appearances on The Simpsons and Oprah? Check. This guy’s been places and seen things – and we’re absolutely honored that he’ll be joining us for the Indie Artist Forum.

John Marks
John Marks Indie Artist Forum

Ever wonder how some of the hottest country singles become hits? For awhile, many industry professionals would likely tell you John Marks played a key role. As the Country Music Programmer at SiriusXM, he helped push the format into the top 5 on the massive satellite radio provider. With his famed station, The Highway, Marks took chances on new music and helped propel artists into the spotlight.

More recently, John Marks joined the streaming giant known as Spotify as their Head of Global Programming, Country Music, and is on pace to make a similar if not greater impact on the lives of artists and music fans alike.

Other Guests Include…

  • R.LUM.R – Nashville newcomer and alternative R&B artist
  • Genevieve Jewell Thompson – Partner at Back 40 Entertainment, a label, publishing and management company based in Nashville.
  • Charlie Peacock – songwriter, session musician and producer who helped develop The Civil Wars
  • Craig Wiseman – publisher and songwriter who has written with/for Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw, Blake Shelton & more
  • Drew Simmons – artist manager and GM of Foundations Artist Management
  • Like Strangers – country duo comprised of brothers Bob & Clint Moffatt
  • Justin Klump – hard touring, Nashville-based singer/songwriter

TuneCore Live: Nashville

As we said, whether you’re hanging out with us all day at the Forum or can’t join us until the evening, we’re continuing our Acme Feed & Seed takeover into the wee hours as we present our first ever TuneCore Live event in Nashville. Doors will be at 8, it’s free entry, 21+, and you can RSVP for that here on Facebook. Get the lowdown on the bands performing:

Ray Scott

For many, Ray needs no introduction. His first album, My Kind Of Music, was released in 2005 and the title track quickly became a Top 40 hit. Since then Ray has released three independent albums and has found success touring with songs like his hit “Those Jeans” and “Drinkin’ Beer.”

Ray is the only independent artist in the GAC Hall of Fame and his style of traditional country music has also earned him a strong following in Europe. “Drinkin’ Beer” was the #1 Song of 2014 on the United Kingdom’s Hot Disc chart.”

Meghan Linsey

At age 14, Meghan started playing shows with her own band and a short year later she was opening for acts such as Brad Paisley and Blake Shelton at events around Louisiana and Texas.

In 2015, Meghan takes her new musical journey to a national level as a contestant on NBC’s The Voice. ‘I’ve always been a risk taker, and as an artist, I want to continue to challenge myself and push the boundaries. I’m looking forward to The Voice as an opportunity to grow and to reach an even broader fan base!'”


A brand new indie pop band based in Nashville, we’re excited that they chose TuneCore Live to be their FIRST live performance! For more info on this up and coming band, check out their website and sign up for email updates. Trust us, this is gonna be sweet!

One more time folks – you can RSVP for the Indie Artist Forum here, and hit up the Facebook page to RSVP for TuneCore Live. Hope to see you out in Nashville!


Announced: TuneCore Indie Artist Forum in Nashville, TN – 2/20/16

You’re invited, TuneCore Artists:

When we launched our first-ever Indie Artist Forum back in September of 2015, we knew we wanted to provide an experience that would leave a lasting impression on those creators that attended. If you were to ask any of them now, we’re willing to bet we succeeded!

Now we’re bringing the action to the musical hotbed of Nashville, TN on Saturday, February 20th, 2016 at ACME Feed & Seed. Like our inaugural event, this Indie Artist Forum will include  educational roundtable discussions, keynote speakers that live and breathe the music industry everyday, showcases that’ll include your talented TuneCore peers, and much more. TuneCore wants to show you that we’re committed to bringing our artist community together for straightforward, tactical discussions about the daily reality of being an artist in today’s music industry landscape.

Connecting with fellow indie artists goes beyond booking shows and interacting within your local scene. It’s about more than having a floor or couch to crash on when you’re out of town on tour. It’s about sharing ideas, struggles, opportunities, motivation and inspiration. Because nobody picks up an instrument, microphone or pen thinking, “This is gonna be a breeze!”

TuneCore Indie Artist Forum
TuneCore Indie Artist Forum

At no costs to artists.

