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Interview with SCOTT SIMAN, manager for Tim McGraw (US No.1) - Jan 23, 2006

“Artists should focus on being an artist. With all the information access there’s a tendency to be involved in the business side. Sometimes they have to let that go,”

picture … says Scott Siman, manager at RPM (Revolutions Per Minute) Management in Nashville USA. He is managing country superstar Tim McGraw (No.1 US) as well as Holly Williams, Brice Long and Hot Apple Pie.

Read his views on what it takes to be a successful artist, in what ways a manager can be essential to a new artist, and how to break a song onto the country scene.

What was your entrée into the world of artist management?

I’ve been in the music industry almost my entire life. My father produced syndicated radio shows and the first country music show on network television, The Ozark Jubilee, back in the mid-50s. He was also a music publisher. I pitched songs, screened material for my dad’s publishing company, and was promoting concerts while I was in high school.

He published “The Letter”, “Always On My Mind”, a lot of country hits like “She’s Acting Single, I’m Drinking Doubles”, and a big international pop country hit called “Rocky” by Austin Roberts and Dickie Lee in 1975. It had two versions in the Top 5 in Germany at the same time.

After going to law school I moved to Nashville. I practiced law in Nashville for fourteen years. I primarily did copyright infringement business legislation, with artists, producers, songwriters, and publishing representatives. One of my clients decided to leave Sony Music Publishing and went to work for Sony Records. He asked me to come with him when they decided to make a change in management. Then I left and went to work for a record company for three years.

Tim McGraw was looking for a new manager at that time. I thought it was a really intriguing project. As a lawyer at a record company I always had thirty to forty artists’ careers that I was dealing with, and I was interested in focusing on one act and trying to apply everything I’d learned to one person. That was nine years ago. I never thought I would be a manager, but I felt it was a unique opportunity.

What is RPM Management?

RPM (Revolutions Per Minute) Management was founded when I started with Tim McGraw in 1997. I’m the owner. I have a small music publishing firm and some publishing holdings as well. I’m a big believer in copyrights and writers.

We’ve ten people who are working for the management company and another four that work for the publishing company. Management is like that. Every minute there’s some new revolution that you have to deal with.

What is the vision of the corporation?

We started out with a different view to a lot of managers at the time. Tim McGraw was with a small independent label, Curb Records. They didn’t have a big staff and budgets. And here you had a superstar act wanting to go to the next level. We structured ourselves like a mini record company. We had various mirrored divisions of a record company. We did the art. We helped at radio promotion. We helped with sales and marketing and interfaced with the record company at every level.

At that time managers were basically managing the record company. We were trying to be diverse and bring things to the table. What’s happened over the last eight years is that more managers have become like we are - they’re put in positions where they happen to be marketers, promoters and dealmakers. They’re doing a lot more than managing the record company and managing the booking agent.

As budgets and staffs have cut down, the labels and the acts need the managers to be more pro-active in what they’re trying to accomplish. It’s good to have a staff of people that have experience - whether it’s in art, radio promotion, sales, etc. – in order to bring information and knowledge. That was our vision.

We’re still like that, philosophically. Although we found that record companies and artists still need point persons. With every act there’ll be somebody that’s primarily responsible for the act that will interface within our company and interface with the artist and the record company.

What are your activities?

Everything in relation to Tim McGraw. Curb Records has a major radio staff that promotes at radio. We try to work hand-in-hand with their staff. They’ve a sales marketing person that we interface with. But we work with them in terms of going through the wheel of the distribution system, and when we’re going to do releases.
My experience of having worked at a record company is a big asset because I know about sales and PR.

What artists do you work with at the moment?

Tim McGraw was my first artist as a manager. His second album was a six million seller. The third album was a million and a half record. And it was a question of which way his career was going to go. I started with the ‘Everywhere’ album. The first single I worked on was “It’s Your Love”, which was a duet with Faith Hill. That album did four and a half million records. I’ve been with him ever since.

He has become so huge that it takes up the largest amount of our time. He’s in a unique place right now as an artist with opportunities in film, television, books, producing and all these things going on in his career. It requires a vast amount of our resources.

