Introduce yourself to the PMP Community
My name is Michael ‘Blue’ Williams and the name of my management company is Family Tree Enterta
inment. I’ve recently merged my company with Primary Wave Music to create what we call Family Tree Primary Wave.
I started Family Tree in 1994, actually 1993 so we’ve been around for about 16 years now. My client roster over that period of time included Outkast, Donell Jones, Case, Monica, Jagged Edge, Lyfe Jennings, Macy Gray and Nas. My cur
rent roster includes Big Sean, Cody Simpson and Case.
Speaking as an OG in the music industry what does it take to persevere through the hills and valleys of the business?
First thing is you have to have the integrity. If you can hold on to your integrity and stay true to who you a
re then you can survive what this business will try to do to you. I think this is very important whether you are an artist, producer, manager or label executive. A lot of people come and go because they get drunk off of the high of the entertainment business and they end up losing themselves in it.
Take us back to the early days of managing Outkast and how much has the music business changed from those days compared to now in 2010
The biggest change has come in the last few years were the music industry lost its way…we stopped creating new stuff and looking for the new fresh thing, which allowed for a group like Outkast to come through and its become mostly a following game. ‘Oh this label has an artist like that and so we need one like that too’. When Outkast came out L.A. Reid had to take a chance on a rap group from The South. The grind and the things you have to do to make a group successful is still basically the same. If you have a group with a truly unique talent your job is to get them out there and introduce the world to that group. You have to expose them to more and more people and increase their visibility.
The one thing I’m most proud of when it comes to Outkast is they’re the only group, whether its Hip Hop, Rock or R&B to increase in sales with every album they’ve released besides a greatest hits album which was a one-off for the label because they needed it. Most acts come out with a hot album, then a ok album then a fall off album. The fact that Outkast’s album sales kep
t rising was a testament to the music they were making, what I was able to do and what the label was able to do which was to keep expanding their fanbase.
So to break a new artist today is still the same as back when Outkast first dropped which is make good music, b
e willing to get on the road and do the work and just wait for the two to connect.
Discuss some of the battles a manager has to take on when it comes with dealing with the artist and/or the record label
I think the biggest battles sometimes is as a good manager you have to be able to keep a true perspective of where your artist really is in the music game and in the world period. So the battle is reconciling what you want from what the reality of the situation is. If you have an artist that hasn’t dropped an album yet, ya’ll guys are still trying to break in your city but both you and your artist think your T.I. then both of ya’ll are screwed up because you’re not being realistic. It’s ok if the artist believes in their mind they’re T.I. but the manager has to see he may have the potential to have the success of a T.I. but he has to say hey we’re right h
ere, Round 1 and we have to build the steps to get to that level.
Also as a manager you can’t be afraid to keep it 100. If your manager is scared to speak up because they don’t want to get fired because they get to pay their bills from money the artist is making that only hurts the artist in the long run. It’s like ok you’re signed to Def Jam but you’re not a Def Jam priority yet, that’s just the reality of it. But at the same time you have t
o keep your artist motivated to work harder so they can be a priority and its kind of balancing tricks a manager has to be able to handle.
The reality with me is I’ve never been anybody’s homeboy and I’ve never managed any family members. Every artist I’ve managed was from us meeting up and then mutually agreeing that I manage their careers and we rock off from there. I never had any blood coursing through my veins because that’s my cousin or that’s my brother, none of that stuff. I also wasn’t sleeping with any of the artist so I can keep it 100 with them because we didn’t grow up together. So it’s about being honest with your clients, keep a realistic perspective of where they are and keep that perspective in your decision making processes and how you com
municate with them. Keep in mind when you wake up everyday that your life as a manager revolves around making their lives better.
As a manager what is your opinion on the 360 label deal format that has become commonplace in the music business in recently years
I think the 360 deals are based on the record labels not adjusting their game and doing things differently instead its lets just take more from the artist which is no different than what they’ve always done. Let’s keep it real the record deals have never been fair so why would we think the 360 deals would be any different? It’s all about taking more from the artist so we don’t have to adjust what our (label) comfort level is. I do get certain aspects of a 360 deal and let me say this: I’m to blame fo
r it, Chris Lighty is to blame for it, Paul Rosenberg is to blame for it…us managers that had artists in the late 90′s that got millions of dollars from sources other than the labels but when the labels came to us and asked us to break them off we were like ‘nah that doesn’t have anything to do with you’. If you got millions from corporations like Sprite or you started a clothing line the label wanted a piece of it because their position is the artist became popular because of the marketing dollars we invested. So yes managers like myself and Irving Azoff are to blame for the 360 deals, I don’t like it but I understand it as a business model. I think there are some labels that are more intrusive with it and go too far which I believe some of that comes from label execs that feel they’ve been jerked in the past for artist they help build and feel they should’ve gotten compensated. If you lent somebody money to start a major clothing line and it ends up making millions a year and you don’t have any ownership in it or get broken off you’re going to be like ‘alright but I bet any other acts I help I’m going to get some of that money’. It’s just the nature of the way the game is right now.