Since TuneCore is determined to present an opportunity to artists of all career levels and genres that gives them something truly valuable to walk away with, we’re presenting the Indie Artist Forum free of charge. We request that you only RSVP for the Indie Artist Forum if you’re definitely going to be in the Nashville area on February 20th. That way, we can do our best to give everyone a fair chance to attend, while reaching a diverse group of TuneCore Artists.

“How can I RSVP?”

Visit this site to RSVP to the TuneCore Indie Artist Forum. Those that RSVP will be admitted to the Forum on a first-come, first-serve basis. Once you’re RSVP is confirmed, you’ll begin to receive pertinent announcements and information about the event via email.

Check out Scenes from September’s Forum:

Artist Management Series: Paul Steele

In the finale of our Artist Management Interview Series, we chatted with music industry vet Paul Steele, founder and CEO of Good Time, Inc. Paul has been working with artists in some capacity for about 15 years, getting his feet wet in college. Handling management for Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors, Judah and the Lion, Ellie Holcomb and Kris Allen, Good Time Inc. acts as a management, label services and marketing company.

With us Paul discussed how he got involved as a rep for Aware Records, the importance of maintaining a ‘hobby mentality’ in the music industry, and why being a good person in business can go a long way.

How long have you been in artist management and how has the way a manager/artist relationship begins changed in the last 5-10 years?

I’ve been doing this since around 2000. I started in college when I was at TCU in Ft. Worth. I had my own company, and then rolled that up with two other companies, forming Trivate Entertainment in 2005. I started Good Time Inc. in 2011.

The relationship is always kind of fluent. It depends where the artist is in their career when you start with them. When you start with a younger artist, they’re a little more wide-eyed, so you’re helping cast visions, and you’re doing a lot more for them because they’re just getting started. Whereas if you’re working with a more established artist, they may have already worked with other managers; so there’s a different job description. Yes, the relationship has changed over time but it’s also really relative to where the artist is in their career.

Management is like marriage. If you work with someone who has had a couple managers, you’re really working with someone who has been through a couple of divorces. The best manager is like the artist’s ‘chief of staff’.

How did you begin as an artist manager?

It was a complete accident. As a freshman in college I was in pre-law; a philosophy major with a psychology minor. At this time, Napster had just come out and I was discovering a ton of music. MySpace wasn’t even a story yet, much less an idea. There weren’t a lot of ways beyond word of mouth, Napster, Morpheus and KaZaA. For me, college was a great time to discover new interests, as I think it is for many, and there were some people making music around town. I liked to promote things, so on the side I helped put together a couple of shows.

I was my mom’s musical puppet as a kid – she thought I was going to be god’s gift to the world and I wasn’t. I was a terrible musician. I really liked the way it felt to get music heard and somehow I started promoting more shows and bands. I was also listening to the college radio station a lot, and I remember when I Train’s first single, “Meet Virginia”, came on.

They were a tiny no-name band out of San Francisco, on a small label out of Chicago. I found that out by going to the record store and seeing Aware Records on the back of it, and wound up being an Aware rep for the for a couple of years, (one of the only in Texas). Within that two-year period they signed John Mayer, Five for Fighting, going from a five-person label out of Evanston, IL to a powerhouse with an upstream deal with Columbia. That’s really what piqued it, they (Aware Records’ staff) became mentors of mine. I was learning a lot with Aware, thought I knew a ton, and every six months I’d realize I didn’t know anything. I just kind of kept finding bands to work with. I dropped out of school a few times, went on tour, worked for free under a couple of managers – I kind of did anything I could do to work in the music business. College is a get-out-of-jail-free card to do stupid things and (most of the times) not have them ruin your life.

In those years, what stood out as key lessons have you learned as an artist manager?

Probably the biggest takeaway, which was passed down to me from a mentor, which is treat everyone you meet in this industry with the utmost respect that you possibly can; because you never know if you might be working with them. SO much of this business is luck, and you don’t know when luck is going to strike someone. Don’t ever condescend someone because you feel better or more powerful than them. You really never know where things will take them…or you – you may need a favor from them in a few years!

Second, kind of in the same light, be a person. So much of this business is transactional – asking someone how their day is going goes a long way. The assholes don’t win as much as they used to. You’ll feel better about yourself at the end of the day and you may get more out of that relationship because they like you.

