May 30, 2018 Interview – Mathew Knowles
The keys to success in life are different for everyone, but the common trait is almost always passion. Take Mathew Knowles, a one-time medical equipment salesman who changed career paths, going onto to form the music company Music World Entertainment. Now 25 years later, Knowles has built a mega empire with Music World Entertainment while playing an instrumental part in the success of artists ranging from multi-platinum group Destiny’s Child, to his daughters Beyoncé and Solange Knowles, among many others.
Possessing a Ph.D, he is also a professor at Texas Southern University, a public speaker, and author of the #1 Best Selling book, The DNA of Achievers: 10 Traits of Highly Successful Professionals as well as his latest work, Racism from the Eyes of a Child. How has it done it all? Persistence, passion, and hard work, but wouldn’t you like to hear it from the man himself? Answering those burning questions, recently, Dr. Knowles sat down to talk the story behind Music World Entertainment, the key to an artist’s success, working with his daughters, his latest book, plus much more.
CrypticRock.com – You have been involved in the entertainment business for many years. From building your own company to managing artists, first, tell us, what has your career in music been like?
Mathew Knowles – Well, this is my 25th anniversary of Music World Entertainment – we started out as a management company years ago. The way I got into the business is, before, I was in the medical fields – diagnostic imaging. I had a doctor tell me he couldn’t use my equipment because it costed too much. That is when my passion for that left – I sold quality and not cost. I started looking within myself to say, “What am I passionate about?” I really believe success is one living their passion out. For me, at the time, a couple of things were happening, Beyoncé was in a girls group called Girl’s Tyme, and they just lost on Star Search. The girls were crying, Beyoncé was only 9-10 years old, and Ed McMahon said, “You know Mr. Knowles, the people that consistently win on Star Search, are never successfully professionally. It is the ones who lose and make changes in their organization – they rededicate and refocus.”
I kept hearing that in my ear. Then I looked back at when I was a kid – my parents made me a DJ on Sundays. I was in a boy band in high school and played talent shows. I loved music, loved it. That is when I decided to go into the music industry. My first artist that I got a record deal, interesting enough was not Destiny’s Child, it was a Rap artist. He is still around, his name is Lil’ O, and if you look at his first single, which is “Can’t Stop,” it features Destiny in the video. I signed Lil’ O to MCA records, at the time they were the number 1 Urban label in the world. They had Puffy, Mary J. Blige, I can go on and on – it was a big deal.
CrypticRock.com – Interesting, and it built from there?
Mathew Knowles – That is how I began, made mistakes, and at the same time was managing the girls. They weren’t named Destiny’s Child at the time – they had 5 variations of the name from Gyrls’ Time to The Dolls, to Something Fresh, to Cliché, to Destiny, to Destiny’s Child. Finally, I got them a deal through Columbia records, but most people don’t realize in 2002, I actually sold Music World to Sanctuary out of the UK. They were the largest independent record label, management company, merchandise company, and one of the largest publishing companies.
I sold the company for 10 million dollars and then we formed a division called Music World Sanctuary Urban – which was the largest Urban management company in the world. There were also several folks who’s companies I bought such as Kendu Isaacs, who managed at the time Mary J. Blige, a young man from St. Louis who managed Nelly, I bought his company, and two young men who managed D12, which had Eminem. They all recorded for me. Then on the management side – we had Mario, Destiny’s Child, etc – we had a significant roster.
Then, on the record label side, we signed The O’Jays, their last album, Earth, Wind, & Fire, their last album, as well as Chaka Khan, and Kool & The Gang. For 5 years, I ran that company and had about 170 employees report to me. Then I bought back Music World in 2007, and by that time I had started the strategy with Destiny’s Child where each one of the ladies would start their solo careers – we would do a Destiny’s Child album then a solo album for each one of the ladies, then another Destiny’s Child. I saw that coming, that was part of the strategy.
Then we built this Gospel label. In 2012, we were the number 2 Gospel label in the US on Billboard’s annual charts and the number 1 independent Gospel label. I had the number 1 female Gospel artist as well, Le’Andria Johnson. Then I bought Compadre Records, a Country label with Billy Joe Shaver, Trent Willmon, and a bunch of other folks.
CrypticRock.com – Wow, there really is tremendous amount of quality content associated with Music World Entertainment in several capacities.
Mathew Knowles – Now what we do is really a catalogue label. We have 3 new artists that we will be launching here in the next 3-4 months. We also have the management company, I still manage Destiny’s Child. Every other day I have to approve licensing all over the world. We are a content management company, we have 30 years of content that we are going through that we will be starting to release documentaries, docudramas. That’s what it’s been like, the long version of it!
CrypticRock.com – It has been a wonderful run, but not without a lot of hard work, of course. Talent is essential, but there is obviously more to attaining success. Beyond talent, what would you say is the key to success for an artist?
Mathew Knowles – That is a very good question. I have sat with artists that fly into Houston, go set up their gear, or whatever… I don’t want to hear them sing or rap. The first thing I do is sit down on a sofa and talk to them. At the end of the day, if you don’t have that quality that is passionate, driving your work ethics, and an ability to listen, then I don’t want to sign you.
I don’t care how talented you are, if you don’t have those traits, you will implode. My first thing is to understand you. Talk to me, I want to understand you creatively, but more importantly, I want to understand you as an individual and as a person. That is my number one criterion before I say sing or rap for me.
CrypticRock.com – It is true, it really is important to have a good personality and a good disposition with anything in life to be successful. If you have a bad attitude, or think you know it all, you probably will not get that far.
Mathew Knowles – You are not going to get that far. You might hit a little peak, but eventually you will fail.
CrypticRock.com – Yes. Beyond music, you also teach, but are also an author. Your latest book is Racism: From the Eyes of a Child is out now. Tell us a little bit about the book?
