Business

Spotlight: Singer-Songwriter Tyler Boone on Building His Career With a Rapidly-Growing Bourbon Brand

Tyler Boone's Bourbon
Taylor L. Czerwinski 

Tyler Boone 

“People all the time are like, 'Dude, is the bourbon funding the music? I'm like, 'No, the music is funding the bourbon.’”

When you’re an entrepreneur running multiple businesses, moments of rest and relaxation are few and far between. It appears Tyler Boone is enjoying a rare moment.

“I'm on the beach right now,” Boone tells Billboard over the phone. “It’s my first day at the beach [this summer]. I’m, like, pale.”

The South Carolina-based singer-songwriter is on the line to discuss his rapidly-growing bourbon brand Boone’s, which just a year and four months post-launch is already available in seven states, with several more (along with Canada) on the horizon.

“In one year, we did a thousand cases,” says Boone. “And usually that's unheard of [for a new liquor brand]. You’ll do maybe a couple hundred."

Boone’s is just the latest business venture for the 29-year-old, who has additionally co-founded artist services company Artist Formula and was a founding member of the Charleston Songwriters Festival, which held its inaugural edition in April. But the bourbon brand is expanding more quickly than anything else he has going.

Boone will only take some of the credit for that. A large factor in the whiskey's speedy rise, he’s quick to point out, is his partnership with Local Choice Spirits, a liquor-brand management company located in Charleston that he contracted with early on. And they couldn't have come at a better time.

“When we started, I was like, ‘Fuck, I’m gonna have to watch my bank account and make sure I don’t spend any of this,’” he says, remembering those early days of just getting started. “Because then when the next run comes up, if I can’t pay for bottles or corks or boxes, then we’re fucked.”

Enter Local Choice founder “Pixie” Paula Dezzutti, who -- shortly after purchasing Charleston’s Striped Pig Distillery, which had previously contracted with Boone -- approached the young entrepreneur with an offer: in exchange for a substantial equity stake in the business, Local Choice would cover cost of goods, offer access to all 50 state liquor licenses and provide other services.

“[My] checks are way smaller now,” says Boone, but he adds that the partnership offers something money can’t buy: peace of mind. “If a run comes up,” he continues, “then it's all covered by [Local Choice].”

Getting into the liquor business was never part of the plan. After graduating college, Boone was waiting tables at a Charleston restaurant, building a local following for his music and planning a move to Nashville. But an encounter with an unnamed investor lit a spark.

“This guy came along and he was just like a technology dude, he was not part of the music industry, but he'd heard about [me],” Boone says. “And he was like, 'If you can figure out a spirit with your name on it, I'll fund it.’”

That investor withdrew his offer only after Boone had fully committed himself to the idea, which included designing a logo and acquiring a federal liquor license. By that point, he felt it was too late to back out. “I was like, 'Oh shit, this is a thing,’” he says. “And I already kinda announced I was gonna do it.”

Having Local Choice in its corner has allowed Boone's Bourbon a nimbleness not normally enjoyed by private-label liquor startups, with the brand now available at such national retailers as Costco, Total Wine and BJ’s Wholesale. Boone's career as a performer has also provided the business an edge, offering a built-in promotional tool when he goes on tour. The hustle, he says, isn't all that different from carving out a performing career.

“It's just like trying to book a gig," says Boone. "You have to be precise and polite but also persistent."

By design, the bourbon has also occasionally paid dividends for Boone’s music career. Case in point: After offering Summerfest in Milwaukee 10 cases of Boone's for their VIP areas, the festival offered him a performance spot in exchange.

Dezzutti says Boone's hustle was apparent from the get-go. “If he says he’s gonna do something, he will get it done," says the businesswoman, who has a stake in dozens of other liquor brands and additionally serves as Boone's music manager. 

Boone is far from the first performer to launch a liquor brand. Kenny Chesney, Darius Rucker and George Clooney all come up in the course of the interview, but unlike those others, he isn't yet a household name. In that sense, says Dezzutti, he is attempting a rather unique feat. "He truly wants to be the first person that builds himself as an artist as well as a spirit holder at the same [time]," she says.

