10 Questions with ... Greg Hill
March 15, 2015
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Greg Hill manages the careers of Rodney Atkins, Jana Kramer, Naomi Judd, The Swon Brothers, Josh Kelley, Go Down Moses and Cole Taylor among others. He previously founded Greg Hill Management in 2001, then served as GM/Partner of Greg Hill Management/Red Light Management from 2006-2011. Hill joined McGhee Entertainment in January 2011, then left to create Hill Entertainment Group in 2013. In 2015, Greg started "Legendary Coaches" a division of Hill Entertainment group that is comprised of a unique collective of former coaches that played for and helmed some of College football's greatest teams. When he's not at the office he enjoys flying and spending time with family.
1. Greg, thanks for taking the time to answer 10 Questions with All Access. Let's start with a wide-angle lens on what you do: What specific services does a manager provide for his or her artist clients?
I have always explained it as - if the artist is the Chairman of the Board, managers operate as the CEOs. There are a lot of day-to-day things that really aren't that difficult, but the most important things are strategic decisions that have to be made. An artist's career trajectory is often set by one or two key decisions made at the right time.
2. When I talk to younger people wanting to get into the music biz, more and more say, "I'm interested in artist management." What's your advice for them on how to get started?
Life is a people business. Just like it is important for companies to create a culture of who they are, individuals need to establish that as well. You have to enjoy people and enjoy working hard, and you have to be present to win. If you want to be in management, you need to go to where managers are. I have always found experience outside of management helps people in management. I came out of publishing; I have several people who work with me that came off the road, and others from labels. Having a broad view of the industry is important.
3. Also, I get the feeling some of these aspiring management professionals have one perception of this job, while its reality may be another. What myths would you quickly debunk for them?
It's a pain in the ass a lot of the time, and whether or not we like to admit it, luck and timing is a big part of it. You are fighting for your artists on a daily basis for a little piece of a shrinking pie in a changing business environment. You are trying to manage a living, breathing product that relies on a large ecosystem to exist successfully (labels, agents, business managers, etc). If there is weakness on any part of the extensive team it can really affect every part of it.
With Hill Entertainment, we have worked hard to create a specific culture. That culture may not be for everyone. For us, I am not worried about being the flashiest, I am more concerned with working harder, operating with integrity, and not blowing smoke. In the end, I think that serves us well.
4. We see more and more management firms creating a position for radio specialists, usually recruited from a label promo team. Will this trend continue - and, how do you balance the promotional efforts of the label with your own priorities?
I think the role varies from management company to management company. I was able to recently hire Jeri Cooper for Hill Entertainment Group. I view her role as a problem solver. Our agenda is not always immediate airplay; we have the advantage with that role of being able to look at a little bit of a longer view. Label promo teams have some of the toughest jobs in the business, and I don't envy the day to day grind they live through. I believe we have to work together with the labels as partners. We have a radio liaison to be another asset for them to help the goals of building an artist brand with our #1 way to market, which is radio.
5. Following up - how close of a relationship do you as a manager have with day-to-day radio programmers ... and how close do you want to be with them?
I love having relationships with radio programmers. I have said for years that Artists and managers are probably more closely aligned with radio then any other segment of the business. Having honest dialogue about their needs and what they see working is vitally important. When issues come up, and they will come up, having a relationship where you trust each other and have a history allows a clearer path to solving that problem. By no means does that mean we will always agree, but it makes discussions more productive if you know each other and understand where the other side is coming from.
6. You've been doing this for a while - and have seen a lot of changes in the industry. Social media is a big one - how important is it for an artist to have a focused strategy for a social media presence?
We as an industry have spent untold millions of dollars trying to figure that out. It isn't as simple as spending money. It also isn't as simple as having a strategy. It all starts with the music. If the music connects with people, then social media needs to be consistent with the artist's imaging and music. Some of the biggest artists in our format aren't very active personally on social media, but their music connects.
7. Is there anything that was previously done in artist development that may longer be relevant or helpful in 2015?
Time is the most important thing. The creative process is just that, a process. We all get anxious and try to speed it up, but sometimes it just takes time. There isn't a formula for me, except to try and lead instead of follow.
8. Sony Nashville Chair Gary Overton recently said, "If you're not on the radio you don't exist," then got some heat for that comment from a few independent artists. When breaking a new act, knowing how many different forms of media are available, do you still feel radio is king?
