Forward with NACCE

Learning, luck and opportunity: Creating careers in entertainment, with Larry Butler

March 22, 2023
Learning, luck and opportunity: Creating careers in entertainment, with Larry Butler
Forward with NACCE
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Forward with NACCE
Learning, luck and opportunity: Creating careers in entertainment, with Larry Butler
Mar 22, 2023

Did It Music's Larry Butler grew up playing music in Centerville, Ohio, and he eventually outgrew it, too.  After moving to Los Angeles to pursue his music career, he turned his band into a successful business and found his success in managing others' careers. In sharing his career journey through the music industry, Larry explains the importance of learning your craft, making mistakes out of the spotlight before going into the big city and how lessons from music can be applied to any career.

Ready to move forward with NACCE? Learn more about the National Association of Community College Entrepreneurship.

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Show Notes Transcript

Did It Music's Larry Butler grew up playing music in Centerville, Ohio, and he eventually outgrew it, too.  After moving to Los Angeles to pursue his music career, he turned his band into a successful business and found his success in managing others' careers. In sharing his career journey through the music industry, Larry explains the importance of learning your craft, making mistakes out of the spotlight before going into the big city and how lessons from music can be applied to any career.

Ready to move forward with NACCE? Learn more about the National Association of Community College Entrepreneurship.

Follow NACCE on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Watch this episode on YouTube!

Becky: Welcome to this episode of Forward With NACCE. I'm Rebecca Corbin, your host and the president of NACCE, the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship, and I am really happy to bring to you today a very special guest. His name is Larry Butler. We got acquainted through a country western songwriter and, and star, Michael Peterson. So it just shows you the power of the network. 

So Larry, I'm so happy that you're here today and I would love it if we could begin our chat with you talking a little bit about your background and how you, what you're doing today, but more importantly, how did you get to where you are and the work that you're doing.

Larry: That's a wide-open question. Becky, thank you so much and it's my pleasure to be here. I hope you have a few hours cuz that's really what this story could be, but I'll try to. Trim it down. I am the quintessential Midwestern American from Centerville, Ohio. You cannot make that up. It's like right outta Hallmark tv.

Which is a wonderful place to grow up and a wonderful place to get started. I'm a big fan and, I'll talk about what I'm doing now on my clients, but I, I work with my clients and I say, the best thing you can be doing is opening out of town. Make all your mistakes out of the spotlight someplace else, and learn your craft and don't leave town, or at least your area code until you have learned your craft.

Then, You go into the big city cuz the competition is going to be killer. You can't imagine what it's gonna be like. And if you aren't prepared, if you aren't ready, you weren't gonna succeed. A lot of people say that, luck, careers and, and, and what you're doing has to do with luck. And I, I interpret, I define luck as taking advantage of opportunities that have been presented to you.

So the secret is, is to have opportunities presented to you, and that's gonna happen when you get to the big city. However, the second part of that is you have to be prepared. You have to be ready; you have to have all your ducks in a row, or at least a majority of them. Don't believe you're gonna succeed on bravado alone or I am so great.

It's like, that works for about five minutes, and then everybody's gonna find out that you're just the guy behind the curtain and it's gonna be over. So I've spent, 10 years in, in high school and college in Ohio playing in rock and roll bands in bars. That's how I worked my way through college, is playing in rock and roll bands at night and learned my craft as far as, I'm somewhat of a musician.

I play enough piano and guitar that if you don't play piano and guitar, I can fool you into thinking that I can. However, if you can play piano and guitar, you'll know in a minute that I'm just fooling around. But my whole thing was entertainment. Uh, there's a lot of great musicians around, but not that many great entertainers.

And in order to really capture an audience and be successful and have a rewarding career, you need to have that extra oomph of entertainment. Which again, I'll get to what I'm doing now. It involves that aspect of the business.

Becky: so, Larry, let's stop for just a second, cuz that was so powerful. You shared with us three really powerful things. Learn your craft, luck equals opportunity, and the power of entertainment. And I think to me, just in the, the hours that I've spent getting to know you, you learned by experience, which is really how we are training faculty and, and leaders to not just be the stage on this, you know, the stage, but actually go out there.

And so as you kind of wind through your story, I would love it if you could pick up with what you shared with me. Going from Ohio out to Los Angeles and how you accepted the opportunity to do something amazing that you had no idea how to do in terms of being, you know, where I'm headed with this story, and I

Larry: Yeah. Yeah.

