When you attach your name to a product, end result, or experience, the quality of said product must be impeccable.
As a business owner within the realm of the music industry, Clay Hutson is a rare gem. He is considerate of the artists’ experience, always seeking aesthetic perfection and an unparallelled live music experience and working from dawn until the next dawn. After attending college for theatre design, Hutson worked at a few companies that provided live entertainment solutions. Within roles such as Sound Engineer, and Project Manager, he learned the tools of the trade that would allow him to eventually step up to the plate on his own. A jack of all trades, he eventually chose the path of the entrepreneur, creating his own live entertainment production company.
Though he has dabbled in the corporate entertainment sector, as well as a long stint working for Billy Graham’s traveling outfit, Hutson was ultimately called to the altar of rock’n’roll. Recognizing his love for the music industry, he has dedicated his time, energy, and passion to producing, managing, designing, and overseeing an astounding amount of live tours. Throughout his impressive career, Hutson has worked with some of the biggest names in the music industry, from Pink and Kid Rock, to Garbage and Guns’n’Roses.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
I have amassed a large amount of experience within the overall field of tour production, live entertainment, and have worked in the music industry for several years prior to setting foot on my own path. Within each of my employment ventures, I perfected skills that have allowed me to successfully navigate all aspects of live entertainment. Thus, after the recession took a toll on the company that I have been working for, I decided to take a leap of faith, at a time that felt right. I felt ready to take on the endeavor of having my own production management company.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of stage management, which constitutes running the floor on events, from start to finish. Currently, I’m working for Kid Rock, and my day begins at roughly 6:30AM. Before anyone else arrives at the venue, I go through the day’s schedule, complete a walk-through, lay out a storage plan, and begin planning the day’s to-do list for my crew. In order to maximize my productivity, as well as the productivity of my team, everything that is done prior to a show is done with great consideration for how it will impact things after the show as well. While the show is in progress, I begin to organize all of the steps needed to successfully break down the venue, and direct staff to ensure that everyone knows what they will be doing once the curtain closes.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Essentially, I envision ideas for set design, sound, lighting, etc. I have a pretty solid core understanding of what works, and what doesn’t work, and I implement this foundation of knowledge to build upon a grander vision. In turning these visions into reality, I do a lot of CAD design, and my practical nature allows me to really work out the kinks. After all, at the end of the day, every piece of equipment must fit through the door, and it is my job to know the exact measurements of every door, in every arena.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
As I am involved in a “spectacle” type of industry, wowing clients is always the goal. Thus, I am truly excited about the technological advancements that keep popping up within the live music genre. The industry is constantly cutting-edge. If you sit back on your heels for too long, you’ll quickly become obsolete, already three versions of a product behind. The size and power of moving lights have gotten to be incredible. They weigh less than they used to, allowing them to become more mobile. Everyone focuses on video, and I think that’s a dead horse, but that’s something that is on every tour. The video walls are getting bigger, and the screens are getting bigger, and there is more pixel density. Those huge video screens are great, but that is actually a trend that I hope runs its’ course sooner rather than later, and we learn to wow audiences without having to just rely on projecting an image onto a surface. I especially enjoy artists like Pink, and Lady Gaga, who incorporate a lot of acrobatics, and aerial stunts, into their routines. It’s great to see artists push their art, and it’s not just about the music, it’s also about the art form, and how they express themselves.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I always find myself working roughly three paces ahead of what is actually happening at the moment. On the road, I am always the first person to visualize a space in the morning, and I take the time to outline the events of the day, from the most mundane of tasks, to the most crucial. This way, I am prepared when crew members appear, and can delegate tasks efficiently.
What advice would you give your younger self?
The best advice that I would give myself is to be brutally honest with myself, and with others. Put family first. That’s a good start!
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
There are a lot of people who tout an HR approach in dealing with people, and who would much rather work with an individual who is politically correct, but not necessarily talented within their job, rather than someone a little rough around the edges, who happens to get the job done correctly. A good attitude doesn’t always trump talent, and to be quite honest, I believe that you can’t train talent into anyone. If people are truly talented in something that they do, it is because there is a love and desire within them to be great, and passion comes with that. I’ve dealt with a lot of enthusiastic people, with great smiles, and a polite demeanor, who are actually somewhat incompetent at their jobs. I would much rather have the old, beaten-down person who knows exactly what they are doing, than the spring daisy who has their head in the clouds.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone
I check, double check, and triple check everything that I do. When you attach your name to a product, end result, or experience, the quality of said product must be impeccable. Otherwise, your name will be tarnished forever. Thus, I aim to always be organized, prepared, and confident in the job that I have performed. For example, when working on rigging Pink’s aerial ribbons, who do you think tested them for safety?
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Hard work has certainly been the key strategy in growing my business. Within this field, word of mouth, as well as reputation, are everything. Thus, I like to be known as the hardest working guy in the room. I find that artists truly appreciate the efforts that are put into their stage shows, which, in turn, allows for the reputation of the business to continue to grow with each successful endeavor.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I ended up sub-contracting for a production company, for a particular client, and after this company’s relationship soured with the client, the client asked me to perform some work directly for them. Soon after, I received legal notice that I was being sued. After a grueling battle, which cost me upward of $150,000 to defend myself, as well as time, energy, and a great amount of stress, the suit was dropped. However, that inversely affected me personally, my business, and my interpersonal relationships. I’ve certainly survived this endeavor, and I have learned a lot about protecting my business, my livelihood, and my reputation. Throughout many successful years within the industry, I have developed a strong, and stable, reputation within the field, and thus, I was able to move forward after this occurrence, and continue to do what I love professionally.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Though it wasn’t exactly yesterday, I continue to believe that investing in my iphone was fantastic not only for business, but for my long term sanity. I can now organize every facet of the business from my phone, from sharing documents via Dropbox, to ensuring that my contact list is with me at all times.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
An associate gave me a book a few years ago that really helped me to put things in perspective. The book is called “Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff, And It’s All Small Stuff”. It provides a great way to look at life, both professionally, and personally, and the way in which you fit into the world. It has nothing to do with not being detail-oriented, but rather, focuses on letting go of seemingly unimportant details in order to succeed within the big picture. The live entertainment industry is incredibly stressful, and this book is essential in teaching you how to “keep the cool”.
What is your favorite quote?
I write inspirational quotes down, and keep them nearby. Here are my top three: “The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will.”- Vince Lombardi “Nothing can stop a man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal. Nothing on earth can help a man with the wrong mental attitude.” – Thomas Jefferson “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again, then quit. There’s no use being a damned fool about it.” – W. C. Fields