Holly Williams, who’s on Universal. She’s in the midst of her first album release, and has been touring Europe.

Brice Long, a singer/songwriter that writes for a publishing company. He had a couple of hits on other acts. He’s just releasing his first single on Columbia Records Nashville.

And I co-manage a band named Hot Apple Pie on MCA Nashville.

Our publishing company has a couple of other artists/writers that we’re helping develop.

How did you find them?

Most of my acts come through a small circle of creative people that I’ve dealt with over the years, whose opinions I trust and value. But Tim McGraw came through his business managers, although I had done legal work for him in the very beginning.

Brice Long was brought to me by Jake Legrone, who was working with Reba McEntire. Jake worked with our management company for a while before he left. He was a big believer in Brice and we signed him to our publishing company to try and develop him.

Holly Williams came to me six years ago as a young girl out of high school with some guitar/vocal demos. That was through another record producer, Jody Spence. I thought she was an amazing lyricist. We took our time and developed her correctly. Learn to write, and learn to play live under any circumstance. And she got the chance to have a record.

Do you also get unsolicited material sent to you?

It has to come through some other source. We search actively and often. If I hear some kind of buzz about a new act or a video, then I go online and I’ll try to get a copy of it and download it to my iTunes.

Do any of your artists accept song submissions from external publishers and songwriters?

They all do. For the most part, they go through their record producers to get their material. Or through their A&R contact at the record company. Tim is always looking for a lot of songs. He works through Byron Gallimore. Brice and Holly tend to cut most of their own stuff. They do co-write. Brice does cut outside material.

The lead singer of Hot Apple Pie, Brady Seals, who used to be with the band Little Texas, he’s a writer. He’s the main source of the material that he co-writes with other folks.

Generally speaking you’re looking at developing your source of material along with developing the act. We’re focusing on writer/artist right now.

What does it take for the material to grab your interest?

I have no particular standard. A great song demo which is a competitive demo; that could be anything from a guitar/vocal demo to something elaborately produced. Sometimes there’s a demo that has a spark to it, some piece of magic that you find yourself attracted to.

When you’re pitching from outside, it’s hard to know the exact vision that the artist has for the particular project that they’re working on. You try to communicate it, but artists have an idea in their head. They’ve got a certain group of songs that they’re starting to gravitate towards.

It’s hard for outside people to completely understand that vision or what might be missing in that vision. People tend to pitch you your last record. For most artists they’ve done that and are moving on to the next one. It may be built around and based on it. They’re not totally reinventing themselves, but they’re trying to go somewhere else or build off that. And it’s hard for outside people to get that.

What do you look for in an artist?

I look for charisma that people can attach to. I look for an artist that has a point of view and a perspective. The ones that try to communicate through their music are artists that are going to have long-term careers compared to one hit song or one hit record.

Everybody tries to find artists that have longevity. Especially right now. I don’t want to work with an artist who I don’t believe can be a headline touring artist. It’s totally about playing live for me. I want acts that want to be out there on the road.

Holly played a bunch of gigs getting ready to get a record deal. Now she’s at a spot where I could put her in any circumstance and believe she could pull it off. Playing acoustic, or with a band, or with a side person, in a major arena, a theatre, an amphitheatre… you name it. We worked hard to develop the skills to be able to do that. And that puts her in the position to have a long-term career.

Do you devise strategies for your artists in terms of what they should develop and how they can strengthen their brand-name?

That’s one of the major responsibilities that we have: to help brand our artists and give them input on all aspects of their career, from creating the music to marketing it to image and stage presentation.

Every artist situation is different with regards to how deeply you interface. Some of them I get real involved with the music, and others I don’t.

The highest compliment we can get back from Tim McGraw is when he looks at the set of a tour and he goes: “That was my vision! You guys developed what I had the picture of.”

Do you support a band financially so that they can focus on the music?

It’s either our responsibility to support them or find somebody to support them. We’ve always made investments in our acts when we feel it’s appropriate.

Do you have any tips for aspiring artists on how to approach the business?

It’s good to understand how the business works. Do seminars or interface with BMI or ASCAP. But the main thing that an artist should focus on is being an artist. What with all the information access there’s a tendency in this day and age for artists to want to be more involved in the business side. Sometimes they have to let that go.