As for his celebrity-fueled competition, Boone offered a few pointed critiques, most around what he perceives as their lack of authenticity. "[It] tastes like a scotch," he says of a fellow musician's whiskey. Of another celebrity bourbon brand's venture into flavored varieties, Boone gripes, "You come to some guy that like has been drinking bourbon for 40 years, or some kind of connossieur...[and] they're gonna be like, 'I don't want flavored shit, I want the real thing -- and then I'll mix it.'"

Despite the significant growth of the bourbon brand over the past year, Boone says he's still got a long way to go, noting he currently makes more money from Artist Formula than from the liquor, which nets him roughly $1,500 to $2,000 a month after Local Choice takes its share.

“People all the time are like, 'Dude, is the bourbon funding the music?’” he says. “No, the music is funding the bourbon.”

Boone is bound and determined to change that. Eyeing a national expansion, he hopes to be in Arizona, Florida, Minnesota, Illinois and Connecticut by end of the year, as well as Canada -- a market he notes would “change our lives” if they manage to crack it. In five years, he hopes to be moving at least 5,000 cases annually, an amount he estimates would bring in roughly $75,000 a year for him personally.

So what about the music? Even with a full plate on the business side, Boone has found time to put out new songs and dropped two singles, “Jealousy” and “Make It Right,” earlier this month (he also recently wrapped a tour with the psychedelic blues-rock group Uncle Duane's Band). But the balancing act can be tricky, so Boone often schedules studio time weeks in advance to force himself to write.

Still, while his career as an artist remains Boone's top priority -- he is planning a move to Los Angeles, where he hopes to pursue further opportunities in that arena -- his business ventures are in part an insurance policy against the unpredictable, and often not terribly lucrative, business of being a performer.

"[People say,] 'It should be about the music,'" he says. "[I'm] like, 'Yeah, do you have a car? I like to have a car too.'"

SPOTLIGHT:

When you're coming up take every gig possible that you can. Every opportunity is a chance for something new. Connect with as many people as possible. Take a risk on a cold email, do your research on who you should be connecting to and as always be everyone’s friend. If you come off as the cool hipster musician to everyone and unapproachable, that’s how you’ll stay: unapproachable.

What's changed is now my life is a business. I am the “brand” for my music, Boone’s Bourbon and my company Artist Formula. If I am not producing numbers and creating content everyday for all three of these platforms, then I am not progressing in life and my business. When things started to shift in that direction it was very exciting, but then it became very overwhelming. What I did to fix that is to start to let things go and to make a checklist for myself on what I needed to get done daily, weekly and monthly. Life is pretty incredible now and I’m extremely grateful for it. 

I knew I was committed to music when I walked out of my first 9-5 job after college graduation. I was working at this health benefits company and I barely made $1,200 a month from the job with a college degree -- times were tough. Three months into the job, I was asked by [music manager] Doc McGhee to go perform with my band on Better TV in NYC. It was an up and coming TV talk show that is no longer around, but the celebrity guest was Brooke Hogan. After I read the email I immediately got up from my desk, walked up to my boss and said I was quitting and not putting in my two weeks. My best friend, who worked there as well, stood up and hugged me saying, “For all of us, dude!” It was very rock 'n' roll and I never looked back.

What's next is after my move to Los Angeles, landing the Boone’s Bourbon into BevMo and every single liquor store I can get my hands on in California and in neighboring states. I’ll be planning a tour with my buds in Uncle Duane’s Band all up and down the West Coast as soon as possible, getting some studio time hopefully at United Recording and continue to grow my Spotify. I’m currently going to radio now with my single “Jealousy” to both AAA and Active Rock radio with All Access Music Group and pitching to Sirius XM for my single “Make It Right” that just dropped on Aug. 16.

A good idea for any musician, entrepreneur or artist who is trying to make this your actual career is to treat this like an actual job. Get up early, get ready for the day like any other job and start crunching away. I used to sleep in so much because I was out late drinking with my friends, but the day I made a conscious effort to get sleep and get to work by 8 or 9 a.m., everything changed for me. With those 4-5 extra hours when I used to be sleeping, I was able to complete so much more and still have time to write and create music.

Nick Cann of Canndid Media 
Tyler Boone's Bourbon

Spotlight is a Billboard Business series that aims to highlight those in the music business making innovative or creative moves, or who are succeeding in behind-the-scenes or under-the-radar roles. For submissions for the series, please contact spotlight@billboard.com.