Chris Nardone has always had a passion for music. He studied finance in school to master the art of managing money in preparation for his entrepreneur days. During this time, he worked and learned from two men in the management business. This experience was instrumental in his confidence to set out on his own a few years later. At the time, he knew he had to be in NYC, LA or Nashville. He chose Nashville.
Over the past few years, Chris has formed Venture Music: a company set on using new industry principles to launch the careers of musicians. We sat down for a Q&A and talked about music and the future of the industry.
Is there a musician that has influenced you the most?
The band that I’m the biggest fan girl about is Radiohead. They are one of those bands that redefine themselves on every album. In music, that’s a difficult thing to do. Once you find your niche, your fans expect a certain thing from you.
What do you look for while picking artists to manage?
Morals are my number one criteria. Why are you in music? We work in a very powerful medium; you can see positive or negative change from your music. Most bands have a message they are conveying to their fans. I refuse to work with musicians that don’t have a positive message or don’t take their influence seriously. In my experience, it’s real. It’s tangible. You can see it. My second is work ethic. I don’t know if I can teach you how to care more about what you’re doing or how to approach your career with the same tenacity that I approach mine. Any entrepreneurs doing their own thing require that “nothing is going to stand in my way” mentality. And music is that, times 100. There are so many people who are wannabe entertainers. My third is talent.
I like the quote from your site, “We are all connected. It doesn’t matter your language, race or religion; music has the power to do anything, for anyone, at any time.” Can you elaborate on that?
I based my career and passion and even my own life off of that. The songwriters meaning behind a song is essentially meaningless to a fan because songs have different meanings to everyone. They interpret it differently. And I think the beauty of music is that I can write something and someone ten years from now can get something out of it that I could never have imagined. But that, in a nutshell, is why I’m passionate about music.
Music-sharing sites and blogs are presenting both listeners and artists with challenging questions. What’s your view on the value of music today?
It’s tough. It’s obviously the biggest debate happening in our industry right now. We work with independent bands for the most part, not bands that have major record deals. We see streaming services as allowing us an infinite way to connect with new fans. In our eyes, removing every barrier of entry to hearing our music is all we care about. Our focus is expanding the fan base, not monetizing. Spotify was very clear from the get-go to give 70 percent, which is what iTunes gives out. However, with iTunes it’s a one-time purchase and you get the seventy cents to the dollar, and with Spotify it’s fractions of a penny every time a song is played. We see it as offering more benefits than cost. We are in the business of selling tickets and merchandise. We see people who have really strong opinions against it are normally big pop stars like Taylor Swift. If you can take your music off Spotify and see a significant jump in iTunes sales, that monetary cash flow is valuable and doesn’t have a negative impact in the long term. However, even if you’re a well-known artist, you could go about putting a record out and making it clear you have to purchase it now if you want it this month. After the month is over, you place it on music streaming sites. The people who don’t really care, you eventually give them a chance. And maybe they’ll come around and buy a ticket at some point. The Taylor Swift model, I don’t support. When you look at the dollars being brought in, it’s like c’mon, how much do you really need? And how many new fans are you turning away by holding off? But I guess everyone’s different.
Thoughts on the music scene in East Nashville?
We are lucky because there’s an underground scene that’s developing. In this area of the U.S., you want to be in Nashville. It’s really helpful for us, because we work in contemporary music not country music. Nashville is becoming what L.A. was in the 60s and 70s. We have a really cool scene that people know exist, but hasn’t become mainstream yet. I love that we can be peers with what’s happening, but still appreciate this massive shift. I am curious how it will affect country music, because country music is the only genre that still functions on the old rules. You still have these massive recording artists who have massive deals that still sell millions of records. Where as, most of the other genres are focused on sharing tickets and making their music available anywhere and everywhere and capitalizing on their direct fan relationship. I think eventually country will have to move in line. And I’m curious, as this rock scene is developing in Nashville, and as it takes the spotlight away a bit from country music, how that will shift things. Having the Basement East down the street is really cool. It’s its own little scene over here.
Have you heard of the concept that an artist only needs 1,000 true fans to make a living?
Absolutely, that’s the way the music industry is headed. We have living proof of this because we work with a band that does exactly that. And the best example is we funded a record through a crowd funding website called Pledge Music. We raised almost $80,000 from 1,200 fans. Let’s say we recorded an album and went to different label deals, we maybe could have gotten 50,000. Instead, we went directly to our fans and asked politely and did it the right way. You can beg for money or say hey, come be a part of this with us. And the latter is way more effective because it makes you come across as wanting to be in business with your fans. We reached out later to the 1,200 fans and tried to get feedback after the album was released. We were surprised to see that a lot of people supported it simply to support the band, not because they were just really excited about signed cds or extra perks — 90 percent just wanted to support the band. Now that’s true fans. We are living and breathing proof (we did it with Living Aquarium). In a nutshell, those are the kinds of bands we are developing. I’m a young guy, and I don’t have the resources to manage a Pharell or Sam Smith, so I use the tools at our disposable to do what we can. If you look at the Music Pledge site, you will see that there are some big bands on it. They are finally realizing that they don’t need a big label to succeed, because our friends will support us. Everyone wants to have a career and our bands love what they do. Part of their motivation is being on stage and performing, but at the end of the day they also want to be adults and be able to support themselves and be happy. Raising money with no strings attached is the best way to do it.
Life mantra: Get things done.