Do What You’re Meant to Do
Nashville insider Anastasia Brown—with friends like Dierks, Reba, Keith and Sara—gives aspiring stars a no-holds-barred reality check in her new book.
Best-known for her stint as a judge on the USA Network’s Nashville Star, Anastasia Brown is a respected Music Row executive (former artist manager, now a producer/music supervisor for TV and film) who’s worked with many of the top stars in the industry—from Keith Urban, Waylon Jennings, Sting, Peter Frampton and Dierks Bentley, to Sara Evans, Heart, Ronnie Dunn, Bettye LaVette, Rodney Crowell and many more. She’s now written an excellent book called Make Me a Star that passes on her invaluable knowledge to those hoping for a career in the music business. Here’s part of what she had to say to CW about the book and her advice to aspiring artists.
- In your intro, you talk about the book being something that will “inspire, frighten and entertain people” . . . can you talk about the “frighten” part a little?
- Well, if you think about Betty LeVett’s breakout and people like Keith Urban and Ronnie Dunn stating that even if they were just making one dollar, this is what they would have to do. And a lot of people have to actually take that course. That’s the more common lifestyle for artists. So, if it’s what God has intended you to do, there could be suffering involved. And if it’s not really what you’re meant to do, but you think it is, this book might be your revelation that this might not be your path. However, if you’re a young artist, you’re typically gonna be booking yourself, you’re gonna be publicizing yourself, you’re gonna be drumming up marketing and whatever you can do . . . yourself. So, while pursuing your art—even if you realize that maybe it’s not what is truly your bigger plan—you’re learning something that could become what you’re meant to do. So, it’s so honest, that that’s why it could be frightening.
- Do you have any kind of guidelines about how to tell the difference between when God is giving you an obstacle that you’re meant to overcome and when it’s something telling you to change direction? It’s often hard to tell.
- I know. And the younger you are, the harder it is. The older I get the more I’m able to read those signs clearly, and it’s less confusing. So experience really helps with that. But if you are at the very beginning of your dream chasing—if you’ve been at it a few months and you’re thinking of giving up, the passion is not big enough and that’s a huge sign. Because most artists wait 10 years to be able to pay the bills. But if you really truly don’t think about doing anything else. There is no other plan, this is the only thing you think about and dream about that you want to do, then it’s really, in my opinion, a case of persistence, listening to the signals you’re getting as to how to improve your craft. But if you start waking up in the morning and dreading the fact that you have a gig that maybe 10 people will show up at and you’re feeling dread more and thinking about what your plan B is more than music and making music and entertaining people, then I think that’s a strong sign. And it’s not failure.
- One thing I really hope to get across with this book is it’s not failure. Everyone is so worried about failure and “success.” Happiness is success and if all the sudden, you really truly are happier managing an artist rather than being an artist, that is success.
- I loved, loved management. I loved singing, but I knew right away I wasn’t cut out for it. But that brief, youthful experience did help me later on. Because I just respected artists so much, because I was up there and I realized I didn’t have that . . . that wasn’t my plan, it wasn’t what I was meant to do.
- And you could empathize with someone in an audition situation because you’d been there and really knew what it felt like.
- Totally. The nerves affect whether you can remember the lyrics properly, whether you can sing properly, the nerves can really impact how well you perform—especially if you’re not supposed to be doing this (laughs).
- When I was managing I loved almost all of it. I loved nurturing the artists, I loved finding new artists, but the touring element which is such a big part . . . that always kept me up at night worrying about . . . when I was first starting out, I was worried “what don’t I know that could impact this artist that I really care about?” Doing what I’m doing now, I don’t have that angst at all. I really feel like I’m a square peg in a square hole or a round peg in a round hole. No one’s perfect, everyone makes mistakes . . . I’m gonna make mistakes. But when you’re in the right place, those potential mistakes don’t haunt you.
- There might appear to be sort of a contradiction in your book where on the one hand, Dierks says that early on he was just a fly on the wall at Douglas Corner or the Bluebird, just soaking things up, because he wasn’t ready for his stuff to be heard yet. Then elsewhere, you say. . . sing everywhere you can. . . even if it’s a family barbecue . . . what’s the difference?
- Oh, great question. You know when Shelby Kennedy talked about [talent or performing skills] being half-baked or fully-baked? And who is your audience? If you’re talking about a family picnic, make sure it’s not [Nashville label head] Joe Galante’s family picnic! (laughs)
- What Dierks was talking about is, before he was fully-baked . . . or at least baked enough so he wouldn’t make a fool of himself . . . he just wanted to see where the bar was set in Nashville. So that’s where he was a sponge, and he didn’t perform in front of powerful people who could impact his career. But on the other front, sing at church, small little honky-tonks outside the music industry so that while you’re baking, you don’t perform in front of too many people whose mind you’ll have to change later if you make a fool of yourself in front of them.
- You’ve got to be perceptive. That’s the one thing that always surprises me. I’m in the crowd, and I can tell when a crowd is abuzz and quiet and engaged and the connection is so obvious. And then, in a different crowd, and the connection is so not there. And the aspiring artist has no idea. And I love to hear . . . they blame it on the crowd. “Oh, they didn’t get me. Oh, they just were more interested in beer than my songs.” Guess what, you’re competing with beer. That’s your job to get them engaged, not theirs.
- You talk about having a Plan B or not having a Plan B . . . and Rodney Crowell has a great quote: “Inspiration can spot you and they’ll say, ‘that’s one of our go-to guys, they keep their tools sharp.’ “ What a great way to express what commitment should be about.
- That’s from Chapter 6, my favorite chapter. I tell people, if you don’t read anything else, read Chapter 6. (laughs)
- I think this book can have a bit of a ripple effect outside the music industry. I think it can guide young aspiring managers or booking agents or people who want to do pageants or The Apprentice, whatever the case. It can help. Because, whether I’m writing a book or you’re writing a story, if you have one foot in the door and one foot out the door, it’s gonna be really average, no matter what you do. You’ve gotta commit. Just like Rodney says, you cannot have a door half-open or a window half-open. It will not succeed—in anything you do.
- I’m talking about a mental escape hatch—“Well, I’ll try this for a couple years and if it doesn’t work, I’ll go to medical school.” Well, that medical school is gonna be happening real fast. You might as well just go for it! (chuckles)
- How would you tell someone to make a song “their own?”
- Even if you think of songs and don’t think they’re you, you can take a song and change it and make it you. That’s why I put the CD in there. [There’s a CD produced by Eddie Perez included with the book that shows how playing a song in a different key or different arrangement can totally transform it into something that sounds fresh.]
For more valuable insights from Anastasia, check out her story in the June 30 issue of Country Weekly, and look for her Make Me a Star book at bookstores everywhere.