Exclusive: Mathew Knowles Talks Managing Superstars Like Beyonce, Tools for Success, & More at XP Music Futures
In an ever-changing musical landscape, to be the best, it’s vital to be guided by the best. And for the likes of Destiny’s Child, Solange, and Beyonce, that expert shepherding came courtesy of Mathew Knowles.
Widely hailed as one of the greatest music managers and branding architects of all time, the Houston-native served as one of the central engines powering the iconic careers of his colossal clientele.
Now, Knowles is continuing to impart his valuable expertise via a diverse array of mediums – including industry engagements, academia, and more.
That Grape Juice caught up with him at the XP Music Futures seminar he gave in Riyadh, where he opened up about his illustrious career, achievements, and the future of the ever-evolving music business.
Join us below…
That Grape Juice (Sam): What makes a great music manager? What should artists look for or interrogate when seeking a manager?
Mathew Knowles: Wow, that’s a really good question. Today we’re talking about, there should actually be some certification that you have to get as a manager. Attorneys do it, people in construction do it. There should be some certification because a lot of failure is because of the team surrounding it. There’s a lot of information we have to really know. There’s a lot of moving parts within, live events. When you look at branding, when you look at distribution, when you look at all of these entities, there’s a lot of knowledge, because that manager is really the person that’s really running the show with that artistic drain. But it’s really up to the manager to come up with the vision, and also the strategic roadmap. So, a lot of people can’t do that.
That Grape Juice: Coming into the business, who were your inspirations?
Mathew Knowles: When I became part of the Sony system, Tommy Mottola was a mentor for me and Don Ienner. I had these high-level executives, who had tremendous success, who were mentoring me and us on the business.
That Grape Juice: What tools does a manager need to have?
Mathew Knowles: That is a really good question. I think there needs to be education. So many (other) fields necessitate this when it comes to leadership. And I think it’s vital in this field too. There’s so much information out there, yet so much of the failure that occurs is because of a lack of understanding of really important elements.
There are so many components. There’s live events, there’s branding, there’s distribution. You look at all of these entities, there’s a lot of knowledge (that must be already installed). Because that manager is really running the show with that artist’s dream. It’s up to the manager to come up with the vision and the strategic roadmap.
That Grape Juice: What are a few things artists need to look for in a manager?
Mathew Knowles: Well, I think the artist has to start the buzz of it all. I always say, don’t think about how I can be in America. First, be known with your neighborhood. Then your city and build from that. Most artists think that I’m gonna instantly be big and no, that’s not really how it works. It’s really building those ground fundamentals and that’s the thing that artists have to understand. Why would I want to manage an unknown? It takes time and money, resources to do that. So, I want to first know that you’ve done some things on your own. Then you’ll get on my radar.
That Grape Juice: Digital has been a crucial part of the music equation for almost two decades. But we really saw the boom with Beyonce’s self-titled album . Now, we’re seeing the revitalized popularity of classic formats such as vinyl. What’s your take on that?
Mathew Knowles: When we look at innovation and technology, really, the impact of the internet, social media, YouTube. We look at digital service providers and streaming platforms that artists can go directly to. We consume more music today than we’ve ever consumed before as music lovers, but the other side of that is getting very cloggy because there’s so much music out there. How do you rise to the top when you have more music than ever before? So, it’s even harder to rise to the top. That just means, again, you have to have great songs. Regardless of the format. It all starts with a great song. Not a good song, a great song. I can give you an example. Solange wrote ‘Cranes in the Sky,’ which was recorded 10 years before she put it out. That’s because it’s a great song, everlasting. So, you have to start out with having a great song and understand, I have a formula that’s worked for us. I’m hook guy. I’m not a verse guy. I believe it’s about beating ‘em upside the head with a strong hook.
That Grape Juice: We understand that there’s a Mathew Knowles biopic incoming. What can people expect?
Mathew Knowles: Word is out. Film and TV. That’s the next area I think for me. We have a slate of films that we’re looking at, but I still enjoy this part of the music industry because knowledge is power. There’s so much knowledge that has to be learned. Then I’ll be like a college professor. I teach in London, I teach in the States.
London, I teach in creative music. I enjoy it.
That Grape Juice: What was a highlight moment for you personally for DC, Beyonce & Solange?
Mathew Knowles: In the music industry, well, obviously Destiny’s Child having their first number one song, their first number one album, winning their first Grammy. The “firsts” are always exciting. When you’re groundbreaking and do something outside of the box and think outside of the box. Things that most people said were not attainable. But you thought big.
See, I’ve always said, with me and my artists. If they thought small and they obtain big, I’m not impressed by that. If they thought big and missed it, I would be impressed by them. So, it’s about also thinking big. It’s a mental thing that happens with success. That has nothing to do with music, nothing to do with any type of profession. It’s a mental head space that you have, the passion, and the work ethics that you have.
That Grape Juice: What’s more important – respect or loyalty?
Mathew Knowles: Loyalty is really important to me. Especially in the music industry. Everyone, as you’re moving up, will say they can do it better than someone else. So that’s why that loyalty and understanding that people were there for you in that team. I mean, I’ll give Beyonce [as an example]: a quarter of her team are from day one. That’s loyalty on both sides. Not just the sound guy or the manager, but loyalty from artists, to see that these people work and gave [her] a lot of success [and give back].
That Grape Juice: Is there anyone else in music history you would have loved to manage and why?
Mathew Knowles: I’d have loved to manage Marvin Gaye. The guy had some of the greatest songs ever. He was an excellent performer. I actually got to see him while I was in college. So yes, Marvin Gaye. I’d love to have managed him.
That Grape Juice: We’re of course here at the XP Music Futures conference in Riyadh. What would you want the future of the music industry to look like?
Mathew Knowles: I think that’s a really good question. I think the future of music is that we will “see” music, not just hear it. By then, I think the future will be, every time we experience music it will be visual first. I think Beyonce proved that when she put out her first visual out. Also, what most people don’t know, we put out a Destiny’s Child visual project back in 2002. So, I think that the future of the music industry is visual.
I also think you’re gonna see more mergers of different genres.
That Grape Juice: Much as we saw with ‘Renaissance’ and its Dance influence…
Mathew Knowles: Exactly.