If you want to be a mainstream act, radio is king. In our format, we have never truly broken an act on a massive scale without radio. That being said, there are a lot of great artists out there earning a great living, making great music that don't rely on radio. Setting expectations on the front end and goals is important. If an artist doesn't have a desire to headline a stadium and has a goal of just selling out 2,000 venues, then maybe radio isn't necessary for them. If they want to have a massive reach, radio is king.
9. An artist approaches you for representation - what's your evaluation process and what checklist items do you need to see completed before you decide to sign them and move forward?
I have a "No idiot and no asshole" rule I put in a few years ago, so that is the first item I have to check off. Next, I ask do I get it and do I know what to do to help. Sometimes I may get it but I don't know what to do to help. We also look at our roster and where people are in their own cycles. Managing an artist is both labor intensive and a very big commitment. If we take on someone new, I want to make sure we can deliver on what we promise we will do.
10. Talk about your company's roster right now - you have The Swon Brothers, Rodney Atkins, Jana Kramer and a new kid, Cole Taylor. What can we expect from these talented artists in 2015?
Two years in on the new company, and I couldn't be happier (I don't think I will ever sell again). Branding has really become the operative word for us. We all are working together to build brands. In doing that with several of our artists, we have spent a lot of time quietly working on new music, and it is all coming out now which is exciting.
Rodney Atkins has always been this silent connector. He has over 10 Million in combined sales, which is a staggering number. Of all of his hits, there has only been one that has been easy at radio. They just take a while to get started, and then they take on a life of their own and end up being top gold and recurrent records for years to come. His songs speak to middle America in a huge way, even though it is sometimes tough to get people to commit initially. The new culture Curb is creating is exciting to be a part of, and the depth of the new music he is creating is just going to add to his amazing catalog that has really become anthems of the everyman.
Jana Kramer's new music will speak for itself. Her first single just went platinum, and the numbers of streams and sales on a new song that hasn't even gone for adds yet shows the demand. One of the goals we have is for people to truly get to know Jana. Her heart and ability to connect with others is inspiring. I wish every person who has ever doubted her could spend one day with her watching her work ethic and seeing her passion, her talent, and her commitment.
The Swon Brothers continue to surprise us all. This early on, for an act that is just starting its second single, to get the response they get on the road is unbelievable. We made a conscious decision with this music to be different and to not follow, and it shows. "Pray For You" is a song that says something, and with the few places that are playing it during the day, the results are there.
Cole Taylor has been a development project for us that is starting to leak out. Here is a 23-year-old kid who in his first year in Nashville who now has Florida Georgia Line's new single and songs recorded by Luke Bryan, Rodney Atkins, and Chase Rice. He sells out 500-1000 seats all over South Georgia. This is going to be fun to watch. We put out an EP this week and are already top-5 on the iTunes album chart.
Hill Entertainment is not just a management company anymore. We are really looking at it as a Strategic Brand Management Company and continue to develop things that won't be immediately going to radio. We have a new band Go Down Moses that is making some of the most inventive music I have ever been a part of. We work with Naomi Judd, and just have finished up a clothing line agreement and working on a new book. Also, with one of my favorite singer-songwriters of all time, Josh Kelley, we are taking a non-mainstream approach and not looking at major labels, recently releasing a single just to XM and have sold over 50,000 units.
We also started a company called Legendary Coaches and have signed Gene Stallings, Phil Fulmer, Vince Dooley, RC Slocum, Pat Dye, and Jerry Stoval. We are producing both ticketed events as well as Corporate Events and looking to build NTR events with Sports/Talk stations. We have started a weekly radio show and have put together our first cruise.
How do you know when it's time to part ways with a client?
For me, it is when you are no longer making a difference or don't know what to do. We have to take a long hard look and ask if we are still contributing. Those are very hard discussions to have.
Let's say I'm an up-and-coming new artist and starting to make some money - should I buy that luxurious tour bus I've always dreamt of, or continue leasing?
It is a math and risk equation. I have done it both ways. If you are going to be willing to commit to working a certain number of dates for four years, sometimes it can make financial sense to buy, but in doing that you are putting the artist on a treadmill with an expense that doesn't go away. That can make it hard to take the time to be creative.
Without naming names, can you tell us the most expensive and frivolous purchase one of your clients ever made once they had the money for frivolous and borderline ridiculous items?
It is all relative I guess. We all have bought things that can look stupid to other people. I have had people buy cars, second houses and the like. The hardest thing to get across to artists is that they don't have long earnings cycles. So what may look like a lot of money for a year doesn't look like a lot in the sense that they aren't able to earn it for 40 years like most people in the professional lives.