Straight Talk: Holly Williams confronts her music career's shortcomings and her future independent route. (Photo: MIchael Seto)
"Every brick is a brick in the wall."
That quote, from singer-songwriter Holly Williams, emerged as the key lesson from the Touring Conference's third presentation of the day, which addressed the problems, and modern solutions, for the breaking of what, on paper, would seem a no-brainer: the singing, songwriting, fashion-and-food-loving daughter of Hank Williams, Jr.
The famous daughter was joined onstage by the management team she assembled around herself: managers Carla Sacks and Ali Harnell, lawyer J. Reid Hunter, and digital strategist Wayne Leeloy. "I just decided to be in control. I hated the feeling that the single did not do well. I was at home two weeks after thinking 'Shouldn't I be doing something?' That was the deciding factor for me" said Williams.
Holly Williams released her debut album, The Ones We Never Knew, in 2004, after having performed around Nashville since the age 18. That album, and it's follow-up, both released by Universal, generated little in the way of attention, which Williams (and moderator Billboard's Ray Waddell) attributed to her atypical sound for country music and not any particular failure of her major label. "A lot of artists say 'I hate major labels.' I had a great experience. I'm just really not in the mainstream country; the songwriting is a little left," she reflected.
So Williams, a woman who grew up surrounded by legends (" Johnny Cash would call the house all the time, we were with Waylon [Jennings] all the time"), decided to go independent.
"When Holly came in to our office, it was that moment everyone waits for in the business," said Carla Sacks of publicity firm Sacks & Co. "You have an artist with a legacy that has, in a timely way, come into her own. We knew we could maximize that effort on our end. We are super kick-ass at the local level, able to penetrate where labels would falter."
Team Williams (from left to right): J. Reid Hunter, Counsel, Serling, Rooks, Ferrara, McKoy & Worob, LLP; Ali Harnell, Manager, Evolve Management/Senior VP AEG- TMG; Holly Williams; Ray Waddell (panel moderator), Executive Director of Content & Programming For Touring and Live Entertainment, Billboard; Carla Sacks, Publicist, Sacks & Co.; Wayne Leeloy, Senior Director, Artist Services, Topspin. (Photo: Michael Seto)
Her lawyer, Hunter, described the advantages specific to a burgeoning independent talent. "I think we're seeing more and more artists are taking the route that Holly is taking. The beauty of a situation like this is that Holly doesn't have to go to three or four different places to give something away, or be a part of a promotion, like my major label artists."
"The hardest part of the whole process is the fact that it all comes back on me. I'm overseeing the budget. Everything." said Williams. She adds, "Its exciting to feel like I can do whatever. I'm not waiting on radio to tell me if I'm 'okay' or not."
Williams stays diverse in her business dealings. She runs a high-end clothing and photography boutique in Nashville as well as a food, fashion, and travel blog called The Afternoon Off. The site appears inspired by Gwyneth Paltrow's successful GOOP property. The two seemingly share a sensibility; Paltrow will even feature as a guest star on Williams' upcoming album.
But on being a Williams? It's not necessarily the career boom you might expect. Williams told a story about a certain radio interview she did: "A lot of people don't read their one-sheets. Somehow we got on the subject of growing up. I was talking about being on a plane with my dad…and the guy kept looking at me like 'Who do you think you are? Is your dad a singer or something?' And I said 'Yeah, Hank Williams, Jr.?' I mean, I wasn't offended or anything."
Despite faltering early, Williams remains optimistic about her prospects over the next year. "I have a great team. I've made an album that took exactly nine months from start to finish. It feels like my child. For me there's no reason it can't work."