May 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Barbara Schultz
OUTSIDE COUNTRY'S MAINSTREAM, SKAGGS FAMILY AND COMPASS RECORDS MAKE ROOTS MUSIC ON THEIR TERMS
One of the tricks for any small business owner is keeping the size of the company in balance with adequate personal attention and control — and knowing when to stop before management becomes micromanagement.
“When we had some other groups on the label, I was trying to produce everything,” Skaggs recalls, “and it was killing me. And I'm not sure they were getting everything they wanted. Blue Highway was one of the groups, and I loved working with those guys; they were so talented. But I think that sometimes I can be a good friend and a mentor, but do artists really want to be working in the studio with me making all the decisions? I had to weigh those things. I realized that maybe I just thought that they were expecting me to do all that stuff. Now I've backed down a bit from producing because I've got more on my plate now than I can honestly say grace over, so it's better for other bands to let me executive-produce from a distance.”
Compass' catalog now includes upward of 250 releases, and West has acquired rights and/or assets to a handful of Celtic labels, including Green Linnet.
“We never had a real vision of how big we ought to be,” West says. “We just, out of passion and desire, stepped off in this direction of, ‘Let's do it right and see where it goes,’ which sounds a lot less strategic than business schools would suggest that you be, but that's the way it worked for us.
“One thing we've learned over time is that thinking you need to micromanage every aspect of a business through its growth is a misconception,” West continues. “If a company is small enough to micromanage, it's not big enough to serve the needs of everyone involved, whether you've got 10 or 30 artists. A record company has to be large enough and have enough momentum and scope to get the proper attention for its artists and reach the level of efficiency where the tentacles of the company can reach to all the different places they need to. The best way to do this is to hire good people who fit the culture of your company — who hopefully know their jobs, whether it's marketing or sales or publicity, better than the owner does.”
Both West and Skaggs have been on both sides of the desk when it comes to label/artist relations. So each of these small-label owners approaches the business side with an understanding of what's reasonable to expect from artists — hard work, promotion and touring — and how an artist they sign should reasonably expect to be treated.
“We're looking for musicians who understand it's a team effort,” West says. “You can always achieve more with a great team. And if they have a question, they can ask it without fear that someone is going to control them from an artistic standpoint. And accountability is a key element for us because we're musicians ourselves.”
“What makes Skaggs Family Records successful,” observes King, “is Ricky's credibility and character. I think people all over this business know that his word is his bond.”
“I'm a Christian, and we do Christian business,” Skaggs says simply. “I'm honest, we pay our bills. I would rather pay somebody $1,000 too much than cheat them $10. And if we make a mistake, we don't look at it as a mistake; we look at it as a life lesson and a learning experience, and we don't get mad or down about it. We get up about it and learn from it and go on. We're that kind of people.”
Barbara Schultz is a Mix assistant editor.
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