There are so many things that they have to do that we can’t do on our side. They need to be focused on that. My advice would be: stay music/art-centered. Even though you want to have a knowledge of the industry, don’t let it drive you crazy and don’t let it dictate your vision and your art. The acts that have the most success find a way for their fans to connect with who they are and what they’re about.

Every artist has to be comfortable about what they’re going to share with their fans and where they’re going to draw the lines. It’s a balance between being mysterious and yet letting your fans in enough that they can tap into it and have a connection.

How does it affect managers when major label A&Rs spend less and less time developing artists, wanting ready-to-go packages instead?

We have to do the artist development. Or we have to work with people that help us do it. That’s one of the reasons why we have a publishing division. We have a creative spot where people can go and develop their chops and get themselves ready so that when they do get the opportunity they’ve got the best chance of succeeding.

Major record companies still dominate in the radio, video and sales world. I see them continuing to do that, and I want to take advantage of those resources. Once you get beyond those areas, they need as much help as they can get from the manager and the publisher.

How do you convince an artist to take you on as a manager?

The things that I go after are the things that I love musically. I hope what they see is my passion for their music. I hope our track record and success speaks for itself in terms of what we have accomplished.

Ultimately I’m pretty easy with artists. If you want to work with me, that’s great. If you don’t, I understand that too. It’s a relationship based on trust. I never want to feel that I’m the reason holding them back. We’re still a fairly small operation. There are only a limited number of projects that we can do. We’re going to keep it that way.

Especially at the beginning, what kinds of things are discussed in meetings with newly signed artists?

A lot of the decisions center around songs and producers. In country music the primary way to break acts is through radio. It’s very rare that it’s done through touring or through television or other means. Hit singles that we need for radio is the big focus from the outset.

The other side to that is the live presentation side. Part of radio is that you have to go play for them, and we want them ready. Hopefully well have done a lot by the time we get a record deal.

Every week we have a staff meeting. Whatever is going on in an artists’ career, we go through every aspect of it. From video to TV to movie to records.

Can you give an example of where it hasn’t worked out with an artist?

The biggest go-wrong is if you pick a single and it’s not a hit. Maybe it wasn’t a hit or the timing was wrong. When something doesn’t work at radio then you have to re-group and go back out and do it again. Was it the record, the song, the act, the promotion staff, the manager? You do try and analyze what went right and what went wrong and what you can do better.

How do you view the current music business climate?

It’s still a tough industry. It’s a smaller industry than what it was. I don’t see it changing dramatically. We’re going to have more people fighting over a smaller pie. You have to have compelling music and compelling artists. You have to stay on top of it. Whether it’s videogames we’re competing with, DVDs, movies, you name it. We’re up against it. It’s going to get harder and harder to find out what’s going to motivate that consumer.

If you could change some aspect of the music biz, what would it be?

I wish we could spend more money marketing and promoting. We still don’t have a big enough margin on our product. It’s hard for us to get enough momentum and synergy to create a big impact. A part of it is just the nature of the beast.

The Internet is good news and bad news. It can be cost effective as marketing. But if you have a new act and their music is out there on the Internet, it doesn’t mean people are going to go there. You still have to drive the awareness of it. There are a few ways to do that, but not a lot. In some ways it creates more choices, but it also makes it more difficult. It’s not the answer to everything.

And the do-it-yourselvers that have done well have toured a lot, and have also had the benefit of some other major marketing and promotion. Maybe they got a song in a movie that helped. There’s plenty of opportunity to do-it-yourself, but you have to be prepared to work really hard as an artist and develop a following that way.

What has been the greatest moment of your music career?

The set up of Tim McGraw’s last album ‘Live Like You Were Dying’. We did a debut performance on the ACM awards. When it came out the first week it sold 800,000 copies and spent ten weeks at No.1, which no song in the modern era had ever done. That was probably my proudest moment.

Interviewed by Kimbel Bouwman

Next week: Interview with Howard Benson, producer for Hoobastank, P.O.D., Cold, My Chemical Romance, Motörhead, Crazy Town, Sepultura, Papa Roach etc.