Three is the music business is a hobby that people make money at through various times in their lives. We’re trying to make money with art, and that is never lost on me. The people I work with, I’m very thankful to work with them, but this is a very volatile industry. Any time this becomes something I don’t enjoy, I can leave. I’m happy to be paid and be paying several people off of a hobby. The entertainment industry contributes less than 1% to the GDP to all of America. Do this because you love to do this and you’re going to work your ass off. Don’t expect this to be a normal job. The only way you’re going to make is it if you do everything and anything you possibly can.

In your experiences, what are some of the biggest misconceptions of an artist manager’s role(s)?

Management is the worst job in the music business, by far. The reason I say this is because it’s the only job that doesn’t have clear lines of definition. When you sign with a booking agency, you know exactly what you’re getting. They get you shows, they get you on tours, and they get you on festivals and soft ticket opportunities. When you sign with a label, they get a record paid for, recorded and distributed. Publicists – you’re hiring someone to get you reviews, on blogs, (hopefully on TV shows) – you know what you’re hiring them for.

Management is the catchall. And no one is good at everything. There are people who specialize in all sorts of things. We have a six-person staff and they only work on four artists. Management is probably 75% of what 11 people total work on. And we’re a decent sized management company for our roster. You can do 10 great things for an artist’s career, but if you didn’t get that one thing they wanted, you can get fired. Managers are expected to help with press, bookings, and label services now. Finally we decided if we’re going to be doing these things we should set up companies for these things. We didn’t really mean to become a marketing company.

It’s just funny. People expect the world, and no one can do that.

Explain the importance of managing an artist’s expectations when it comes to getting the desired results of any given career goal.

We are doing the best job we can, and the only way we can do that is to know the expectations of the clients. Every six months we have our artists establish goals. We do six month, one year, and ‘dream list’ goals. Who do you want to tour with? Do you want to be on TV? What kind of shows? This gives me the chance to say, “Well that’s not happening.” Or, “That’s a good idea.” No one should be working harder than the artist. Having goals that can be revisited every month and checked off is important.

A lot of managers think they’ve found this amazing talent. I see talented people all over the place on the way to work every day. If they don’t have the right work ethic, they can’t cut it. People tend to forget this is a job.

Some artists remain focused on staying ‘independent’. What components are key to this goal and what can managers do to maintain this identity?

I think it depends on the artist and where they’re at in their career. Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors are fiercely independent, but they’re ten years into their career and they’ve been on labels before. For a guy like Drew who’s not beholden to radio, he’ll probably remain independent. His wife, Ellie, is niche and we’ve had radio success, but she’ll likely remain independent.

We want to do what the artist feels is best for what they want to accomplish. We have artists that want to be independent, and we have artist that could benefit from a label if the setting was correct. We don’t need a label for everyone we work with, but I don’t think labels are bad. There’s a lot of great labels out there, independent and majors – just relative to what the needs of your artist might be.

When we go to radio, we don’t have a Coldplay to leverage. There’s not a one-size fits all mentality for every artist out there. To quote Drew Holcomb: “It is the worst time ever to make a killing in the music business. It is the best time ever to make a living.” There’s more indie artists out there paying their bills with their music than there ever have been in history, and that’s great.

In the case that you’re being presented with a label deal for an artist in 2015, what factors do the artist/manager team have to take into consideration?

Again I think it depends on what kind of music you make. The reality of it is you’re probably never going to recoup the records if you do a major deal. From my perspective, I want a guarantee that there’s going to be money spent on promotion.

The term is very important to me too. If things go south, I don’t want the artist to be stuck on a label with no option to make another record. As long as my artist is in a position where they’re going to be promoted and they can continuously create, that’s a big deal to me.

Plenty of the A&R guys you might sign with, are a different company by the time an album comes out. If the guy/girl who gets you in the door leaves the label, you’re potentially screwed. It’s difficult to rely on the relationship with the label because the relationship is a volatile one, (less so with independent labels). The only reason I’d sign someone is if it’s a major label is if they want to be truly famous. It’s near impossible to accomplish ubiquity as an indie.

Do you get involved in the licensing and publishing side of your artists’ careers?

We try to be a non-copyright owner. We consider ourselves a true service company. We instead help service, distribute and market/promote records, then get paid a little more to do those things rather than own them. We’d rather get paid for our labor and our work than get a copyright claim. Technically speaking that may be bad business, but I think it’s right business. I’d rather work for someone for 20 years and never have anything mucked up than have the copyright – and that’s a hobby mentality. I want artists to win, and that’s why I got into management.