In one of his first interviews since the big announcement, the Music World CEO talks about his next move, the business of music and why splitting with daughter Beyonce was all about strategy
Mathew Knowles is a tour de force. Twenty years ago, the passion for music from the founder, CEO and President of Music World Entertainment (which includes labels Music World, Music World Gospel, Music World Country/Comprade and Music World Kids) planted the seeds for his vision and success for the best selling R&B group of all time, Destiny’s Child, and eventually for the No. 1 female R&B solo artist, Beyonce. Although often exalted for his accomplishments with his daughter’s superstar career, Knowles has a proven track record of more than 200 million worldwide records sales. Additionally, he serves as a professor at Texas Southern University, philanthropist (Knowles Rowland Temenos House), film producer (Obsessed), talent scout (R&B Live at House of Dereon Media Center) and investor (Music World Properties).
BlackEnterprise.com caught up with Knowles to discuss his meager beginnings, his new commitment to the gospel community and life after Beyonce.
BlackEnterprise.com: You’re a film producer, songwriter, philanthropist, professor, label owner, artist manager and so much more. Is there anything left for Mathew Knowles to do?
(Laughs) Thank you for that acknowledgement. Most people don’t realize the depth of what I’ve been fortunate to accomplish. I’ve had a wonderful journey coming from Gadsen, Alabama, living on a dirt road, in a small house with an outdoor bathroom, and I plan to continue to grow.
You’ve set the blueprint for R&B girl groups with Destiny’s Child and R&B/pop phenoms with Beyonce, yet you’ve expressed interest in solely focusing on gospel/inspirational music. Why have you chosen to ditch secular music?
First of all, I never use the word “secular” because I believe there are just different genres of music. The reason I chose to focus on faith-based and inspirational music is because of the message and hope and it gives people. Folks, especially young people today, want hope. [Music World’s] goal is to get that message across to the masses. There’s tremendous growth potential for the faith-based inspirational community in digital, production, branding, endorsements and merchandising. I believe we can share 20 years of knowledge and successes to make that growth happen.
After 20 years working as a successful team, you and your No. 1 artist—daughter Beyonce—decided to part ways. As her father and manager, will not having her under your wing be a difficult transition for you?
Interesting enough, the transition started way before the official announcement. If you’re strategic, which we are, you don’t make a decision like that before you start dialogue. That dialogue started nine months ago. At the end of the day, I’m Beyonce’s father first and her manager second. Remember, this is 20 years I’ve been doing this. She’s almost 30 years old, and if she says, "I want to run my business," I think she’s smart enough that she will get the right team. Beyonce is smart enough to know what she knows and what she doesn’t know, and that takes an even smarter person to admit that. And she knows she can call me anytime. It takes a lot of hours and a lot of staff to run the business of Beyonce. (Laughs)
How has Beyonce’s departure affected Music World’s momentum and relevance?
To give that comparison I evaluate my email activity, which has gone up 100 emails today. Now I’m really focused and I have activated myself in such a way to embrace new opportunities. I’m so grateful and blessed to have had so many successes. I pinch myself sometimes to think of this country boy who has accomplished so much—my career at Xerox [as] the No. 1 sales rep, having talented daughters and a wife, the creation of Destiny’s Child, a No. 1 female artist. And I don’t know if folks know this but of all the artists in the world in a decade, Destiny’s Child and Beyonce are on that Top 10 list. I’ve achieved and accomplished more that I could have ever imagined.
What advice do you give people starting out in the music business?
My number one piece of advice for any of my artists is that your reason for doing music has to be passion. If it isn’t, you won’t be successful because passion rules this industry. After passion, you must have an incredible work ethic because there will be a lot of rejection. I still have some of the rejection letters for Destiny’s Child. I’d say almost every major label rejected them until they got a production deal with Elektra and were eventually dropped. But rejection shouldn’t discourage you because a “no” only means you didn’t present something the right way or you really need to go and get better.
What do you tell those talents who think they don’t need improvement?
Essentially, I’ve never heard a songwriter say his song was average or an artist say, "This is an average song and it’s a hit!" (Laughs) How do you know it’s a hit? Every artist says, "I’m the bomb and we gonna make a lot of money!" The first thing I educate them about is the numbers. According to the statistics, less than one percent of artists worldwide are successful. This is why record labels have to have a 360 deal, because it can’t survive on record sales alone nowadays. Some people think it’s unfair; but why should I take a risk investing a million dollars in an artist to make him successful and not benefit in the revenue streams?
So as a label owner and manager, you support the 360 deal?
Yes, I do. True story: I invested a million dollars into The O’Jays, a group whose career had stalled, and while their album sales might not have been what we hoped, my investment helped to reactivate their touring career and increase public awareness of their latest project. So should I not try to recoup as much of my investment? From a management perspective, I agree with [Alicia Keys's manager] Jeff Robinson. If a label is not an active participant in securing other lucrative business deals, then they should not benefit 100%. Perhaps they would get a smaller percentage for their passive participation in [brokering] outside deals for the artists and a larger one when they have actively participated. There’s a difference between passive participation and active participation.
So after achieving Music World domination—literally and figuratively, what’s next?
(Laughs) One of the things this [decision] has allowed me to do is reduce my overhead and now personally focus on our gospel/inspirational label and to take some days off and some more relaxing time. Even more importantly, I can look at other opportunities. I wouldn’t be surprised if one day we land another A-list R&B client or Destiny’s Child (whom we still manage) goes on tour or puts out a commemorative box set that includes everything about them that their lifelong fans want.
In parting, how do you wish to be remembered?
I hope people say, “Here is a man who was really there for his kids and who grew and learned from his failures, not his successes.”