Becky: would love it if you, if you would, you know, ingratiated us with that, that little tale.

Larry: Well, I actually, left Ohio. I had done everything I could do in Ohio. I had a very successful local band and played, everywhere and made a lot of money. And we bought cars and I bought a house and it's like, you know, we, we were like entrenched and yet at some point you can do everything you can in Ohio and you have to get out.

So I picked Los Angeles because two reasons. One is that was the center of the music business at the time, and two is my brother was already there and I could sleep on his couch. So, Moved to Los Angeles, slept on his couch, started looking around and discovered that as much as of a musician, entertainer, I thought I was, there was way better people in Los Angeles already doing that.

So at least armed with that background, having been the band leader more than the entertainer of the stage, I was I, any band I was in, I took over and made it into a business. Made it. So we were on salary and we had money in the bank and people got paid and we, I issued, 10-99s. I mean, it was a business and we owned equipment and we paid our taxes and things like that.

And that was, kind of an early entrepreneurial effort on my part. But I had learned that if you're just kind of being in a rock and roll band and, and you don't care how much money you're making or if you do make it, you spend it, it's like, no, no, no. That's not, that's not the way we're gonna do this.

We're gonna make. We're gonna, we took vacations, we had paid vacations for ourselves cuz we had saved money because that's the way I ran the operation. So when I got to Los Angeles, I was looking, trying to find a gig, and I looked up some friends of mine from a band at the time who had a hit record called Pure Prairie League.

They were from Cincinnati. And, they were having a, a record release party. And I went to the party and they introduced me to their manager. I told him a little bit about my background and he said, have you ever been a tour manager? Now this is where I took advantage of an opportunity.

No, come on. I'd never been a tour manager. I've been running local bands in Ohio. However, had I said no, I wouldn't be here today. So I paused and said, well, yes, of course. What do you, what do you have in mind? Rather than going to my history, I wanted to ask, started asking him questions about what he had. I got this band that I just signed to Warner Brothers, and they don't have a tour manager and they've never had one before, and I said, piece of cake.

That's exactly what I do. When can I meet them? I met him the next night and suddenly I had a job as a tour manager. Unfortunately, that band had never had a tour manager, so they had no idea what one was like, so I could actually learn by doing. So actually finishing a year with that band, I knew how to be a tour manager and I got a bunch of other tour manager jobs.

Becky: Yeah. And I think that's all pre-Google, right? So you had to go out and find human beings and, and ask them what that was like. But I think that's such a great, lesson, and I, I know some of our, our common friends, that we have, you know, is, is you should say yes when opportunity stares you in the face and you're not ready.

That's when you say yes and, and I think that's what you did, and I think that's a good lesson for all of us. you know, a, a little while ago, and we were chatting, we were talking about some of our, you know, some of our favorite artists and they, they sort of spanned, the gamut. Many of them, you know, and have worked with through Warner Brothers, but we talked about the common element of music and I loved what you shared with me about when I asked you, what is music?

And it goes back a little bit to a point that you just made a moment ago about entertainment. So I'd love for you to share with our, our listeners about that. Uh, you know, how do you think about music and what is that connection and why is being entertaining so important?

Larry: I work with singer songwriters primarily right now because I have kind of found a niche audience and a, and a niche gig because there's no matter what happens in the music business, no matter how music is being produced and, and, and marketed and consumed, the live show still is the same thing it was 50 years ago.

There's still, you're the solo singer songwriter. You're on stage, you're singing songs, and you're telling stories, and that's where I'm going with the entertainment part. You think that as a singer songwriter, the audiences come to hear you play and sing your songs and they probably think the same thing, but what they've really come to do is to be entertained.

And songs in and of themselves are not entertaining, particularly if you're an unknown artist. So you need to tell stories. You need to connect with the audience through some emotional thing. You need to set the story up, the song up with some kind of connection to. Something emotional that the audience is gonna identify with and they're gonna, no, their heads like, yeah, I, I've been through that, or, yeah, I know what you're talking about.

Or, yeah, that's, and then you also, of course try to make the story entertaining. Have a little punchline, have a beginning, middle, and end. Have a point, have a point of view, have something that sets you apart from everyone else that's been on that stage that evening, so that you are actually coming across as, as a not only an entertainer, but also a human being and someone who cares about life and who cares about humanity and then cares about music.

Without the songs you've lost uh, your vehicle, you need the songs. But the songs to me are a vehicle toward entertaining an audience. And there's more, there's a bigger package than just the songs.