As a manager you’re going to have to adjust when the business model changes. It’s hard for me as the manager to want 20% in commission, then the label wants 10-15% then your lawyer wants 5% and your business manager wants 5%. So now the artist is looking at 55% of their income and since they’re signed to the label, the label is not going to get fired. The manager is the one that’s going to suffer so you almost as a manager have to start creating the 360 management deal. We’re going to eat together as partners so you can eat and I can eat but understand what I bring to the equation and what the real value is worth.
I believe the 360 deal is going to morph and change as artists continue to rely less on the labels they will have more leverage and not have to do 360 deals with the record company.
Some will argue that the managers are actually becoming a more vital part of the success equation than the labels especially with record sales being on the downswing. Is this now the time for the management companies to step up and take over?
I think the good managers have already stepped up and we’re working harder than ever. I think dumb managers that weren’t doing much anyway should continue to go along for the ride. Good managers come in with strong ideas, marketing plans, create the tours and help line everything up properly are the ones that hate the 360 deals because we’re doing a
ll the work and the labels are just along for the ride. Dumb managers that just happened to stumble upon some talent love the 360 deals because they don’t know how to put together a tour or a marketing plan so there’s two sides to the situation. I also believe they’ve always been some labels that sort of help manage the artist…in the late 90′s and early 2000′s you had a lot of ‘homeboy management’ going on, a lot of knuckleheads that didn’t know what they were doing and the labels protected them by doing a lot of their work. So now what happens is the labels feel they need a piece of everything since in some cases they were already handling certain management duties so it’s a lot of different little pieces to the 360 puzzle.
What is cause for the decline in album sales?
We’re not selling records because there’s too much bullshit out there. Too many people out there trying to be rappers and singers that should be going on to be doctors, lawyers and doing other shit. The music industry, especially urban hip hop is always saturated with bullshit and the labels and radio stations have helped perpetuate this by playing and supporting the lowest common denominator instead of the highest common denominator. Back in the 90′s when Outkast came into the game, then Eminem came into the game everybody wanted to be the absolute best at what they did. Nowadays, no disrespect but you have artists coming into the game trying to be as wack as the wackest rapper that made it because the logic is ‘if that wack motherfucker can make it then I can make it’.
So why even commit to push any further
For example, no disrespect but my man Khaled said in a statement the other day that Rick Ross should be in the same sentence as Eminem, Jay-Z, Biggie, Pac and Bob Marley. And that flew and nobody said anything about it? Well I’m going to say something about it, like really that’s where we’re going with it? So now we’re going to blur the line between average and mediocrity with greatness because as time lapse we’re going to start throwing people into the mix that shouldn’t be in the same con
versation. The urban hip hop community has accepted a certain level of mediocrity over the last 10 years so nobody’s striving to be the best which is why the game is not improving. Hence that translates into not selling albums so the labels are cool with just throwing enough garbage to see what sticks to the wall instead of saying hey we’re going to commit to quality control and put out better produc
t which would help weed out the bullshit.
Without singling out any particular artist who you may think is contributing to the poor quality of music in the marketplace what artists in your opinion are bringing great music to the forefront?
Once in a while you find some clients that really excite you because you see their hustle and they remind you of people you worked with in the past. You can see the skill level and the amount of love they have for the music and the game and there are a few out there definitely. I think for example Big Sean is one of those type of artists that is genuinely a good cat that loves to rap and gets out there pursuing his dreams. I’m not trying to get hit by 50 different rappers claiming that they’re dope because I don’t believe you.
The reality is this: the best rapper that comes out today realistically is probably going to get into the groove of selling 500,000 records which is going back to the late 80′s as far as the amount of units a top rapper would reach. If you missed all that flossing stuff you saw on TV, if you missed Puff’s ‘White Parties’ and all that balling out shit its a wrap because that era is not coming back. We balled that shit out and burned that shit down, your never gonna be Magic City back in 1995-1996, you’re never gonna do what Jeezy and BMF did in the early to mid 2000′s. So if you’re rapping now you better be rapping because you truly love it and you want to do it full time because it’s your passion. Don’t rap if you think this is quick rich come up because you’re in for a rude surprise.
Speaking of the 80′s you had most of the top hip hop acts coming from the independent labels with even Def Jam originating as a indy before going major. Do you think in 2010 the hip hop community would benefit from an independent label revival especially in this Internet Age?
