Toby Keith, Zac Brown, Trace Adkins' Managers Break It Down at Billboard Country Music Summit Roundtable
Toby Keith, Zac Brown, Trace Adkins' Managers Break It Down at Billboard Country Music Summit Roundtable

Managers Stage Managed (From left): Moderator Phyllis Starck, Nashville Correspondent, MSN Music; Virginia Davis, Managing Partner, B.A.D. Mgm't: Bernie Cahill of ROAR Mgm't; Doc McGhee, President, McGhee Ent.; T.K. Kimbrell, President, TKO Artist Mgm't; Ken Levitan, Co-President, Vector Management; Erv Woolsey, CEO, Erv Woolsey Company. (Photo: Beth Gwinn)

In an increasingly complex industry, the number one most important thing for an artist is to "make great music," advised Bernie Cahill, partner at ROAR Management (Zac Brown Band), at the Manager Roundtable at the second annual Billboard Country Music Summit in Nashville.

"That's one, two and three," added T.K. Kimbrell, president of TKO Artist Management (Toby Keith). He said Keith takes an active interest in the business aspects of his career, but mostly concentrates on his music from his home in Oklahoma. "The more you get them concentrating on making a hit record, writing or finding a hit song, the better of you'll be," he said.

Today's manager does many different things to help an artist chart a career, from creating in-house digital marketing teams to starting record labels to release their artist's music. "The music business today is a more complex puzzle than it used to be," said Ken Levitan, co-president of Vector Management (Trace Adkins, Kings of Leon). "There used to be four or five big pieces that you had to put together. These days there are lots of little pieces."

For successful artists, one big piece is sponsorships. Kimbrell said Keith will continue his Ford sponsorship for two more years. Keith also has other key revenue streams other than recorded and live music, such as 11 restaurants and bars, he said.

Legendary rock band Kiss has 2,700 products and is involved with a number of brands, said Doc McGhee, president of McGhee Entertainment. A promotion in July 2010 put Kiss on 2.5 million Big Gulp cups at 7-11 through a tie-in with Dr. Pepper and Walmart. "We didn't get paid much for the (Big) Gulp cups, but the awareness through every 7-11 in American selling it for a month was huge exposure."

While the popular perception is that labels' role has waned, some panelists argued that labels are still vital. "I see record labels as an even more important entity than ever," said Kimbrell, pointing to role they play in finding, promoting and marketing acts.

That's especially true for young artists, said Virginia Davis, managing partner of B.A.D. Management (Jewel, Steel Magnolia). "A lot of time they don't have a lot of resources, so having a great label partner, or how you structure their deal to get them on radio, is essential."

One thing remains vital to a country's artist's development. "Radio is still the driving force," said Erv Woolsley, CEO of the Erv Woolsley Company (George Strait). "That's just the way it is. Everything else supports radio."

"It's probably the most important tool," added Levitan. "You end up having to cater to it, being careful with it and hopefully recording the right songs for it."