Becky: And when you talk about that connection to an audience, and you also, spoke about really being a businessman, like you're in the entertainment industry, but you know, making sure that people took vacations. You wanna protect your talent. You want people in for the long haul. You don't want to. You know, people to fizzle out and burnout.

And it reminds me of really that connection to empathy and, and really that's where we find the most successful businesses. There's a lot of cases out there of, you know, Zappo's shoes. It's an experience. I mean, you can buy shoes. I mean, there's millions of choices of shoes. But some people will go to what you and I spoke about the other day, a brand, because how does a brand make you feel, when, when you, you want more of that?

It's not just going into whatever, you know, fill in the name box store. And, and I think that's a really powerful thing, that, that you do. And, and I think you model that and, and with your teaching and teaching people to lean in. So you sent us an email the other day with a note about, Seth Golden, who's a, a shared fellow author of ours.

And I'd love it if you just share with us a little bit about why what he's doing is important and, you know, maybe others might be inspired to, to tune in and, pick up one of his books.

Larry: I, I, where did I, I can't remember where I heard about Seth, but it was easily 10 years ago. And, I, and I, I live for his podcast and I've read all his books and everything. And what I really enjoy about, first of all, it is entertaining. He, particularly the podcast, he opens his podcast with a story, some obscure piece of history or some obscure weird thing you didn't know, but it's really interesting and ties in somehow to what his subject matter is, where he gets this material.

I have no idea. I'm in awe of the stuff he comes up with. But the crux of it, starting with entertainment, is the fact he gets into a, in every podcast and in every book he gets into a factual thing he's trying to put across that is somewhat askew from what's being taught elsewhere. And that's what I actually sent on, to you and our group the other day was this short 20-minute podcast where he talks about how young people are being, instructed as to how to learn how to do specific skills.

And what he spoke about, I think, was riding a bicycle and learning basketball and that type of thing, and how, and, and juggling and things. He said what you're saying is whatever you think you need to learn in order to get that skill, that's the last thing you learn. There's something else you need to learn first. And that's what a lot of people skip. And I went through it with my daughter once. I bought a, a basketball thing and a hoop and everything. And, all she wanted to do was like, Shoot the basket. I said, no, there's so much more to basketball before you shoot that basket, you gotta learn how to handle that ball.

You gotta learn how to dribble. And she was so irritated because it was no fun. But that's what singer songwriter's about before you can entertain her audience, you first have to learn how to sing and play at the same time with some, with some clarity, with some skill. And that is long and boring and everything else. But getting back to, yeah.

Becky: Practice, practice, right? It's like, you know, you have to do the 10,000 hours, of that. Or, and I'm sure you've read this book too, you know, by Seth Golden is The Purple Cow. And I love that analogy because, you know, everyone should drink milk or you know, I guess unless you're a vegan or whatever.

But, but the Purple Cow idea is, is different because you know, you have milk is a, you know, is out there. But how do you make what you do special? And you know, one of the things, Larry, that I'm really excited about in terms of the future, you and I are gonna be together in Nashville in a couple weeks.

So I'm really, really, really excited about that. with the Tennessee system, we've got, wonderful community colleges and technical colleges out there. Uh, Chris Whaley is our board chair that, that is the president of Roane State College. So one of the things that we're gonna be chatting about is this new idea that we're tossing around about ARTpreneurship, and I know we haven't figured out exactly how we're gonna roll this out, but I'd love for you to share with people how you feel entrepreneurship intersects with the arts and, and, you know, even give people a little bit of a teaser or a taste of kind of where we're headed, in terms of our discussion and what we might create together.

Larry: Well, here's a, here's a shameless plug. Here's a copy of my book: the New Singer Songwriter Rule book. 101 Things You Need to Know Before You Even Think About Becoming a Singer Songwriter. Fully half of this book has nothing to do with music or performance. It has to do with the business of how you need to set up your operation.

Just being the artist isn't enough. It can be, there are obviously many people who know nothing about business and are really doing really well in the arts, but to me they're suffering and they're probably going to end up suing whoever it is, is handling their money before the end of their careers because they're not paying attention.

And I need that to happen. And it's not rocket science. It, it can be laid out very simply. It's just another thing that, here's my credo. Before you can get to do whatever it is you really want to do, there's something else you're gonna have to do first that you really don't wanna do. And if you don't do that thing first, you're never gonna get to the thing you want.