Mathew Knowles – Racism: From the Eyes of a Child I wrote for several reasons. I wanted to understand my heritage and limits, I really didn’t. I had a team that did a lot of research and went all the way back to my great great grandfather who was a slave. My mother went to high school with Coretta King, and in the small town that I grew up in, my mother really took the torch of civil rights.
I was born in 1952, the era of George Wallace as governor, a very segregated community. I never went to a black school, I went to a white school, and I never went to a black school until my junior year of college. I had to go through all those struggles, so I share that with all my readers. I talk about racism, I talk about colorism – which is discrimination based on one’s shade of color. I talk about difficult things because the only way we can really affect change is it has to be uncomfortable. We have to talk about those things that are uncomfortable to talk about.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely. That has always been an issue. A lot of people are uncomfortable talking about things, so they sort of brush it under the rug.
Mathew Knowles – Exactly. People are uncomfortable, but it exists. Racism, sexism, colorism, xenophobia, homophobia, it all exists. We have to have what I call social courage that we speak up, speak out, sooner, quicker, and faster when we are associated or see any of that stuff.
Jut in the last month, look at Starbucks, look at LA Fitness, you look at most recently Fresh Kitchen where 2 employees were talking in Spanish to a customer, one of the managers went on a rant, “Don’t speak Spanish, speak English!” Then, at The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, a woman was berated because her face was covered and she’s a Muslim. Then a black female student at Yale, getting a PhD, was sleeping in a common area, because she had been studying, and another white student called the police on her thinking, “a black woman…must be something bad.” That’s racism that exists in America.
CrypticRock.com – It sadly is true. You would hope in 2018 these things would not exist, but they still do. That in mind, there seems to be a great deal of divide and a lot of anger among all people. Through social media, it seems everyone is just yelling at one another. That is not the way, we need to have an open dialogue to talk to each other, not at one another. Would you agree?
Mathew Knowles – Absolutely. An educator asked me about that. I have taught for 10 years at 2 different universities and I’m having a dialogue with a number of universities to teach next semester or the one after. I talk about the impact of social media on entertainment. The impact of social media is we have to be so careful. I talk to young people, especially high school kids, about this whole thing about self-esteem and you have to ‘like me.’ It really will become more problematic if we don’t address it.
You are right, people are yelling at people, bullying people on social media. I personally use social media as a marketing tool, I really don’t care if someone likes me or not, that’s not what I am all about. (Laughs) Our young people, unfortunately do, I am very concerned about it.
CrypticRock.com – It is a big concern and it can be dangerous. A lot of people are withdrawing from it because they are tired of the venom others are spewing. It is a double-edged sword, you do not want to withdraw too much from it all, but sometimes enough is enough with all the yelling and screaming.
Mathew Knowles – The question I ask is, how is social media affecting and helping someone’s life? Is it helping me to get a job? Is it helping me to learn? Is it just there for me talk to people? What’s the point?
CrypticRock.com – All very good questions! Everyone should ask themselves those very questions. In regards to Racism: From the Eyes of a Child, is it available on Amazon and bookstores right now?
Mathew Knowles – Yes, it is. My first book, The DNA of Achievers: 10 Traits of Highly Successful Professionals (2015) is as well. My next book is available for pre-sale, The Emancipation of Slaves Through Music and it will come out in a month. You can also go to my website to pick up a copy, I will sign the book, and ship it back to you. I am also working on a Destiny’s’ Child untold story which I hope to have around the holidays.
CrypticRock.com – Excellent, and these are very compelling books with very compelling, important topics. You mentioned Destiny’s Child, you were a key component to the group’s success. Working with family can be a challenge on various levels. Is it a challenge to attempt to keep business and family relationships separate?
Mathew Knowles – It is a challenge, but it’s also a challenge for me to work with non-family members. (Laughs) Let’s really put this in perspective, is working with non-family less challenging? No! (Laughs) That is what people have to understand, it doesn’t get easier just because they are not family. In some ways it’s easier with family because you can be blatantly honest. Also, there is a trust that is there when it’s family. In the music industry, or any business, there has to be a trust between the two parties.
That is some of the positive things. Some of the negative things is, how do you separate business from family? How can you sit at the dinner table, and instead of talking about how was your day, it somehow gets into business. You can never get that business out of the household, everything ends up about business. That’s the difficulty.
CrypticRock.com – That is understandable. You are right, there is a level of trust you have with family and you can also be more blunt with family.
Mathew Knowles – Exactly. It has some positives, and to me it has more positives than negatives.
CrypticRock.com – Agreed, the positives outweigh the negatives. Last question. CrypticRock covers movies as well, particularly Horror and Sci-Fi. If you are a fan of either genre, do you have any favorites?
Mathew Knowles – Science Fiction I love. I just flew my wife and I from Istanbul to Houston and there were 3 different movies on the plane about going to Mars. I can tell you more about Mars than I ever knew. (Laughs) I just love Science Fiction because I love technology. I get engaged with Science Fiction, technology, and change, that has always been something I’ve loved.
CrypticRock.com – Science Fiction is great because it is truly unlimited. There are so many topics that can fall under the genre.
Mathew Knowles – Yes. I was just on a panel around a month ago talking about film. We used an example, if you take the music out of a film. The music brings the film to life and a lot of people do not understand the importance of music in a movie or television. What I did was take all the music out of the Lion King, gave the audience about 2 minutes of it. Then I played it with the music – it was like night and day how music brought it to life. At Music World, we did the Dreamgirls soundtrack (2016), Cadillac Records soundtrack (2008), The Pink Panther (2006), Bring it On (2000), and All or Nothing (2002). A lot of people don’t know all of the many things we have done here at Music World.