By Kevin Zimmerman
Billy Mann Speaks Out
Even in an industry full of multi-talents, Billy Mann stands out: Songwriter, artist, producer (for acts ranging from Pink and David Guetta to Hall & Oates and Carole King), major label executive, founder/CEO of publishing company Green & Bloom/Topline and chairman of consulting company Manncom.
In this Q&A, Mann describes his own rise from struggling musician to independent entrepreneur, to his past post as President of Creative, BMG North America and his ongoing commitment to new songwriters and artists.
Q: Music has been a lifelong passion for you, but how did you go about becoming a professional?
A: I went to CAPA [the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts], which was like the Jerusalem for awkward musical kids. I was in an outrageously talented class that included the Roots, Boyz II Men, and Christian McBride. That was a real game-changer for me. I was writing songs throughout, although afterwards I spent many years living very modestly.
I went through a number of odd jobs until my friend [songwriter/producer] Gregg Wattenberg hooked me up with [producer] Ric Wake, which got me a record deal with DV8/A&M, where I recorded two albums [1996’s Billy Mann and 1998’s Earthbound].
Q: What led to working with other artists and writers, rather than continuing your performing career?
A: I wanted to have a long career in music, but I knew I was never going to be the most commercial artist around. I’d run into other artists who were very popular and could see that they thought it was going to last forever, which ninety percent of the time it doesn’t – and I never wanted to be like that.
Q: And that’s where your entrepreneurial spirit came to the fore?
A: I wanted to start an independent management/development company where I could also educate songwriters and artists about how the business worked – and that was Stealth Entertainment. We had a small staff but were having hits with people like Ricky Martin, the Backstreet Boys and Teddy Geiger. I got burned pretty badly by an act who shall remain nameless, so I moved from New York to L.A., where I ultimately met with Pink, and we’ve been working together for 10 years now.
Q: Why did you move to the major-label side?
A: The opportunity to work with EMI [which acquired Stealth and named Mann its Creative Advisor in 2007, quickly promoting him all the way to President of Global Artist Management] was too good to pass up. I tried to connect not just with the artists and top executives around the world, but also the “working people.” I took some time off then, and BMG came calling – a company that’s prepared to grow with the future of the business and be proactive rather than reactive.
Q: At the same time, you’re running Green & Bloom/Topline. What is its mission?
A: We want to educate our songwriters, so we give them access to hear lectures from financial people, heads of companies, legal officers – not always from within the music industry – to teach them some of the ins and outs, and also how to budget themselves.
Q: Are there other important lessons for songwriters to keep in mind?
A: The important thing to me is my family life. I’ve been married for 12 years and have three kids. My family is affected by autism and much of my time is devoted to advocating for the autism community.
There’s a section on each writer’s page of the G&B/TL website called THEHITLIFE. I’ve known a lot of successful songwriters and artists who have experienced celebrity and made money, but are so micro-focused on having their hit song that they forget to have the hit life. This approach is very much woven into G&B/TL and I’m determined to keep this a part of our company’s culture. I’ve asked each writer to choose whatever charity that touches them to be posted on their page. Even if it does nothing but remind them and those seeing our company that having balance in your career is important, that’s cool with me.