And the thing you have to do first, as you just mentioned, is the 10,000 hours of practice. And I'm interjecting the fact that part of that is learning the business of music and the business of arts and that's, that needs to be, at least be aware of it. Someone else could eventually take care of it. But you need to be aware and you need to be conversant in it.

It's just jargon. You just need, you need to know what those three letters stand for, you know, so that you won't be taken advantage of. And that is my goal with everybody that I work with, is not see to it that they don't get taken advantage of.

Becky: Yeah. And I, I think that's so important. And I think also discipline, like you're a very disciplined person. That's been my experience of you. We had a call yesterday, which is a little volunteer project we're working on, but boy, you had something that came in where you had one of your paying customers. And I think being a good business person says, okay, I have to attend to that first and then I will come back.

And, and I think that's living a very intentional life. And, and I think one of the things when I think about. music and I think about the wonderful, even country music songs, it it's, it's a journey, right? It's not just all smooth sailing and everything works out perfectly. You know, country songs, your dog runs away, right?

You know, your wife leaves you and then, you know, but at the end, if you really lean in and you're really committed to, to this, you know, you can make a wonderful life about that. I know we've discussed this before, but in the United States there's somewhere between seven and 8 million, community college students, which, our average age is about 28 years old, so they're not necessarily young kids coming out of college.

But really the spirit that I love about community college is open access and you know, all comers, if you never finished high school, you can go to the community college, you can get your GED, you can pursue a career. If you already have a bachelor's degree, a law degree, but you're interested in entrepreneurship, you can come to the community college.

So Larry, I'm really excited about what we're gonna create. We're gonna create something that didn't exist together. just you mentioning your book, we are actually redesigning the NACCE store, so we're gonna make sure we get your book in our store and. perhaps create some, some new things so people can get in touch with you.

But just two things. If you could just let people know if they wanna find you, how do they find Larry Butler? If they want to, you know, either, you know, purchase your book or contact you about, lessons or development. And then maybe leave us with a final thought, for the day as people are listening to this podcast.

Larry: The best way to get in touch with me is through my, website, which is Larry-Butler, whatever you wanna call that little mark. In between, at uh, with a hyphen in between. Uh, I can also be reached at my email, which is Larry@Diditmusic, which is three words all bunched together. So it's pretty easy to find me. if there were a phone book, I'd be in it. And, And I'm in Nashville, so I'm on Central Time. Keep that in mind. I'm learning central time after, you know, a lifetime of Eastern and Pacific. I'm learning how one deals with central time and it's actually pretty convenient.

Uh, the, thing I wanna leave you with, which I believe, you know, I, I've got a whole laundry list of little witticisms, but this one is very pertinent, at least to the arts and at least, and specifically to the singer songwriters I work with. It's not about who has the most natural talent. It's all about persistence.

Becky: Hmm.

Larry: I'm sure that's a well-worn thing, but it needs to be reminded. And I wanna, I wanna just say one other thing that I'm on a crusade, I'm trying to get everyone, all performers in country music, everywhere, anything to stop eating the microphone. You need to take the microphone, pull it down to a 45-degree angle through your chin and sing or talk over it. All the stars do. Watch Dolly Parton. She does it this way. Watch the people, the amateurs, who don't know what the heck they're doing. They do it this way. If I could just get people to do that.

I, I, I want the audience to be aware. I want the audience to start yelling. Get the microphone outta your mouth. We're gonna have rallies for that.

Becky: As I'm looking at you on my screen, for those who are looking at this on YouTube, it covers up your mouth. So you can't, I can't see you, smile and I'm not experiencing all that you have to offer. So

Larry: The audio, the audience needs to see three things. Your eyes, your hands, and your mouth. That's all they need to see. There's nothing else. That's how you communicate to an audience. Take away one of those things and you're taking away a third. Put on the dark glasses and cover up your, and then keep your hands behind your back and see how well you communicate with your audience.

They're gonna leave.

Becky: See that was a, that was a, a valuable little nugget. And, and, and there's so much more to come. So, everybody persist. I, I love that. It's not about who has the most natural talent. I mean, that's so cool. 

Larry, thank you so much for sharing your, your story with us. I look forward to seeing you in a couple weeks. NACCE will be in Nashville October 29th through, November 1st. And I know we're gonna have you on the main stage doing some great things. 

So this is just the beginning of, of a, of a great relationship. So we wish our audience a good day and, and thank everybody so much, for, for chasing your own dreams.

Larry: Becky, thank you very much for the, yet another opportunity which I'm taking advantage of, frankly. Thank you again.