Lessons for Success: Be Authentic

If there is one person in Vancouver known for discovering and building the careers of some famously successful musicians, it’s Terry McBride, CEO and founding partner of Nettwerk Music Group. Nettwerk started in McBride’s Vancouver apartment nearly three decades ago, and now has offices LA, New York, Boston, Nashville, London and Hamburg.

Last year, I attended the American Marketing Association’s VISION conference in Vancouver, where McBride was a speaker. This was a rare opportunity to hear from the man who built up and managed Sarah McLachlin’s music career for 23 years, and has managed many other bands, including Coldplay, The Barenaked Ladies and Sum 41 as they skyrocketed through the music charts to win awards.

In a packed conference hall in May, the key message that McBride conveyed to an audience of 1,000 marketing professionals was to be authentic and trust their intuition. Without naming names, he described how he and the team at Nettwerk have at times signed musicians based on the merits of them having a popular sound that rings of marketability and profit. He added that in most of those cases, this investment has not amounted to what they expected.

And then his eyes lit up as he started talking about an American indie pop-rock band that Nettwerk had signed on in the last few years, which was now climbing the charts. He said he immediately loved this group’s music when he heard it and wanted to share it with others. It’s that unadulterated gut reaction that led Nettwerk to sign fun., a band that has been around for a dozen years, and yet did not hit the charts to become a household name until its 2012 album “Some Nights” caught fire on the airwaves and in clubs.

It appears that McBride’s gamble paid off this last weekend at the Grammys, when fun. won two of the six awards it was nominated for. Fun. won Best New Artist and Song of the Year for “We Are Young”, receiving standing ovations and applause by some of the biggest names in the music industry.

The band’s flabbergasted reaction to winning Best New Artist was certainly endearing, as were lead singer Nate Ruess’ comments about them being “old.” He pointed out the irony of their hit song “We Are Young,” when in fact they are just now finally making it big in their 30s. While certainly not old, it’s fair to say that Ruess has a few more lines and wrinkles than Justin Bieber. Regardless, they were keeping it real.

Fun. thanked Nettwerk in its acceptance speeches, but McBride’s real reward for backing a group whose music moved him might be another Grammy-sized vote of confidence that he can be authentic AND realize tremendous success.

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