Chris Nilsson of 10th Street Entertainment: 5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career…

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Chris Nilsson of 10th Street Entertainment: 5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career in The Music Industry

I was extremely upset with the manager of an artist with whom my client at the time was doing a tour. I meant to email my business partner my distaste for this person, and did not hold back in describing my distaste, but accidentally sent it to the manager instead. That was not a good situation. I do my very best to check the recipient of an email before sending now!

As a part of our series about creating a successful career in the music industry, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Chris Nilsson.

10th Street Entertainment President Chris Nilsson has a BA in Economics from Colorado College and an MBA from USC’s Marshall School of Business. He is a 20 year veteran of the music business, having spent 15 of those years at 10th St. where he has been the primary manager for rock icons Mötley Crüe and their founder/bassist/songwriter Nikki Sixx. In addition, Chris has been instrumental in cultivating and growing acts like Motley Crue, Five Finger Death Punch, Breaking Benjamin, Ice Nine Kills, Bailey Zimmerman, Sixx:A.M., Dorothy, Hollywood Undead, Bad Wolves, Papa Roach and In Flames.

15 years at 10th Street

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up in Omaha, Nebraska.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I grew up playing music and, as a teenager, wanted to pursue it as a career. However, as soon as I got out of Omaha, I realized I didn’t have the talent or expertise to be a professional musician so I got a job at a radio station in the promotions department the summer before I graduated from college. The program director got fired while I was working there, so she gave me her credentials for an upcoming radio convention she was to attend. I think it was the annual Gavin AAA convention. I had no hotel or transportation to get to Boulder, CO, so I borrowed my mom’s car and schlepped the 10 hours, planning to sleep in the car, but I met the one other college-aged kid there and he offered to let me stay in his room. He had just finished the David Geffen biography The Operator and gave it to me. I read that book in probably one day straight through and at that point, figured becoming a manager was the best career path for me. I knew nobody in the business. I had no family connections in the business. Management was easiest job where you could “fake it till I make it.” You didn’t need credentials, you didn’t need to be employed by anyone. That was 2001 and if you had a computer and a telephone, you were as equipped to manage a band as anyone else.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Allen Kovac has been my mentor for over 15 years. He has never been protective over his relationships to the artists we manage or his relationships to others in the industry. He has never micromanaged me. In fact, we have never worked in the same office. But Allen makes it very clear what his goals are and then leaves it up to you to determine how to get there. And the only thing that is important is whether you excel at or above his standard. A lot of mentors don’t want their mentees to get close with artists or promoters or journalists, etc. Allen couldn’t care less. If a relationship is good for the company and helps get the client where the client needs to go, Allen is happy to hand it off. I’ve always respected him tremendously for that and have tried to employ that notion in managing our staff over the years. Allen has a saying — the best idea is the one that works — so if its the receptionist who comes up with something great, give the receptionist the credit he or she deserves!

You probably have a lot of fascinating experiences. Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I hesitate to call it interesting, because it was born of tragedy, but it was certainly an event that required quick thinking and all hands on deck. In November 2015, we had a Five Finger Death Punch / Papa Roach tour out in Europe as well as an In Flames tour in France. The terrorist attacks in Paris happened while all these bands were on the road, and threw everything into chaos. Understandably, the bands were scared, the crews were scared, we were scared. It was such a horrific event and at a show at a venue our bands had played a million times. But to make matters worse, the hacker group Anonymous had posted a list of targets for the next European ISIS attack and the Five Finger Death Punch / Papa Roach show in Milan the following night was on the list. Clearly the show did not happen, but all the insurance companies exclude these kinds of events from their policies so we were juggling trying to keep our bands safe without them going underwater. If I remember correctly, we were up all weekend trying to find solutions for the remainder of the tour and thankfully, I have never had to deal with a wrench as big as that on a tour since.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I was extremely upset with the manager of an artist with whom my client at the time was doing a tour. I meant to email my business partner my distaste for this person, and did not hold back in describing my distaste, but accidentally sent it to the manager instead. That was not a good situation. I do my very best to check the recipient of an email before sending now!

