Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Charles Driebe and I am an attorney and the founder of Blind Ambition Management, a company that manages the careers of musical artists and produces live musical events. The connecting thread with all our artists and events is that the music is authentic and life-affirming.
I have been fortunate to work with artists I’m genuinely passionate about, which is its own reward. And it's thrilling to be a part of a team whose artists are winning Grammy Awards, traveling to all corners of the globe to perform, and playing some of the world’s great venues.
It’s also gratifying to produce recordings and special concerts.
All of that matters, because I don’t make as much money as I would working as an attorney (a job I once had but was not passionate about). And since 2020 has been devastating to the concert business, our company will take in a lot less money than normal in 2020. In most years, we would gross approximately $40,000 a month but all bets are off this year.
At FAME Studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama with the Blind Boys of Alabama, four-time Grammy Award winners
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
In 1990, I was about 8 years out of law school and practicing ‘regular’ law when I decided to combine my legal training with my lifelong passion for music. I began to shift into entertainment law by educating myself about it. I already knew a lot of musicians and soon developed a base of clients.
Almost all the work attorneys do for music clients is transactional (mostly contract-related), and that’s the kind of work I was doing. It felt good to help my clients protect their intellectual property (like copyrights). However, I found that an artist’s attorney often only had intermittent contact with them (like negotiating a recording contract) and they often didn’t interact with them for long stretches of time.
I wanted to be more involved in all aspects of the artist’s career and I began managing artists in 1996. That actually involved longer hours (and a pay cut, since I was now working on a commission basis instead of being paid an hourly fee), but I found it to be more satisfying work. And being an attorney gave me an advantage over other managers who weren’t attorneys.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Managing artists is a multi-faceted business with many responsibilities. The manager is in charge of overseeing the artist’s ‘franchise’ - their image, publicity, recordings, tours, etc.
There isn’t a huge investment required to get started, most computers and phones, and the job can be done from anywhere.
The biggest cost for a management company is employee salaries. But hiring the right employees is crucial to the success of the company. I have always asked for ‘passionate attention to detail’ from my employees and myself. Because our business, like any business, depends on the team getting the details right.
Describe the process of launching the business.
The process of transitioning from a full-time attorney to a full-time manager took several years. Eventually, I incorporated my company and hired my first employee. I found that when you start hiring people you also have to manage them, as well as handling their payroll, taxes, etc. That’s another layer of running a business.
We aren’t a public-facing company, and our ‘customers’ are our clients. So the management company has a pretty low profile on social media. But we handle social media for a number of our clients, and their feeds are our primary focus.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
The company has grown by adding new artists, primarily through existing relationships, recommendations, and word of mouth. Our best marketing is the success of our current clients, and their happiness with the job we do for them. We do that by ‘super-serving’ them, which involves going above and beyond to advance their careers.
You are going to have to work your ass off to get your company off the ground, and then you’re going to have to continue working hard to keep it going.
For example, our company hired an in-house publicist 15 years ago. Most artists depend on record label publicity departments when new music is released and they have to hire independent music publicists for ongoing publicity, including tour publicity. We were able to offer that service to our clients as part of the ‘package’ of signing with Blind Ambition Management.
It’s easy for musicians to get frustrated with their manager or booking agent or record label if their career isn't progressing as far and fast as they think it should, so the fact that we have retained most of our clients for a long time shows that they are happy with our representation. And when they tell other artists that, it’s the best recommendation we could get.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Most of the artists the company represents make the majority of their income through touring. And since the pandemic has shut down touring, they - and our company - have taken major hits to our normal income. We have had to find other ways to keep our artists’ profiles high, like streaming shows on the internet and seeking more placements of our clients’ music in films and television shows.
In recent years, I have also become involved in producing albums and tours. I was the co-producer of an album that was released last year entitled ‘Big Band of Brothers: A Jazz Celebration of The Allman Brothers Band.’ That album has spawned a tour that will feature Jaimoe (one of the original members of The Allman Brothers Band) and other special guests and is being pitched to tour in 2022. I am also co-producing a show at Lincoln Center and a related tour, based on the Grammy-winning box set Voices of Mississippi.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
An entrepreneur must always be keeping up with the latest trends in their business. Over the course of the 25 years I have been managing artists, the music business has undergone tremendous changes. It was one of the first businesses to be disrupted by technology, and the way people consume recorded music today is entirely different than it was when I started.
Streaming services are here to stay, and they don’t pay as well as sales of physical product used to. Of course, the live music experience can’t be duplicated. That is where most bands make the majority of their money, but in-person performances are mostly on pause at the moment.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We use all social media platforms to promote our artists’ music, and we stream their music on all digital service providers (Spotify, Apple Music, etc). We also pursue coverage from traditional media - print, radio, and TV.
Most of our clients use Master Tour, which is tour management software that allows everyone on the team to follow a given band’s itinerary while on tour.
We also use various tools to monetize everything we can for our clients - song publishing, Youtube videos, merchandise, etc.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I read a tremendous amount about the music industry every day. I check out several daily newsletters (like the Pollstar ‘Daily Pulse,’ which focuses on the concert business) and am always trying to keep up with the latest developments.
I am a member of multiple professional associations (like The Recording Academy - the ‘Grammy People’) and keep up with the information they put out and the programs they sponsor.
I also listen to a lot of music!
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
You are going to have to work your ass off to get your company off the ground, and then you’re going to have to continue working hard to keep it going. And if you are fortunate, you will be able to hire people to help you. But no matter how committed your employees are, they will not have as much at stake as you do.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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