Gumption, Ambition and the Music Business

(Originally published on the Music Think Tank, 27 Sep 2017)

I’ve been lucky enough to run several successful businesses. VNUE, along with its partner DiscLive, has grown to be the global leader in recording live concerts and releasing them in high quality to fans on limited edition CD sets and USB drives, immediately after their performance. We’ve worked with venues and artists all over the world, from Father John Misty and The Pixies to Blondie and 3 Doors Down. I also own and founded both RockHouse Live venues in the great city of Memphis, offering live entertainment every single night (as well as some killer grub).

It’s surprising how often people assume that someone like me was born with a silver spoon in my mouth, or that I somehow stumbled upon these businesses and got lucky, or that my clubs are just a write-off.

So I’d like to rewind a bit and talk about ambition and “gumption,” which is defined as “shrewd or spirited initiative and resourcefulness.”

I was raised by a single mother – a lifelong educator and an English professor who was very hard on me growing up, but did teach me values and lessons that I employ every single day in my life. While she could barely afford to keep a roof over our head, what’s important is that she succeeded, and she often worked 18 hour days to do it. We never, ever went without necessities, but we did not live lavishly by any stretch.

My skinny butt was out mowing lawns at a very young age to keep a few coins in my pocket, and then I got a job at 14 as a Sonic carhop. (Sorry, unfortunately no skates.) At 16, I was already promoted to night manager because of the aforementioned “gumption.” I paid for my books, I bought my own lunches, I bought my first motorcycle, and after that, traded up for my first car. I did it all on my own, without a cent from my mom, and felt great about it.

So even though I didn’t have the proverbial “silver spoon,” I did have the very smart values my mother had taught me, and unknowingly leveraged that in virtually everything I did. She gave me the skills to forge my own path, and the ethic to do my best to treat people right, both of which I’ve been working hard to do with VNUE and both RockHouse venues.

I also have an undeniably deep love for music – which is a must if you want to make it in this business – from my days as an engineer and producer to my current, more entrepreneurial role at VNUE. I’ve been so fortunate to do what I love at the intersection of music, business and technology, and create things that make people happy. I’ve worked with amazing artists and been to amazing places, and can trace it all back to the lessons my mother instilled in me – not luck or fortune.

While pretty much any position in the music industry takes sacrifice, most of the musicians and entrepreneurs I’ve worked with over the years know that you can’t stand on a corner and expect success to come to you. You are the only one who can create your own destiny, and you are responsible for your successes and your failures.

So if you have to take something away from this post, let it be this: Work hard, focus on your objectives, and don’t make the mistake of thinking there are any shortcuts, because there are none. If you don’t go out and fight for what you want, someone else will take it. Don’t be afraid to stand up to people who say “that won’t work” or “that can’t be done,” and don’t be afraid to show them that they’re wrong.

​And more than anything, if you’re going to make it in the music industry – show some gumption.

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