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Our client Ice Nine Kills is one of the most interesting bands I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. Spencer Charnas, the singer, songwriter and principle member, is just a wellspring of ideas and creativity and he works as hard or harder than any other group I’ve ever encountered. The band’s mythology is centered entirely around the world of horror movies and Spencer has a particular affinity for the great slasher films, which have a playfulness and nostalgia about them that lends itself to really creative products and marketing. This last year, we debuted the first annual Silver Scream Convention in Danvers, MA and next year’s will be even bigger. We are developing a movie based on the character Silence that shows up in Ice Nine Kills’ mythology and we continue to build the band’s monthly merchandise drops called Nightmare On The Ninth.

You have been blessed with success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?

Success and failure are such relative terms. So I think one has to define what they mean, first. If success can only be measured by money, there will always be someone with more. I consider myself successful because, entirely of my own initiative, I have a career as a manager of pretty big acts and I make enough money to support my family and pay the mortgage. I don’t go to the Grammys, I don’t have a yacht or a plane and I don’t live in Bel Air. But none of those things would make me happy, either so I don’t use them as benchmarks. Resilience is the key in the entertainment business, whether you are a creator or on the business side or straddle the two. The industry wants to tell us stories of overnight success. Those stories are stickier because succeeding overnight is oftentimes easier than succeeding over a long period of time and that’s what most people would prefer. Before the pandemic, I used to show our staff the film Jiro Dreams Of Sushi, which is a really incredible documentary about the aging proprietor of a 3 Michelin Star sushi restaurant located in the Ginza train station in Tokyo. There are only 8 seats but it’s considered by many to be the best sushi in the world. Jiro’s key to everything is repetition. It is his mantra and it’s what he teaches to his apprentices. Through repetition — doing the same boring thing thousands of times every day for years — can a person achieve greatness.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in the music industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

I think burn out happens to people who don’t like what they do and who don’t prioritize the things that keep a human being healthy, both mentally and physically. If a colleague is experiencing burn out I will often ask them what propels them to work all the time and what propels them to shoulder unnecessary burdens. Often, it is something that has nothing to do with work, and, if they didn’t have work to distract them, that burn out would manifest itself in some other way. I doubt Bob Iger feels burnt out and I’m sure he works 7 days per week. He likes what he does, is well compensated and appears to know how his professional life sits inside the overall identity of who he is.

Thank you for all that. This is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career in The Music Industry” and why? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

1. Passion for and knowledge of music

2. Time and energy to expand relationships within the business

3. Confidence to fail — ie the confidence to understand that mistakes and errors do not define you, even if someone else claims they do

4. Find a mentor who is willing to help develop your career

5. Resilience — or acceptance that overnight success is not the norm

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The world is still very tribal, despite being global and interconnected. Tribes have empathy for those within the group, but much less so outside of the group. If people made more of a conscience effort to empathize with people who don’t see the world in the same way, I think we’d face less problems. For example, I don’t agree with the whole MAGA thing and think some of those folks on the fringe are extremely dangerous to our global stability and the safety of our country. But I also want to attempt to understand why those folks have the perspective they do, as opposed to simply calling them “stupid” or “primitive” or whatever terms are thrown around. I don’t know what it’s like to live in a town whose factory and greatest employer has disappeared. I can imagine it causes extreme stress and despair not to know how to feed yourself and/or your family. And if there’s one thing I know, when people become more stressed, they become more emotional and less rational. So understanding why people believe what they do and act the way they do is crucial for greater acceptance and understanding.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Negativity is the enemy of creativity.” — David Lynch

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

To be honest, I have zero interest in sitting with anyone in business, VC funding, sports and entertainment. There are people who would just love to have lunch with Mark Cuban or Richard Branson or whatever and I cannot think of anything I’d rather do less. Those people made a lot of money and I’m sure they are interesting in their own right — and it’s not that I don’t respect their abilities or mark they’ve made on the world. I just can’t think of anything more boring than sitting with somebody else in business and talking business.

If I could have lunch with anyone on the planet, it would have to be either Karl Ove Knausgård or Haruki Murakami. They are both contemporary writers and although very different, I view what they do as almost magical. Maybe that’s the difference. I look at someone like Mark Cuban as a smart guy who combined luck and ability to make money and then subsequently become a reality TV show host and professional panelist crypto conventions. We revere people like Elon Musk and Steve Jobs and Richard Branson and mostly I just can’t think of anything more boring.

How can our readers continue to follow your work online?

I’m not a big social media guy. It’s a race I prefer not to run.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

Chris Nilsson of 10th Street Entertainment: 5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.