I think it’s a beautiful thing, I love the ‘Wild Wild West’ atmosphere and I think we should have more independents because if I’m spending money then I’m more picky with whom I sign. And if I’m more picky I can’t sign 25 acts to my label so it forces to me to commit more to true talent and quality which is a good thing. Spending your own money creates quality control and that’s how it really jumped off. What happened was people started signing 15 artists and spending money and then the guy that used to invest the money started seeing other guys that instead of being investors started rapping and he said ‘
oh well I can do that to’…once again the lowest-common denominator theory. So you had drug dealing cats that used to be the bankroll of the operations turn into rappers and the game got wack. So now if you get that cat that realizes it’s harder to make $100,000 on the streets now than it was 10 years ago and he puts that up on the music game he’s going to put it on the best rapper in the crew. Over time that will help improve the quality of the music that’s out in the market
In this Internet Age you find many executives that made a lot of money back in the 90′s and early 2000′s hesitant to embrace online technology. Being one of the OG’s from that era that’s still going on strong in 2010 what’s your take on the role of the Internet?
Accessibility which is what the Internet creates has its good points and its bad points. Its dope that I can go online and find a dope producer out of Kansas City that puts up beats on the PMP and now I have the option of getting a dope track from him for $5000 as oppose to paying someone else $50,000 for the same level of quality production. That part is dope. The flip side is accessibility has made everybody think they can do it. Just because you have a beat machine doesn’t mean you know how to make beats and just because you know how to make beats doesn’t make you a producer.
Another effect of the Internet is that it makes everything seem easy. The Internet gives people a chance to read a lot of information and see things unfold in a way that doesn’t give you a real sense of the grind people are putting in. This can be a bad thing because if you don’t understand the grind that it takes to get to where we are…people look at me now but its like ‘dude I carried luggage on the road when I started’. So if you come online and read about me and in you’re mind you put my entire grind into 30 minutes then you start to think I did all this in 30 minutes, like are you crazy??
Let’s specially talk about Twitter since it’s the hottest communication platform right now
I think that Twitter is bad for the music industry and for two reasons; for one it makes irrelevant people have a voice. I’ll say it, I’m an elitist. Why the hell am I talking to you, you’re from the middle of Oklahoma somewhere and haven’t earned a single stripe in the business whatsoever. The same way I shouldn’t be talking to a Brad Pitt, there are levels in life and that’s just the reality of it. You’re supposed to earn your way up to those levels. At one point I used to go up to the record labels and never speak to the president of the label because I wasn’t up to that level yet. Now because of the Internet you got interns emailing the head of the label like what the hell are you doing?
The artists are fighting so hard to get the fans attention they’re making themselves common. When you’re too common and too approachable then we’re not making stars because you’re killing your own mystique. Everybody in the barbershop talking about ‘yo I just spoke to blah blah on Twitter, he’s chilling like we’re chilling’. That’s not fly.
We also have the emergence of the non-artist star that often has more visibility than the actual acts in which the business was built on
That’s just a symptom of American society, everybody wants to be famous. You have shows like American Idol and going back to Star Search which started all that so you’re going to have people that will whore themselves out for their 15 minutes in the spotlight. So after like 10 years of this going on people are now taking it to the next level to get it popping. You had Karrine Stephans with her book getting shit off her chest and then the next level is Kat Stacks and I guarantee in the next few years you will have some chick actually releasing raw video of sex with entertainers. Its like with Summer Jam, you go to it every year and you get so used to it a dude got to damn near blow himself up on stage to move you now
Do you think that has lead to artists such as Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj that are talented having to market themselves in a certain way to ensure the proper visibility?
No I actually love that part of Nicki Minaj because the fans want to be visually stimulated when they go to a show. Everything about Nicki Minaj I give her credit because that’s what Andre 3000 was. It’s not fly to show up at a show and walk on stage with the same shit you had on in the streets, that doesn’t impress me because it comes off as being average. Can I get some Bootsy Colllins shit, some Afrika Bambaataa shit…artists gotta remember your putting on a show. Just having a rapper and 15 of his homies walk back and forth on the stage is not a show.
What other tips would you give in regards to putting down a great live performance?
I think practice makes perfect because improving your show performance is key to staying on the road. Its better to work 4 times a week at $5000 a show than it is to work twice a week at $10,000 a show. The bigger number may look good but bigger is not always better. Doing more shows help build your fan base up by connecting to more people so its better to get that packed house at $5k than the half empty spot at $10k cause the promoter didn’t do his job promoting it on the radio because the money went to your pockets instead.
What’s in the future for Blue Williams?
The next challenge is to build something big with Big Sean and Cody Simpson as well as take my management company up to the next level like 19 Entertainment (Simon Fuller) with real film and TV projects. I did ‘Idlewild’ with Outkast and I’m working on some TV shows as well as collaborating with Nick Cannon so its all about not only working hard towards helping my clients achieve their goals but also to focus on my personal goals as well.